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Co-Branded Merch

What Does “Co-Branded” Merch Mean and How Does It Work?

Co-branding is a unique strategy that almost seems at odds with the way modern businesses work, and it happens all the time.

What is it? In simple terms, co-branding is when two (or more) brands get together and collaborate to create a product that shares both of their names. This product is produced, marketed, and sold to the combination of both of their audiences, though it may be true that one party benefits more from it than the other.

It seems at odds with business today simply because so many businesses view each other as enemies. Competitors facing off against one another in the free market, where it’s every entity for themselves, is the name of the game for small brands and mid-sized businesses. Larger entities make co-branded products and decisions all the time. Take a stroll down the food aisles at your local grocery store and see how many products are mash-ups between two different brands.

Co-branding is a great idea with a surprisingly low barrier to entry if you do it right. It sounds simple, but there’s a lot to it, so let’s dig right in.

What Are the Benefits of Co-Branding?

Co-branding comes with a lot of distinct benefits for both brands involved, almost all of which result from sharing the audiences of the two brands with each other.

You expand your brand’s reach.

Co-branding merges your audience with the audience of the brand you’re working with, at least for the collaboration. While there is likely some overlap already – especially if you’re both larger brands – there may be a sizable portion of each audience that has never really paid attention to the other brand before, and this helps draw them into focus together.

Expanding Brand Reach

Additionally, the combined co-marketing efforts of both brands can reach a larger and more comprehensive audience than either one of you would separately. There will be new people you can reach who would not have heard or cared about either brand before but who may end up among your best customers with the co-branded merchandise down the line.

You share the costs of manufacture and marketing.

Developing a product, marketing it to an audience, taking orders and fulfilling them; it all has a cost. As anyone who has brought a product to market knows, there’s a deep well of expenses and costs associated with every step of the way. Even if you’re just making a variation on something that already exists, or something as simple as unique designs on a t-shirt, the costs of printing, shipping, and infrastructure can add up.

Sharing Costs of Manufacture and Marketing

With co-branded items, you and the brand you’re working with will generally be splitting the costs. It may be a simple 50/50 arrangement, or it may be more complex based on the relative sizes and profit margins of each brand, but either way, it lightens the load.

It’s a chance to collaborate and share skills and knowledge.

Another huge benefit of co-branding is getting to work alongside another brand. Your employees can see how another brand does things and share your own knowledge with another brand.

Brands Collaborating

Together, you can build something strong, but you can also individually take many lessons and knowledge away. You can also leverage the additional knowledge and resources each brand brings to the table for more and greater collaborative results.

You can build a reputation, brand awareness, authority, trust, and loyalty.

All of the things that bring a brand from a small unknown into the big stage come from growing an audience and building a reputation. By working with another brand – especially if that other brand is larger, more trusted, or has a positive reputation – you can piggyback on their authority and trust to build your own.

Building a Reputation

On the flip side of the coin, if you’re the more established brand, you can treat it as an investment. By spending time and resources to help this smaller and lesser-known brand, you can build your own reputation for assistance, investment, and innovation, and you can help promote the culture or changes in your industry that you want to see.

What Are Some Examples of Co-Branding?

Co-branding has been done in a million different ways, and that’s just this year. It’s everywhere you look if you know what to look for.

One thing to note, though, is that not everything that looks like co-branding actually is co-branding. Or, rather, not in the same sense. The example we used above, with food that mashes up two other foods, is a great example. In many cases, the food brands that are mashed together are all owned by the same company. It’s not really co-branding so much as it is mixing and matching brand assets.

Co-Branding Agreement

Some examples of co-branding might include:

  • GoPro and Red Bull. Red Bull, as a brand of energy drinks, is all about the high-energy and active lifestyle you can build with them as the foundation. GoPro, as well, isn’t just a camera company; it’s a company emblematic of an active and adventurous lifestyle. These two have collaborated before, but their biggest co-branding event was the Stratos stunt, where they helped a man skydive from low earth orbit after drinking Red Bull and videoed using a GoPro, of course.
  • Oreo (and others) and McDonalds. Something as simple as a cookies and cream flurry grinding up some Oreo cookies and slapping the Oreo logo on it doesn’t seem like it needs a lot of collaborative thinking to develop, but the co-branding between these two means cookie fans might order a flurry when they normally wouldn’t, and McDonald’s diners might go grab some cookies next time they’re out because they enjoyed it.
  • Levi’s and Pinterest. Levi’s is the jeans brand everyone knows, and Pinterest is one of the biggest visual social networks on earth. They co-branded a campaign together to encourage Pinterest users to develop their personal style using promoted Levi’s posts. It’s a natural extension of what people use Pinterest for, but it gives Levi’s an added bit of exposure to people who might not even know they sell more than jeans.
  • Clorox and various household goods. Clorox is known for their sanitary bleach and other cleaning products, so coupling with things like garbage bags and cat litter with an included more sanitary chemical makeup is an easy win for both brands.
  • Coca-Cola and Lip Smackers. One of the oldest and longest-running co-brands is Lip Smackers, the lip gloss and other cosmetics company. They partnered with Coke for coke-flavored lip balms, which have existed for decades in continuous production and are popular and enduring.
  • Burger King and McDonalds. This one is an odd one and was more of a one-time promo than a real co-branding product. McDonald’s was running a campaign to donate money to a childhood cancer charity for every burger sold. Burger King worked with them to run a charitable “day without a whopper” to encourage people to use their competitor to benefit the charity. Even fierce competition can find common ground to do good for the world, right?

There are, of course, many more. Brands work together day in and day out, and these are just a small handful of some of the highest-profile examples in recent years.

How to Get Started with Co-Branding

If you’re interested in co-branding some merchandise and working with others to promote your brand, great!

The first thing you need to do is consider what you want to get out of a co-branding campaign. The goals you strive for can inform the kinds of brands you approach. For example, if you want more awareness of your brand in a wider audience, you might seek out opportunities with larger brands. If you’re looking to leverage your brand’s position to help out your industry, you might look for smaller brands to work with. If you want to promote a social or environmental cause, you might look for brands that relate to yours and carry the same perspectives.

Social causes are a great option in particular because they’re more idealistic and less profit-driven. When Oreo and McDonald’s partner, it’s clear that they’re doing it because they want you to buy their products, and there’s no deeper motive to it. When two brands partner with a shared cause, like promoting fair trade products, fighting human trafficking and exploitation, promoting sustainable agriculture, or other social issues, it’s more of two brands working together to support the world and society at large. That’s a more altruistic goal and can make people who are normally more cynical buy into it.

The second thing to do is look for a list of possible businesses you might approach for co-branding ideas. It’s not time to reach out to any of them yet, but developing a list can help you then come up with a pitch.

For each brand on your list, consider ways that you might be able to work together. Sometimes, it’s obvious! For example, Betty Crocker has a line of baking mixes co-branded with Hershey, using Hershey chocolate as one of their ingredients. There aren’t really all that many ways a baking pre-made mix company and a chocolate company can work together, and this one makes the easiest sense.

One of the best things you can look for is ways that you and another brand can partner up to create something that people will love and enjoy, and which can’t be produced any other way. We’re not talking about Kanye-branded Nike sneakers here (though those certainly couldn’t be created any other way, they’re still just sneakers meant to capitalize on FOMO from sneakerheads more than anything truly unique).

Here’s an example. Maybe you’re a company producing certain styles of apparel, and you have strong branding for those styles. Others who try to create similar products are often seen as knock-offs of your style. It’s your domain, and you’re a leader.

Co-Branded Shirt Printing

A good potential co-branding opportunity might be one of these brands. That post is a list of brands that make their products solely out of 100% recycled materials.

By working together with one of those brands, you can promote sustainability and recycling initiatives, as well as brands that help make those things possible. You can allow these brands to sell “your” product designs using the materials and manufacturing techniques they handle with their recycled materials. You can even add to the charitable feeling of the collaboration by donating some of your revenue to other sustainable initiatives to further the goal of environmentalism.

Once you have ideas, build a pitch and reach out to someone influential in the companies you’re considering working with. Talk to them about what they might be interested in, give them your ideas, be receptive to theirs, and if an agreement can be reached, work together!

Not all businesses are going to want to work with you, and that’s okay. Some won’t see the value in it. Others won’t like your ideas and won’t be able to come to any of their own. Sometimes, a partnership simply isn’t meant to be. In rare cases, you might even discover that the other company is so internally dysfunctional that you can’t work together effectively. You never know what could happen!

It’s also worth keeping in mind that a collaboration and co-branded piece of merchandise doesn’t need to be complex or unique to be effective. As many of the examples above show, sometimes all you need is two familiar brands working together. Often, you may even find that there are unofficial crossovers people make by themselves all the time and that you can simply canonize them together.

And hey, sometimes all you need is something that has both of your logos on it. We can help with that! For example, our t-shirts are fully sustainable and ethically made, and any graphic design you want can be printed on them. You and another brand can come up with your co-branded designs, we can produce them for you, and you can sell them as products or include them as pack-ins for other co-branded promotions. Why not give it a try?