I have to admit it — I really wanted to take a bite out of the new Pizza Hut x KFC Popcorn Chicken Pizza. What intrigued me was the fact that the thought of it sounded about as appetizing as it was revolting. The limited-time-only dish is only available at participating Pizza Hut locations in the UK, but once again, KFC wins with an obscure yet possibly brilliant collaboration. Another recent intriguing collaboration done by KFC was their Cheetos sandwich. Not everyone liked the sandwich, but they did talk about it and debate it, and it was an earned media success for the two brands.  The collaborative sandwich reminded me of a question that we often discuss with our clients: How do you know when a partnership is right for you? (choose from the following)

  1. When the cool kids are doing it.
  2. They are offering us something free, so what’s not to like?!
  3. It just seems like a good fit.
  4. All of the Above
  5. None of the Above

This isn’t a trick question or one with a right answer. As BrandAgents, we ask and get asked this question a lot. The fact is, brands should not enter into a partnership just because it might boost their reputation or because they have been offered something free. Brands should have a strong case for what they are doing because, if they don’t, the backlash can be detrimental.

Case in point: Forever 21’s recent debacle. The company decided to include free Atkins bars in its online deliveries, causing major customer backlash. “Does someone think I need to go on a diet?!” screamed recipients over social media. The brand stepped back, took the bars out, and apologized. Whoops. I’m sure the intent was to improve the customer experience all while providing a sampling opportunity for Atkins. Instead, all it did was to insult the very customers Forever 21 was trying to reward.

So, what can a brand do to make sure a partnership is right? You can’t really try before you buy, but you can conduct a risk assessment. This is why we direct brands to have a partnership check list on hand during every discussion about a potential alliance, providing them with a strategy that makes a business case for each new relationship. Without one, an association with a particular brand could wind up to be a happy accident or a total disaster. Is that a risk worth taking?

Here are 3 key things to consider when entering a somewhat new territory with a potential brand partner:

  1. Is this partnership high or low value to the customer and my business? Just because you want to work with a brand, even if it’s trending, doesn’t mean it’s the right fit. A partnership has to add some level of perceived value to your brand. Start by listing all of the attributes of the prospective partner and where they connect to your customer. Also evaluate possible PR outcomes. Are there any chances this collaboration could backfire, and, if so, how? 
  1. Is this partnership long term or short term? Determining the length of a partnership will help you set realistic goals for measurement. For example, KFC/Cheetos appears to be very limited – offered only for a few weeks. Just enough time to generate buzz and demand. Longer term partnerships are probably more effective if you are trying to get solid ROI and results. However, limited term activations can often have greater impact while minimizing risk.
  1. Speaking of risk, have you done a rigorous cost-benefit analysis for the potential alliance? When considering marketing partnerships, it’s important to honestly assess any potential risks or fallout that might come out of the partnership. One way to mitigate problems is to consider a pilot program in a few key regions. This way you can not only gauge if the relationship is worth taking to a national level, but you can also get some critical customer feedback.

Taking risks with new partnerships is something that we encourage with all brands. In life, it’s our differences that often make for great pairs. Like they say, opposites attract. We think it’s a good idea for brands to step out of their comfort zone and go for that partnership but be sure it makes strategic sense for your business.

Regatta’s BrandAgents specialize in helping clients find the right partners while minimizing risk. Feel free to reach out if you’d like to discuss any of this further.