Collaborating with another brand is a savvy way for startups to gain new customers
The majority of startups aren’t blessed with bulging pockets of cash from the outset. And while some may secure investment early on, it’s difficult to win over investors without evidence of a loyal customer base. Suffice to say, successfully reaching one’s target market is a challenge when there is next to no capital to spend on marketing.
However, plenty of companies have started off on a shoestring budget before going on to become market leaders. And many of them haven’t done it on their own; instead, their success has been founded on teaming up with other brands who share a similar audience.
Quite often, this can be a far more effective way of reaching customers than pumping out press releases left, right and centre. “It’s not just publications that have your target audience; there are also other brands that have it,” says Christina Richardson, founder and CEO of Brand Gathering, the online platform that helps connect companies with other brands. “When you are just starting out, you can’t really buy reach in classic marketing terms but by finding other businesses that have the same target audience as you – and that aren’t competitors – you can gain that same reach.”
For Ride25, the cycling holiday company, partnering with other brands has been absolutely essential. “We started from a contact base of zero,” says John Readman, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “We wanted to build a brand and build our audience quickly so we tried to identify businesses in the same sector as us that were non-competing and to whom we thought we could add value and that could add value to us.”
Especially when the brand a startup is targeting is more established – which it often is – it’s important to demonstrate that they have just as much to gain from a potential collaboration. “You have to be looking with an open mind at the assets that you have and how you can benefit the other partner with those assets, while coming up with ideas of how you would like to be promoted via their assets,” says Richardson. “It’s about looking at all the touchpoints that you as a business have with your customers and then seeing how you can integrate a partner into those touchpoints as well.”
The collaboration that Ride25 struck up with Wiggle, the online sports retailer, certainly brought benefits to both parties despite some initial scepticism. “At first, Wiggle thought that it would just be doing us a favour but we quickly established that we could add something to Wiggle as well,” says Readman.
The company ran an online competition with Wiggle that offered winners a free Ride25 cycling tour for two people. While the offer of a free holiday was a nice brand booster for Wiggle, it also delivered some significant commercial benefits. “We were able to help Wiggle capture more customer data,” says Readman. “And while it cost us a couple of holidays, we were obviously happy because we got the email addresses of thousands of potential customers.”
Ride25 has also teamed up with SigmaSport, the cycling and triathlon retailer, whose customers receive a discount on Ride25 tours. Again, by clearly outlining how it could deliver value to a larger player like SigmaSport, Ride25 was able to reach new customers. “We invited Ian Whittingham, the managing director of SigmaSport, on one of our rides and he understood what we were about straight away,” says Readman.
While he has enjoyed success with the likes of Wiggle and SigmaSport, Readman has struggled with some smaller players in the sector. “We tried to establish partnerships with the top 20 independent bike shops in the UK but some of them just didn’t get what we were trying to do,” says Readman. “They said they were just focused on selling bikes.”
Readman is confident there will be more success as Ride25 picks up speed. But, as he says, it’s the quality of partnerships that matters, not the quantity. “We would be keen if it’s the right proposition but I am not just going to partner with somebody for the sake of it,” he says. “It’s got to actually work and be of genuine commercial value to both parties.”
Heyland & Whittle
A common way that brands collaborate is by launching a product together. Seasalt, the fashion and homeware brand, has recently partnered with Heyland & Whittle, the soap and fragrance manufacturer, to launch a new range of candles and diffusers in its UK stores.
For Heyland & Whittle – founded in 2003 by Paddy Heyland & Ursula Whittle (now Heyland) – it presented an opportunity to take their brand to a new audience that aligned with its existing customer base. “Seasalt is a middle market brand and we are also middle market,” says Ursula Heyland. “We have got a good quality product and they specialise in quality design so the two things sit together very nicely.”
While it had to invest in the production of the Seasalt range, the retailer’s commitment to stock it in all of its stores gives the partnership some real commercial value for Heyland & Whittle. “We feel that we are really feeding from the success of Seasalt,” says Heyland. “Its brand name is very strong and, with it committing to us as it has, it is encouraging customers who have never heard of us to buy into our product range.”
But for a partnership to really work, it’s not just the brands that need to align; the people behind them also have to get along. Thankfully, this wasn’t an issue where Heyland & Whittle and Seasalt were concerned. “Seasalt is a husband and wife team and Paddy and I are obviously a husband and wife team so there’s been quite a nice little synergy there,” says Heyland. “It’s a lot to do with personality and the ability to be flexible.”
Heyland admits that she used to be sceptical about collaborations but the partnership with Seasalt has made her see the light. “My mindset was always, ‘We are here to build our name. I don’t want to be associated with trying to build up somebody else’s brand,’” she says. “But I think you have to get to a certain size to actually realise that sometimes it’s a bit of a lift to your brand to be associated with another brand that has got a great reputation.”