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Why you should partner with a start-up

By James Davies



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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December 17, 2019 | 5 min read

Brand partnerships are quickly becoming a key focus for many UK marketeers. The ability to reach new audiences at a fraction of the cost of the traditional channels is appealing in anyone’s book but when first considering your partner options, who should you choose to team up with?

Mando Connect on how marketeers can benefit from partnering with a start-up business.

Mando Connect on how marketeers can benefit from partnering with a start-up business.

Should you aim for a large multinational in the hope of striking a big one-off deal, a well-established SME or one of the 660,000 new businesses that are vital to the UK economy - that contribute £196 billion every year according to Forbes?

Intuitively, it makes sense to partner with non-competitive brands that share similar values and objectives and have a similar-sized audience. Obviously, no one wants an uneven power dynamic or to give away more then they’re getting in return.

If your objectives are purely acquisition-based, this is probably true, but you may be missing the bigger picture and the other advantages that come with partnering with a smaller or younger business. These include:

Reaching new and niche audiences

A start-up's audience, by its very nature, will be made up of early adopters; hard to reach users that want the latest products or technology and often don’t mind paying a premium for that privilege. Partnering with a start-up will give larger brands access to new niche user groups that may not be reachable via more traditional channels.

Increasing brand credibility

Teaming up with a growing start-up or scale-up, can also radically change the way an audience perceives your brand. Staying relevant is a constant battle for older brands, especially those focused at youth audiences, and one way to reinvent your brand image is to borrow some credibility from those brands that are currently in vogue. A recent partnership that Mando-Connect worked on with Vodafone and Candy Kittens is a great example; through the smart use of data, we were able to identify Candy Kittens as an emerging brand that supplied on trend, vegan confectionary that would speak to Vodafone’s youth audience.

Some 45% of consumers displayed a preference for vegan/vegetarian food and drink, according to a YouGov Attitudes report released in 2019. Likewise partnering with a start-up or smaller local businesses can signify your brand's commitment to support local communities. In a post-Brexit world, this is likely to be a key CSR focus as many consumers look favourably towards brands that support and promote home-grown businesses, as suggested in a Kantar – Marketing Brief report from 2018.

Innovation and speed

Flexibility is perhaps the biggest factor in making a brand partnership work. The ability for key decision makers to make and enact quick internal changes can be the difference in getting a partnership off the ground. Whether it’s a short-term change to the tech road map or a more fundamental product change, a start-up is likely to be open to new ideas and take a much more agile and reactive approach than a more established company that must follow tighter internal protocols and often struggle with corporate inertia.

Obviously, there are some practical challenges when teaming up with a smaller brand. The same things that make initiating partnerships easy at first can slow things down further down the line. The lack of fully formed legal, HR or operation departments can frustrate matters and a start-up is unlikely to be able to put much budget behind any joint campaign. More seriously, there is a very real risk that start-ups may not be around to complete any agreement you make; 60% of all new businesses go under within three years and 20% within just 12 months, according to The Telegraph.

Whatever brand size you choose to work with, the same basic rules still apply. Be approachable, be realistic and be open about the capabilities and objectives for each brand. Start-ups may not give you the same raw volume of new users that you’d ideally like, but they can still add a great deal of value in other, less obvious ways.

James Davies, senior partnership manager at Mando-Connect.


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Mando (part of @WPP) utilise data grounded with reasoning, combined with unique insight to develop ground-breaking reward solutions around the globe.

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