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Brand Partnerships as a lead generation strategy

September 15, 2022

I've been thinking about this a lot lately due to a conversation I had with a founder friend. We were deep in discussion about all things partnerships and he stated "partnership campaigns are mostly for brand building". He was very committed to the idea and we have yet to go back and continue the conversation but I thought it was worth sharing a few thoughts here.

I've been using partnerships as one of my primary lead generation strategies for years so I'm personally a little bit confused by this. So I figure the dissonance comes from either how we each differently define what a lead is, or how we each think of what a partnership campaign looks like.

Related: How brand partnerships can reduce customer acquisition costs

What is a brand partnership?

A brand partnership, or brand collaboration or co-marketing partnership are simply terms for two, or more, brands working together to grow each of their businesses in a mutually beneficial way.

This could be by co-selling, cross promotion, joint content creation, hosting online and offline events together and for the most committed, co-branding a product or service.

So when you think of it like that there are huge range of activities that fall under the umbrella of brand partnerships. Most marketing teams will include some sort of partnership marketing campaigns in their overall marketing strategy.

How do you define a lead?

In simple terms a lead is someone or an organization that is interested in what you're providing. Some will define a lead as a prospective customer, whilst others will define any sales opportunity as a lead.

Whilst I think they are both right, I prefer the broader definition of a lead because we have a whole vocabulary available to us to describe lead stage and lead quality.

Most of us know intrinsically that not all leads are created equal. So let's look at what sets them apart and how we can describe them in more useful ways.

What is a qualified lead then?

Qualified leads are essentially a lead that has gone through some sort of qualifying process. It might be a questionnaire, automated identification of where they came from or from a lead scoring system.
Generally we're thinking about two types of qualified leads, a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and a sales qualified lead (SQL) although some organizations may add additional stages. Let's have a look at both types of qualification.

Marketing qualified lead

A marketing qualified lead has shown more than a passing interest in what your brand is about. The marketing team defines a list of behaviours as a means of qualifying the lead.

Some behaviours that might turn a lead into a marketing qualified lead are:

  • Have subscribed to your newsletter
  • Filled out a form on your website
  • Downloaded an e-book
  • Have visited your site multiple times
  • Asked for more information
  • Demoed your software
  • Adding items to a shopping cart
  • Watched a video all the way to the end

Usually an MQL is not usually just one of these actions, it usually requires an accumulation of these activities that trigger a lead to become a MQL.

This is usually done with some sort of lead scoring process where each action has a score attached to it. Visiting the website might add a 1 to the score for each visit but doing a full demo online might add 5 or 10 to the score depending on how you setup the process.

Once a lead score reaches a trigger point the lead becomes are marketing qualified lead.

Sales qualified lead

A sales qualified lead in basic terms is a lead that has been qualified by the sales team in some way. This could be as simple as a sales person speaking to the lead or it could be a more formal process.

Ultimately this is determined by some sort of lead management process. Sales qualification usually involves demographic determinations such as the size of the company, the industry they're in and the role of the person engaging.

Sales qualification may also include questions about available budget and the pain points the lead has.

So what does all this mean?

If different marketing and sales teams determine leads differently, how does this help? Some companies don't even have sales teams and everything is self service.
You're right, a lot of the answers are 'it depends'.

I see two take aways here: 1) a lead that engages with your company more is clearly a higher quality lead and; 2) it's something to adjust over time as you have more data. As you track leads from various sources over time and watch their behaviour it will become obvious as to which behaviours are the leading indicators that indicate closing is likely.

What sort of leads can you get from partnerships?

With such a broad range of lead stages and definitions you might be wondering what sort of leads you can get from partnerships. Depending of the type of partnership activity or lead generation campaign you might get different types of leads.

If you select a partner that has an audience that closely matches your target audience you might consider them partially qualified already and they could be high quality leads.

But not all partnerships are like that. You might partner with some likeminded brands just to exchange backlinks for the purposes of improving your domain authority for search engine optimization purposes.

Also, you may choose to create a campaign like Red Bull and Go Pro did and setup a base jump from outer space...or not. Clearly not one of their lead generation strategies, that was about branding and content creation.

Here are a range of partnership or co-marketing activities you might consider:

  • Backlink exchange
  • Joint content marketing
  • In person events or a webinar
  • A joint research project
  • A store within a store
  • Cross promotion
  • Social media campaigns
  • Product integrations

Content creation and link exchanges are great for inbound leads but the source matters. If your backlinks are just coming from partner pages, for example, then the traffic from there might just be a curiosity. If they're linking from you deep within an article that is solving someones pain point, then they are a higher quality lead.

If someone is taking the time to sit through a webinar or attend an in-person event then they're probably a higher quality lead.

In Summary partnerships can help your marketing efforts across almost all marketing channels. They can be a multiplier to your social campaigns, an uplift to your content creation, they can bring prospective customers into your sales funnel via events and overall help with your lead gen.

It is very much up to you though the take these potential leads and begin nurturing them no matter what the marketing campaign.

So, are brand partnerships a good lead generation strategy?

I'd say, if you get brand partnerships right, they're like a super power. Think of a social media campaign - how much more engagement would you get if worked on a campaign with another five brands partners compared with doing it on your own.

You could create an online competition and drive all the leads you generate back to one landing page and your lead capture form. Then, as part of the lead generation process you could enter them into lead management software and nurture them before distributing to the various partners.

Content marketing partnerships are one of my favourite forms because you can tap into the resources of multiple partners for the content creation and then leverage each partners channels for the promotion to drive traffic.

It's like doubling (or more) the size of your own marketing team.

Don't forget that with the impending death of the third-party tracking cookie, lead generation through traditional PPC advertising is about to get a lot harder.

Partnership marketing can be a powerful way to attract potential customers and new leads.  It's rare that these leads will purchase immediately so it's about lead nurture and moving them along the buyers journey.

Click here if you're a bit confused by the difference between co-marketing and co-branding.

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