Senior Principal Analyst Gartner
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How to identify brand partnerships that will improve your customer experiences

Brand partnerships are pursued for a host of purposes, but a less frequent objective and missed opportunity is to enhance the customer experience. Yet well-executed brand partnerships can reinforce customer loyalty and retention while helping brands acquire new customers.

26th Apr 2021
Senior Principal Analyst Gartner
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Brand partnership
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Brand partnerships are pursued for a host of purposes, but a less frequent objective and missed opportunity is to enhance the customer experience (CX). Framing partnerships around a more holistic objective, is particularly advantageous in the current environment where organisations are more risk averse. Gartner’s 2020 CMO Spend Survey found that CMOs are focusing their efforts on growing wallet share with existing markets.

CX leaders can exploit these conditions as an opportunity to leverage brand partnerships to improve the customer journey. By focusing on how they can deepen and enhance relationships with existing customers, well-executed brand partnerships can reinforce customer loyalty and retention while helping brands acquire new customers that match the personas of their existing customer base.

Here’s how you should formulate your approach.

Use the customer journey as a roadmap for your partnership strategy

Your starting point is the customer journey. Customer journey maps illuminate, from the customers’ point of view, the experience gaps where your brand could be doing better, be more competitive or even enhance the customer experience with something new. Partnerships are a way for brands to “mind the gap” with the helping hand of a partner. The goal is to combine both brands’ offerings in a way that creates more powerful experiences for your customers than your company can provide by itself.

Start by identifying the customer journeys for your brand’s key customer personas that represent an existing market of interest and fit the larger corporate mandate. Next, conduct an experience gap assessment of the current-state journey of the targeted personas to surface experience problems and opportunities where a partnership can help you realise your ideal, future state.

If you start with clearly defining the goal or problem that your target customers have, your brand can build a partnership that has promise long-term, versus one that is a passing novelty. The partnership should be designed to support those goals, needs and expectations beyond what your brand can offer.

This same logic applies to your prospective partner. Brand partnerships are as much about company fit as they are about customer fit. Your partner’s target persona should look similar to your customer target so that the design of the partnership fulfils a gap in the customers’ experience. It should also provide the opportunity for exposure, engagement, and acquisition of new customers that mirror existing customers.

How to identify the right partnership use case

Next, consider the design of the partnership. Developing a successful brand partnership requires a clear understanding of what type of partnership opportunity would best support your brand and your customers. That intersection of customer and company value can typically be framed using the following four partnership categories:

  1. Remove complexity: For brands that have products and services where customers must exert effort to overcome unnecessary complexity or bewildering options, this type of partnership provides customers with new experiences that help them more easily fulfill a need or reach a goal. When customers are provided with prescriptive guidance that enables them to have a sense of control and confidence, they are more likely to make a purchase.
     
  2. Add capability: If you have identified a gap in your ability to deliver a desired customer experience, a brand partnership can help you deliver that experience without building new capabilities and diverting resources where you are not positioned for success. Consider touchpoints in your customer journey that are perceived points of friction for your customers. These vulnerabilities represent an opportunity to partner with another brand that could simultaneously reduce churn and reinforce customer advocacy.
     
  3. Reinforce consumer social values: For brands that are looking to demonstrate shared social values with their customers, this type of partnership reinforces the authenticity of the brand’s position. It does so by introducing customers to a company that aligns with those shared values, helping consumers feel better about themselves by continuing to be loyal customers.
     
  4. Build confidence: This type of partnership is often best positioned in an environment where there is a potential shift in customer needs. In this case, the brand partnership manifests as a cross-category collaboration. Here the new product or service goal is to reinforce consumers’ sense of confidence in themselves and the brand partners for supporting that need.

Developing a specific partnership use case shapes both the design strategy and the structure for accountability. The use case should illuminate the distinctive roles that each partner is best positioned to own and execute in the partnerships.

Enhance partnership objectives with measures of customer perception

Partnerships designed to improve CX must have target outcomes for success in the eyes of the customer and the company. Both partners should be aligned on the specific business results that the experience will help each respective brand achieve. This alignment enables both brands to assign value drivers that appeal to their respective stakeholders and will help to prove ROI and validates the promise for longer-term relationships.

In addition to the desired business outcomes, include metrics of customer perception to evaluate your efforts from the customers’ point of view. Brands traditionally have a narrow view of what success looks like, which is a by-product of pressures to emphasise efforts on short-term metrics within the purchase funnel. Including customer-focused metrics is intended to enhance your strategy, not be a substitute for metrics that your stakeholders care about.

To define your objectives and success criteria, use your answers to the following two questions as a guide:

  1. What defines success from the customer’s point of view?
  2. What is the target outcome for our respective business?

The partnership category that your team has established can serve as a blueprint for your measurement approach. Each partnership use case is defined to capitalise on an opportunity or to fulfil an unmet need that should be tied back to an existing corporate objective for your brands.

Starting with a more focused, customer-centric approach helps eliminate the guesswork and leads you down a more precise path to success for your companies and your customers.

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