Playing With Partners: Some Rules Of The Game

I read with interest the recent announcement that Marriott and Hilton had partnered with a variety of luxury brands and prominent style setters, as both chains look to attract upscale travelers to their hotels.

The concept of attaching your brand to another is hardly new or novel, but it seems that today's marketing environment has more brands than ever searching for marriages that can align customers, interests and passions. In Marriott's case, they were as disparate as auction house Christie's, luggage maker Tumi and nutritionist Keri Glassman.

As marketing grows ever more complex and intertwined, finding ways to link your brand to the glow of another and build upon a partner's existing customer base and affinity can provide powerful synergies if the approach is well thought-out and effectively managed.

As you look to build your own alliances and partnerships, there are some core considerations that are essential to formulating a successful relationship. From my own experience working on partnerships with such brands as American Express, BMW, Disney, Nickelodeon, Gillette and many others, I've developed a list of what I believe fuels a successful partnership. While these ideas might seem incredibly basic, I continue to be amazed at how many times I've seen companies ignore or neglect them.

  • Partners Share Common Purpose and Objectives: Identify those brands that share your values and appeal to a similar customer. Be clear on what you both want from, and can bring to, the relationship. Then set goals, establish roles, define scope and assign responsibilities. Most importantly, work to manage expectations of all participants.
  • Partners Have Common Strategies: There should be mutual need-seeking and need-achievement, arrived at through negotiation. Both parties must be in alignment about how to strategically work together.
  • Partners Are at Common Risk: Each has something of value to gain or lose. All too often, what people focus on with a partnership is the "Win-Win" scenario. But I've continually found that partners maintain a much keener focus and involvement when the potential for success is also accompanied by a strong "Lose-Lose" proposition and when there is an equal level of risk for both parties.
  • Partners Collaborate and Support Each Other: There should be a sense of equality between partners and the focus should be on results, not jockeying for position or competing with each other in any way. Communication should be frequent, timely and structured. It's important for both parties to display some flexibility and willingness for appropriate compromise. Ideally, there should also be an openness to experiment and look for new approaches that can maximize the unique combination that your two brands coming together represents. Critical to all this is to build a plan for working together and then working according to plan.
  • Partners Are Reliable: It's essential that partners are very responsive to each other. Like all good relationships, you need to be there whenever needed, working together to address issues, anticipate problems and solve the various challenges that inevitably arise. You need to be consistent in your approach and identify the appropriate champions and advocates within each organization.
  • Partners Invest Appropriate Resources: It's important that both parties are able to invest the financial and human resources necessary to deliver success. I've seen several partnerships sputter because one of the partners had stretched so far to engage the relationship they had no budget left to effectively market the partnership. Consider all of your owned, paid and earned marketing opportunities and be sure you're able to leverage them to a level that's appropriate to support the size and scope of your other investments in the partnership.
  • Partners Negotiate and Work in Good Faith: Trust is an important element to any good business relationship, but so is a well-written and carefully considered agreement that spells out the terms and helps to define expectations. It can address all essential points including funding, responsibilities, timing, reporting, renewals, points of contact, cancellation, dispute resolution and much more.
  • Partners Measure Results and Seek Continuous Improvement: Success needs to be defined and agreed to by both parties, including the methodology and responsibilities for tracking results in a timely manner. There should also be periodic opportunities to evaluate and analyze activities and a desire to work together throughout the relationship to strengthen the partnerships and enhance results.



There's no shortage of potential partners that touch the lives of your customer and that could add value if connected to your brand.

But, choose wisely. And always strive to play by the rules.

2 comments about "Playing With Partners: Some Rules Of The Game ".
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  1. Eric Brody from Trajectory LLC, July 5, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.

    Good article Gary.

    Eight great tips regardless of industry. FYI, I reposted (with credit) on our Health Conversations blog:


  2. Jason w Anderson from Capital Impact Partners, July 5, 2011 at 11:54 a.m.

    Partnership is an essential tool to extending your brand. This applies across the board. Hotels working with luxury brands is a good example. Going to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, working with non-profits is also important to ensure your company is doing the right things environmentally, socially, etc. It lends real credibility to your corporate social responsibility efforts.

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