If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the digital marketing industry in 2019, it’s that businesses need to help each other more than ever if they’re going to be able to thrive in an increasingly competitive and densely saturated marketplace. By forging strategic partnerships that they are proud of and that develop and promote content, businesses are able to leverage the reach and loyalty of multiple audiences for their mutual benefit. Besides that, by sharing responsibilities, each business can save time and money while reaping the full benefit of the rewards. Many hands make light work, right?

In past years, we’ve seen similar approaches with link exchanges and guest-blogging, and partnership marketing is the natural evolution of that collaborative approach to digital marketing.


What is Co-Marketing?

In short, co-marketing happens when two or more businesses collaborate on their promotional digital marketing efforts. These joint efforts often result in a product or service launch, an ebook or other high-value piece of content, a video series or webinar, or a conversion incentive. Co-marketing goes farther than a related marketing practice, co-branding.


In co-branding partnerships, two established, recognizable brands team up for a cross-promotion that links the two brand identities in the minds of an audience. Typically, these audiences will already have a considerable overlap and  general brand-awareness, so the linkage isn’t a huge leap. 2012’s Stratos event (a high-publicity skydive by Australian Felix Baumgartner, who jumped an impressive 24 miles from a large helium balloon, breaking 3 world records and the sound barrier) was jointly hosted by Red Bull and GoPro. Both brands already had an extreme-sporting, thrill-seeking, adventurous audience. As Sean Eggert, Red Bull’s director of sports marketing, put it: “GoPro camera technology is allowing us to complement the programming by delivering new athlete perspectives that have never been seen before.”

Nike and Apple, sharing an active customer base, with an eye for luxury products, and an affinity for runner’s playlists, partnered up to create the Nike+ line, containing an Apple-developed microchip to track speed, distance, time, calorie burn, and so on. The shoes could integrate with Apple devices, so both companies saw an increase in sales from the cross-promotion.

But, those are examples of established brands joining up for a single purpose. Co-marketing, while obviously very similar, goes deeper.

What Can Co-Marketing Do for Your Business?

While co-branding works by doubling down on a shared audience or consumer base, co-marketing helps to expand your business to a new audience, and forge the kind of overlap that co-branding takes advantage of.

Let’s say you and another business have created an ebook in your field (we’re skipping ahead a bit, but we’ll talk about that process, and how to build good partnerships, a little further down.) You might gate the download link behind a lead capture portal, collecting email addresses and maybe some basic demographic data.

You and your collaborators each offer that same ebook, collecting leads, and then, at the conclusion of the promotion (or maybe once a week, if the promotion will run for a longer period) you both pool your lists, and you each end up with twice the leads. If one partner has a much higher or lower capture rate, then you have the opportunity to trade tips. Maybe one landing page is showing up more prominently, or the phrasing in the ebook description is more evocative. 

In the digital marketing world, tiny little details like those can have far-ranging implications to your success rate, and your ultimate ROI.

At the end of a co-marketing promotion, your business will have a list of new leads from an audience who has already expressed interest in the kind of content your business offers. You will have forged a strategic partnership that can prove fruitful for future collaborations, and, hopefully, you’ll have learned some helpful tips, tricks and insights about your audience and how to broaden your reach. In short, with half the effort you’ll have reaped twice the rewards than if you’d gone ahead alone for the same campaign.

How Can You Choose the Right Co-Marketing Partnerships?

It’s very important that your partnerships work to your mutual benefit. Choosing the right partners is much more than just a numbers-game, and the process begins with honest introspection.

Ask yourself what your own goals and values are.

Ultimately, the choice of a partnership is a personal one, but here are a few sign-post questions to get you started:

  • Will I be proud to announce my partnership to my own audience

This first question really cuts to the core of a good partnership. Will this partnership be something you’re genuinely proud to share? Many businesses feel the allure of a numbers boost and choose partnerships based more on metrics than on real quality. Just remember to stay authentic — you can’t put a price on pride

  • Does my partner’s audience feel like a good fit for my business, or my content?

With a guest post, your partner is “hosting” your content. A co-marketing relationship is more akin to you and your partner mutually throwing a dinner party to allow each of your audiences to mingle. Extending the metaphor, will all your guests get along? Will you be comfortable and confident hosting your partner’s guests at your own table? Does it feel like a good fit? If you have second thoughts at this stage (maybe their audience skews in a direction you don’t generally follow despite the overlapping interests?) then it might be a red flag for the partnership as a whole.

  • Does my partner bring a wide enough reach to the table to be worth my time? Will my partner feel taken advantage of?

Navigating co-marketing relationships is much easier when everyone is on equal footing. It’s true that sometimes a larger business will partner with a smaller one, but that comes with a few caveats. Using your reach or your clout to help out a smaller business that you believe deserves a shot is absolutely fantastic, and we are in full support of it. But leveraging your clout to buy your way into a smaller partner’s niche market of dedicated fans is shady, and, similarly, over-representing your audience to take advantage of a partner’s broader reach is equally dishonest. 

To solve this one, make sure both parties are up front about their numbers, and about what they hope to offer and gain from the partnership, to make sure that everyone is coming away from the table with something they value. The best partnerships leave no one feeling short-changed.

  • Will my partner’s skills overlap with mine too much, or will we be able to leverage each other’s different strengths?

Is your co-marketing offer something you could have done yourself? What is added to the offer by the partnership that you couldn’t have provided on your own, and what unique talents or skills do you bring to the table that your partner can learn and benefit from?

  • Do I like the people I’ll be working with day to day?

Sometimes people forget about the human factor when considering business decisions and partnerships. These aren’t just business robots at the other end of an email thread — these are real people, with real traits. Do you like them? Would you be happy working beside them in a shared office space for the next few months? It’s an important question that all too often gets overlooked, but your answer should help you decide whether a prospective partnership is right for you.

Setting Expectations & Staying Authentic in Your Co-Marketing Partnerships

Setting Expectations and Staying Authentic are the two most important factors to consider when you enter into any co-marketing agreement. They are the quintessential practices that will keep your conduct genuine in your own eyes, and the eyes of your audience.

Let’s start with Authenticity

We’ve written before about how authenticity relates to your digital marketing practice, and how an authentic voice empowers you to share real stories with your audience. It’s a major part of how responsible digital marketing is being done in 2019. Authenticity needs to be a part of your partnership marketing as well.

One of the more common misconceptions about co-marketing is that it will require you to compromise your own values, but that just isn’t the case. If you’ve followed our steps above to find a good partner, then odds are their values will align with yours in such a way that you’ll be able to support and build off each other in a positive way. 

So, how can you begin from an authentic standpoint to set appropriate expectations?

Setting appropriate expectations is a continuous process. At the outset, you and your partner will outline your obligations and what you hope to achieve by them, taking pains to ensure that every aspect of your promotion (whether that’s content generation, a series of webinars, a product on offer, and so on) is accounted for in your plan, with a clear resolution path for disagreements or contingencies. As you go, you’ll want to refer to those initial needs and expectations during your evolving partnership.

Your Evolving Partnership

Promoting Your Content

Congratulations! You’ve got your ebook ready for distribution, and you and your co-marketing partner are eager to see your leads roll in. How should you promote your partnership in good faith?

First, make it very clear that this ebook was a collaborative effort. Statements to your audience about how proud you are to be working with your partner in creating this content, and how their contributions have made for a better product go a long way. Remember, you’re selling your audience on your partner, too. Recalling our dinner party example, this is your chance to make the formal introductions, and first impressions matter!

Following Up?

As you generate more leads, make sure you and your partner are checking in regularly about performance and numbers, tips and tactics, and any other relevant data about user engagement. If at all possible, look for spikes in referral traffic from your own site, or increased numbers of new users, to see whether your co-marketing partnership has been having the desired result. Outreach to your audience on social media or increased engagement with your partner’s followers can also indicate a rise in your own followership resulting from your co-marketing efforts.

The partnership will continue so long as it’s fruitful, and you can still take pride in what you’re doing.

Partnerships and Pride

This is really the make-or-break concept underpinning all good co-marketing partnerships. Can you take pride in your partner, and in what you’re doing? 

If you are proud to share your co-marketing partnership with your audience, and if you’re glad to befriend your co-hosts, then your dinner party is sure to be a hit.

Co-marketing really is about people first, and your own co-marketing partnerships will thrive if you keep them in mind.

Could your business benefit from working with a digital marketing brand consultant to find new potential co-marketing partnerships? Find us on Facebook or Twitter, or click below to book a free digital marketing strategy session.

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