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Are Your Brand Partnerships Helping or Hurting Your Company?

Are Your Brand Partnerships Helping or Hurting Your Company?

A brand association speaks to your brand promise -- and abandoning the partnership says something too.

After the horrible shooting that unfolded in Parkland, Florida, several big brands, including Hertz, First National Bank, Symantec and Delta Air Lines, decided to disassociate themselves from the National Rifle Association. And those organizations had justifiable reasons for their decision.

What struck me most as an outsider was how quickly they moved to end the partnership. This got me thinking about how and why businesses make partnership decisions like these to begin with, and I reflected on an important lesson that I learned early in my career.

When I first started working in marketing, our team launched an ad campaign that included billboard advertising. I remember one of my colleagues telling me he would be out the next day "riding the boards."

I had to ask what he meant.

"You have to go out and see where the ads are located so we don't put our brand in a bad position," he said.

This is a great analogy for how leaders should think about partnerships. They should be "riding the boards" for all of their relationships, thinking about the alignment between the respective missions, purposes and beliefs of both organizations to determine how they look side by side to customers. Today's customers know which companies are doing business together, so they are savvy about judging relationships between organizations. Therefore, proactively examining brand alignment can help leaders build durable relationships that are equipped to weather the challenges of volatile circumstances and perceptions.

To keep your brand partnerships working for you -- and not against you -- the important question going forward is this:

How do you enter into better brand partnerships in the first place?

The Most Important Factors to Consider When Choosing Brand Partnerships

Leaders spend time understanding the financial risks and potential rewards when considering establishing a partnership. This process is vital.

But there are three more areas that leaders need to consider in their decision-making process to avoid putting their brand at great risk:

  1. Your purpose. Leaders must clearly define their company's purpose to determine how it aligns with the purpose of potential partners.

    For example, if your purpose is to enhance health and physical fitness, partnering with organizations that sell sporting equipment or health foods would make sense. A partnership with a company that carries those products but also promotes a line of sugar-heavy drinks to increase energy would not be as wise.

  2. Your brand. What is your brand promise, and how would a partnership enhance your ability to uphold that promise?

    You must be clear that your partnerships will help you deliver what your customers expect of you. For example, are you partnering to improve the quality of one of your products? To fulfill more of your customers' needs by cross-promoting each partner's services to both customer bases? Or, maybe to support your customers' communities by sponsoring a philanthropic organization that matters to them?

    Also consider factors that could tarnish your brand due to decisions made by your partner. The higher the risk of the partnership -- based on issues such as the financial stability, business practices and reputation of the potential partner -- the more leaders should scrutinize the deal.

  3. Your culture. When leaders choose partners, they need to consider how the relationship will affect their people.

    I am not suggesting that every partnership must be universally supported by your employees. But each partnership should fit within your culture -- "how we do things around here" -- so your people understand why you created the partnership. Ensuring that the "why" is understood will help to inspire maximum support from employees, especially those whom you rely on to do their part in successfully executing the relationship's needs.


Good brand partnerships should benefit both parties. So, it's up to leaders to find ones that align with your purpose, brand and culture -- because if the partnership isn't strong enough to withstand a difficult period, it may not be worth having at all.

Do you want to learn more about making better brand decisions and partnerships for your business? Start by:

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.


Ed O'Boyle is the Global Workplace and Marketplace Practice Leader and an Executive Consultant at Gallup.

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