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Growing a small business’ customer base is no mean feat in today’s competitive marketplace, but for food and drink brands looking to expand, collaborations offer an opportunity well worth exploring.
From social media giveaways to more traditional hampers and bundles, partnerships can help grow a business’ following via cross-promotion. “Joining forces with like-minded brands means you share the benefits of increased brand awareness, and sales, by tapping into each other’s fans and followers,” explained Mallika Basu, food communications consultant and co-founder of SIZL Spices.
Partnering up with a brand with a similar ethos can boost the credibility and authenticity of your products, too: “It also helps position your brand in a tribe cementing your values, attributes and importantly, your consumer set,” Mallika added.
When it comes to choosing which brands to partner with, Mallika suggested making a list of brands that your products go well with and then following them diligently on social media. This enables you to create a dialogue before you approach them with your ideas so you can find out what interests them and their followers.
“The trick with brand collaborations is to always think about how the other brand can benefit from being involved with you. When you put them first, you start with a much more collaborative style, which is more likely to result in a better partnership,” Mallika explained. Once you’ve done your research, connect with your peer at the brand. “Marketing to marketing, founder to founder.
“A personal approach works best, and you can try LinkedIn, Instagram DMs and even emails if you can get hold of them,” she told Speciality Food.
Laura Jane Jackson, co-founder of Popcorn Shed has partnered up with a number of non-competing food and drink producers on social media with giveaways that help build brand awareness. “Often, we will share a similar customer demographic with other fine food brands, and it is a nice way to introduce our brand to their customer base and vice versa,” Laura said.
Using brand collaborations has helped Popcorn Shed to grow its email database and social media following relatively quickly at a low cost. “Reaching out to new brands and finding the right people to contact can be difficult, but once you establish a connection, it brings small, like-minded businesses closer together and opens the door for future collaborations, partnerships and more.”
Collaborations can also help your brand test the waters in new markets. “Right now we’re looking at the vegan market and a partnership route is definitely the right way for us to test that,” said Joe Munns, CEO of baking kit maker Bakedin. But when it comes to choosing the right brand for a partnership, it all comes down to values, he told Speciality Food. “Ultimately, you’re opening up your customer base to a potential unknown, so that inherent trust has to be there. For example, we’re really committed to sustainability so that’s essential for anyone we team up with, right across the supply chain. And, on a practical level, when it gets to due diligence you don’t want any surprises.”
When looking to team up with a bigger brand, SMEs should work to their strengths. “I think it’s about bringing that energy that smaller food brands can offer – the creativity, the innovation,” said Joe, who has collaborated with Nutella and Lotus Biscoff. “Last year we ran a successful brioche baking kit with Nutella which really played to both partners’ strengths in terms of ideation, execution and having that bigger organisation behind it in terms of resource.”
However, brand collaborations are not without their own challenges. “Sometimes collaborations can be tricky to organise,” Laura told Speciality Food. “Not all companies have the same level of organisation, or resource dedicated to social media and digital marketing.”
Laura has experienced this personally: “In the past we have organised and agreed a competition with another brand, created all the imagery and copy only to have no response from the brand on the agreed day of posting and no participation. This can be frustrating.”
Joe suggested setting a clear plan from the outset: “Make sure you’re both clear on what you want from the partnership – set a mission from the word go. Partnerships are brilliant but they’re time and resource heavy so you want to ensure that ROI for both parties. Be really clear from the outset, communicate frequently and agree who’s best placed to bring what to the party – play to your strengths.”
“There is a small chance of negativity,” agreed Mallika, “but with all tie ups the benefits far outweigh the challenges.” To create a strong partnership that’s worth the effort, Laura said brands must share something in common, whether that be their audience, mission, product specs or another attribute. “This also creates a feeling of connection between followers of the brands, making it more likely for them to engage with both brands and turn into customers,” she said.
To make the most of the partnership, Laura also recommends offering visually appealing products and a good-size prize, as well as producing beautiful imagery and eye-catching copy. “[This helps] create a worthy collaboration for both parties and an exciting chance for followers to discover new brands and products, which makes them more likely to tell their friends about it too.”
But while collaboration offers a fantastic way for brands to reach audiences that might not have considered their product before, the real benefit, according to Joe, is in delighting your existing customers and “bringing them something entirely new and innovative that gets them excited”.
As with any business decisions, there are risks and benefits to weigh with collaborations. But as Mallika said, the positives of partnership – growth of brand awareness, increased following and the formation of key business relationships, to name a few – have the potential to far exceed any challenges.