Strategic Partnerships Have Never Been More Important

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Strategic Partnerships Have Never Been More Important

In 1983 two major brands, who had absolutely nothing to do with each other, combined forces to create a decades-long case study on how to build highly successful and profitable strategic partnerships.

Ford and Eddie Bauer would go on to sell 1.5 million co-branded automobiles over the next 20 years. The Eddie Bauer package that Ford offered was a high-end version of their vehicle offerings, with the Explorer/Eddie Bauer package becoming the most popular version.

Why did this unique partnership end up working so well? How could a rugged apparel provider successfully align with an automobile company?

Some of the best and most recognizable partnerships are successful solely based on the mindset of both brands & companies going into those relationships.

Think about some of the partnerships you’re most familiar with. They are typically two brands that have audiences that could benefit from a shared product or service that each offers. Most notably, the Starbucks and Barnes & Noble partnership might have saved Barnes & Noble from going out of business. Collaboration between Nike and Apple has changed the way we think about our wellness and lifestyles.

As obvious and simple as they appear when they’re successful, strategic partnerships can tend to be somewhat complicated, slow-moving, and built on relationships.

There is a level of trust that needs to be built among the people involved. It’s difficult to slam two successful companies together and expect that a co-branded partnership will work automatically. It’s the individual people involved on both sides who drive outcomes and success.

Along with trust comes an understanding that there will be periods of due diligence, research, strategy, activation, and ultimately, a lengthy evaluation process. This leads to unique and continually evolving relationships, ideally over many years.

Maybe most important of all, is having a shared collaborative and entrepreneurial mindset.

The best partnerships, regardless of size and scale, incorporate shared benefits, investments, and use of human capital resources. They are established on a shared sense of purpose and direction, an understanding of what role everyone plays, and a commitment from both sides to see the partnership through.

In order for any strategic partnership to be successful, the people involved need to come into that relationship with the right mindset.  As you think about developing strategic partnerships, here are some initial questions you can start to work through.

  1. Where can your offerings best add value for a partner?
  2. How can other brands use what we have to make their products and services better?
  3. What brands have built a community that our offerings could support?
  4. How can our audience create an opportunity for a partner’s offerings?
  5. What are the revenue and marketing opportunities?
  6. How creative can we get?
  7. What does success look like for both of us?


These questions start to build the foundation of what a successful strategic partnership can look like. It’s this collaborative mindset that’s most important.

Since 2004 I’ve had the chance to be a part of, advise on, and activate some incredibly creative and profitable strategic partnerships. Aligning two strong brands to produce a new channel of revenue, product, or service is an especially fun and exciting thing to say you do for a living.

Those strategic partners have ranged from MLB & MiLB baseball teams, national youth sports associations and affiliated networks, hedge funds, real estate investment groups, domestic and international tech startups, and higher education institutions in North America.

The outcomes and goals of each varied incredibly, yet the mindset and fundamental process of relationship-building were almost identical.

As you explore your next partnership strategy, starting with the right mindset will be a critical first step.

“Becoming is better than being.”

– Carol Dweck


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