We know that there are many factors that can affect corporate reputation. We also know that reputations can be lost extremely fast in a social media-heavy, always-on world. To reach wider markets and different customers, many companies have chosen to use a partnering route to market. However, they have also had to evolve strong strategies to manage the potential reputational risk of doing so.
At a recent roundtable, we discussed the issue of reputation management in the partnering landscape. These were the top themes and takeaways from the discussion.
Partners need to be considered as key stakeholders—and managed as such
If you have chosen to use a partner marketing model, your organisational reputation is very much in the hands of your partners. They have a powerful influence over the perception of the brand in the marketplace, because they are in close contact with your end-customers. They therefore affect key reputational issues such as ease of doing business. However, they are also affected by these issues themselves. It is therefore essential to consider your partners as key stakeholders. Understanding which factors affect their recommendation decisions to their customers, and managing those factors, is crucial.
Partners are an important source of information about customers
Partners are closer to customers than any brand can be. They may therefore be more aware of changing beliefs or expectations, or factors that are affecting your reputation in the marketplace. They are certainly likely to pick up faster on any misalignment between your reputation and the delivery or operation of your products and services. They are therefore a good weathervane or barometer. That makes it worthwhile cultivating good relationships with them, especially the most valuable ones, to get vital market information quickly.
Brands need to take responsibility for partner alignment
It is tempting for brands to want to launch new products or services quickly—but they can sometimes act a bit too quickly for partners. Instead, they need to take enough time to ensure that partners are ready for new launches. This should include basic aspects such as ensuring that partners have all the necessary information, and the ability to demonstrate the new product. It is very much the brand’s responsibility to provide partners with enough information and training to ensure that a launch goes smoothly.
It is crucial to choose the right partners
Partners are definitely not created equal. Partner marketing takes a lot of effort, so it makes sense to focus that effort on the partners that are most important. It is also better to have a few really strong partners than lots of weaker partners. You need a strong strategic alignment with your partners: they need to be looking at similar long-term aims. It is worth regularly reviewing your partner situation to make sure that you have the right partners on board, and that they are all fully aligned and understand the products and/or vision. It is also important, of course, to remember that partner relationships are two-way. If you don’t deliver on your promises as a brand, your partners will look elsewhere.
To-partner marketing should not be an afterthought
Too often, marketing to partners is a late addition to the marketing thinking. However, the companies that operate most effectively through partnering are those that put their partners first. Marketing to partners should be the early thinking, before any ‘through partner’ marketing is considered. In other words, you should never create any marketing initiative without being clear about the ‘to partner’ element. This means clearly understanding your partners’ messaging needs and incentives. You should also consider how your partners’ salesforce will be trained and enabled, because sales teams often ‘own’ the customers. Both ‘to partner’ and ‘through partner’ marketing should be the responsibility of the brand marketing team.
No organisation can really partner more than two brands well
Choice may be valuable—but it is almost impossible for any partner organisation to represent and position more than two brands at any one time. In reality, therefore, if you are brand number three for a given partner, you have to recognise that you are not going to be their priority. It therefore makes sense to avoid investing too much time and effort into that relationship. You may make some sales, but only if their customers already want your brand. You are unlikely to influence recommendations.