Fostering mutually beneficial partnerships can be one of the smartest and most effective digital marketing strategies today. Co-marketing partners amplify content by or about their partner organizations. In return, partner organizations help each other reach untapped markets, spread awareness of their brands, generate valuable backlinks, and attract new social media followers, email subscribers, and customers.

Through my work as founder and lead strategist of a B Corp-certified digital marketing agency, I’ve seen amazing results from marketing partnerships. I have helped businesses scale up by growing their email lists by tens of thousands of potential customers and surpassing sales goals. Our agency served as the strategic marketing partner for many mission-driven organizations, including, SOCAP, the Social Venture Network, and (full disclosure) Conscious Company. We’ve consistently found that conscious businesses can greatly benefit from partnership marketing strategies, but they must take extra care when choosing who to partner with and how.

Read on to find out how conscious companies can identify the right partners, begin build relationships, and successfully leverage the power of co-marketing to achieve goals for growth.

What to look for in a co-marketing partner

The ideal partner organization or influencer will have:

  • Values and a mission or vision that aligns with your own
  • A positive reputation
  • An audience or fan base that’s larger than yours
  • An audience that directly overlaps with your target audience(s)
  • An authentic connection to the audience
  • A limited number of other partners

In a nutshell, your primary goal when beginning a co-marketing strategy is to find values- or mission-aligned organizations or influencers that are followed by a significant number of people who fit the profiles of the people with whom you wish to connect (your target audiences).

“Why” matters more than “who”

Before you reach out to influencers or organizations, make sure you know exactly why you want to partner with them. The primary reason must be greater than “this person or organization has a big following.” The size of a partner organization’s audience is far less important than the relevance of the audience to your organization and how well a potential partner’s values align with your own.

One good filter is to examine potential partners through the lens of whether or not you would wish to feature them on your own website or social media channels, either by publishing a blog about them (or an interview with someone from their organizations) or sharing a piece of news by or about them. If the answer is no, you should absolutely not consider these organizations as partners.

Seek out partners in your niche

A partner’s brand, product, area of expertise, or mission must be relevant to who you are and what you do. Your goal is to share news, tools, and information that will be genuinely helpful and interesting to people who fit the profiles of your niche target audiences.

Avoid approaching influencers who cover too broad a range of subjects or have too many followers who won’t be interested in your content or your organization. If your offerings would only appeal to a small percentage of their followers, a partnership would not benefit either of you.

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket

Working with a combination of partners and influencers will give you the best long-term return on your marketing investments. Not all partnerships will work out. Some organizations will fail to deliver on their promises. Others will prove too difficult to be worth the struggle. Spread your efforts among a variety of different partners. Monitor results closely, and let data about successes and failures guide where you put your energy in future efforts.

Where to look for digital marketing partners (and how to begin building relationships with them)

Don’t focus solely on existing relationships with organizations you know you can easily ask for a reciprocal scratch on the back. Seek out new partners and ways to work in new mediums. Keep in mind, you’ll need to schedule time to build these new relationships and find money in your advertising and marketing budget to pay for related costs, such as research, content creation, promotion, advertising, and project management.

The first step is to make a profile of the kind of partners you want to attract. Then, you can use all of the tools at your disposal, such as digital marketing platforms like Buzzsumo and Nuzzel, to seek out those types of organizations and influencers.

Types of partners

Peers: Peers are other businesses with which you can build a mutually beneficial relationship. They might be part of your supply chain or neighborhood, or they’re similar in size to your organization and serve the same niche.

Nonprofits: Supporting nonprofits in the community whose mission and target audience aligns with yours is a great way to give back and often provides opportunities for exposure. Many nonprofit organizations generate revenue by giving exposure to companies that donate money to sponsor events — and there’s plenty of room to get creative with this.

Affiliate relationships (including influencers): You can also work with what are known as affiliates or commission partners. In many cases these partners include influencers. Affiliate marketing takes place when one partner has an existing audience they are hoping to monetize by receiving a sales commission when they tell their audience about your products. This can be highly effective if the affiliate/influencer has an active and engaged target audience that directly overlaps with your own target market.

How to initiate contact

Use publicly-available information and a bit of ingenuity to connect with potential partners:

  • Examine the organization’s website to see if you can identify which person seems like the logical point of contact, and find his or her contact information.
  • Send a personalized email introducing yourself and your organization (never send a generic form letter).
  • Include a reason for why you want to partner with the organization.
  • Make a specific request, and tell your point of contact what you’re willing to offer in return.
  • Be sure you’re speaking with the right person. If your point of contact within an organization is not the right person to speak with about partnership marketing, ask if he or she will forward your message on to a teammate.

Begin building partnership relationships

Offering to feature a potential partner or influencer on your website or social media channels is a great way to begin building a relationship. Introduce your organization by making an offer instead of a request.

Follow all of the potential partners you identify on social media, and read their blogs. Google them regularly, and review the top results. Keep your eyes open for pieces of news or information from these organizations that you think your audience would be interested in or enjoy hearing more about.

Let’s say a potential partner published a resource that your audience would find helpful, such as a new white paper on a subject that aligns with your mission or industry. There are several approaches you could take (listed in order from easiest and least time consuming to hardest):

  1. Share a post from the organization about its white paper on your social media channels.
    2. Email the authors of the white paper and ask them if they would like to write a guest post about the new resource for your blog.
    3. Have someone on your staff interview the authors of the white paper, and turn that interview into an article that can be shared online.

Create a promotional plan for the idea

If you create an original piece of content about your partner organization, such as a blog or interview, be sure to promote it through your email newsletter and social media channels. Tag the organization when you post on social media, and link to the organization when you mention it in your blog.

Leverage existing relationships

Partners are much more likely to feature your content when they already have a good relationship established with you. Once you publish and promote content featuring your new partner, send a personalized appeal directly to the person you previously worked with at the organization to ask for mentions in return.

Learn more

If you’re interested in learning more about how to level up your conscious business or mission-driven organization through marketing partnerships, read the Effective Marketing Partnerships e-book included in JB Media’s free Digital Marketing Toolkit.

Justin Belleme

Justin founded JB Media Group, a B Corp Certified, online marketing agency based in Asheville, North Carolina in 2011. He has served as the Marketing Manager for SOCAP since 2015 bringing more than 15 years of experience in digital marketing and event promotion. In addition to providing blogging, email, social media, and partnership marketing support for SOCAP, JB Media has also offered marketing or training services to a variety of other social impact clients and projects including Social Venture Network, Conscious Company Media, StartingBloc, BALLE, Ashoka, and Hive Global Leaders. Justin is also the co-founder and is a lead instructor for the JB Media Institute, an online digital marketing training program.