What happens when two powerful brands pair up to produce a new product? You get K.C. Masterpiece Lay’s Potato Chips, Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Explorers, Pillsbury Brownies with Hershey’s Chocolate, and Crest with Scope—to name a few. Well-established brands benefit from these types of partnerships because each is able to introduce a new product to an existing, already receptive target market.

It’s called Co-Branding: it’s nothing new and it’s not just for products. Think Michael Jordan and Nike back in the 1990’s. Co-branding involves businesses (representing company, product, or service brands) and/or professionals (personal brands) pairing together to strategically boost their individual brands. The result is a heightened awareness of both brands, a broader reach by opening new markets, and reduced risk of disrupting consumer confidence.

Leveraging Consumer Confidence

Customers already loyal to the Tide brand are more likely to grab Tide with Febreze in the laundry detergent aisle, as opposed to a new plain ol’ Febreze laundry detergent. These consumers see Tide as a trustworthy brand, and Febreze as an added bonus. Tide buyers never have to ask, “Can I trust Febreze to get my clothes clean?” when Febreze is paired with the trusted Tide brand.

These types of new products and services appeal to an existing market to an often subconscious degree! Tide buyers immediately see Febreze, known for eliminating odors, as a helpful additional benefit to their favorite detergent. …and I’m guessing the new Doritos Locos Tacos from Taco Bell is reaching an overlapping market segment of late-night tokers with the munchies, delighted by the bonus junk food in their junk food.

Not Just For the Big Boys

So maybe your brand isn’t quite as big as Tide or Lay’s or Pillsbury. Co-branding is still an excellent branding strategy for your small- to medium-sized business. The trick to establishing a successful co-brand is to explore your existing, well-developed relationships with other like-minded business owners.

My radio show, for example, Brand with Impact! features myself, Nora D. Richardson, as the resident Branding Expert and Susan Jeanne Mertz as the Marketing Guru. We’re two small business owners coming together for the greater good of our respective target markets to share collaborative information and to formulate multi-faceted solutions. By working together we can better offer our audience secrets, tips, and tricks to branding and marketing successfully. (Catch our online radio show every Tuesday from 5-7pm EST on www.KineticHiFi.com.)

Say you’re a graphic designer. You could pair with a copywriter to produce full-service website design and content writing services. If you’re an accountant, you could partner up with a business analyst to produce an e-book on strategic planning. If you make candles at home, you could pair with a colleague who dyes colorful scarves to set up shop at local trade shows at a reduced cost or to offer discounted gift packages.

The possibilities are endless—you just need to be a little creative.

Not Without Risk

While co-branding can be the boost your brand needs, it’s important to choose your co-branding partner carefully. What if your co-branding partner experiences a fall in performance or some kind of publicized scandal? You could be seen as guilty by association. Your brand and your business as a whole could be damaged in the wake of that backlash.

To prevent potential co-branding issues, always:

  • Research your target market(s). This applies to both your existing market (has your market changed at all lately?) and the market of your co-branding partner (is this an appealing crossover product or service?). You must be sure the partnership will be truly mutually beneficial.
  • Research your potential co-branding partner. Be sure you’re aware of any past issues that might cloud the reputation of your business and your brand.
  • Develop a relationship first. As a small business owner, you’ll likely put a lot of time and trust into your co-branding partner and your collaborative efforts. Be sure you foresee this as a positive experience.
  • Set up guidelines in advance. What are the rules of your partnership? Who gets certain referrals? How is money divided? How will you market your new co-branding strategy? If you’re putting a lot of money and time into your co-branding effort, you should consider consulting a lawyer and drafting up a contract.

When you do it right, the benefits of co-branding far outweigh the risks. Envision a target market you’re looking to explore. Who among your business colleagues appeals to that audience most? And there you go—you’re off on your first co-branding adventure!