Carefully Crafted on March 03

Brand-Startup Relationships Get Deeper, More Meaningful

Toward the end of last year, AdAge published an article, “Why Brands Will Focus Less on Startups in 2014,” which explained that clutter, PR (or lack thereof) and results (again, lack thereof) were the main reasons brands’ love for startups would fizzle.

In recent years, we’ve seen PR and marketing efforts become even more tied to hard metrics, not just the “soft” ones that some communicators so often relied on in years gone by. With this increased focus on data-driven results, marketers are re-evaluating their budgets to determine which efforts/outputs generate the best outcomes. Remember a few years ago when Gap partnered with TaskRabbit? They received a lot of media coverage, but I’d love to know the real results. Did more people shop at Gap because of this? I’d be surprised if that was the case.

So, yes, I can agree we’ll see less of those kinds of “for PR only” partnerships. But, that doesn’t mean brands are shunning the startup space altogether. In fact, I think it’s actually quite the opposite. Just look at two of our clients for anecdotal evidence:

  • One is participating in a invite-only symposium at South by Southwest, where a major sports-industry company has hand-picked some startups to join in a discussion about ways this sports company can better partner with these emerging brands.
  • Another — an app — is relaunching in the spring, with even more content and calls to action integrated from a major brand. Both parties are focused on hard metrics, like downloads and in-app engagement. Meanwhile, the major brand is considering ways to further leverage this technology to amplify its other spring sales and marketing efforts.

Looking at the other half of my clients — the non-startups — and we see big businesses that want to embrace the best of the startup world, particularly the nimbleness, willingness to quickly test and iterate on ideas, and the responsiveness needed to build and activate a core group of passionate users. For example, we’re working with a global company that built an “internal startup” to help it gain access to a new layer of customers otherwise being underserved by the industry.

So, sure, you can say the brand/startup “fad” is passing. But, don’t be confused: That doesn’t diminish the value or opportunity for forward-thinking brands to partner with startups. Current partnerships are more aligned with specific business goals. By keeping the focus on business outcomes, startups can further validate their value, while companies can better adjust to shorter business cycles and an increasingly competitive market.

What are some of your favorite startup/brand partnerships? What makes the relationship a win-win?


Photo credit: samit4me

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