Co-Branding: It’s Not Always a Bad Idea

An example of how NOT to brand

If you’ve read any of the works of Al Ries & Jack Trout (Positioning, Marketing Warfare, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing) you know they are vehemently opposed to the idea of “co-branding.” Their philosophy is that “a brand is a brand is a brand,” meaning that any brand can only have one name, one product or company behind it, and occupy only one place in the mind. According to Ries & Trout, co-branding violates this principle by attaching two brand names to one product or service.

My views on co-branding are a bit more practical. Simply said, under the right circumstances, co-branding is necessary, even beneficial. Co-branding occurs when two different entities mutually label a product, service or company.

Some examples:

Eddie Bauer edition of the Ford Explorer
Disney Pictures & Pixar Animation Studios’ “Finding Nemo”
Hugh Hefner and Playboy Enterprises

The value of co-branding is that it allows two entities to contribute value to the brand, increasing the likelihood that the brand will connect with a potential client and a relationship will begin. This type of arrangement is often useful when one of the brands in a co-branding situation is not well-known and has little brand awareness. For example, before the hit “Toy Story,” Pixar was not a widely known brand, and Disney’s brand power helped get audiences into movie theaters.

Close, but not the same brand...
Close, but not the same brand…

Three Kinds of Co-Branding
In Personal Branding, I usually counsel clients to brand themselves, not their companies. However, there may be situations where you need to co-brand yourself with your company. There are three strategies for doing this, depending on your situation:

Company Brand in front, Personal Brand behind—If the company is the primary developer of new clients, if clients habitually use the company name to describe their service provider to others, or if the company legally owns the clients, then the company name should be large and your name minimized. This strategy is common for large law, securities, accounting or consulting firms where the firm owns the client and the practitioner is merely assigned to the client account. The advantage: the value and power in the company brand vastly increase the perceived value of your Personal Brand.

Some examples: Merrill Lynch, Ernst & Young and Accenture.

Personal Brand side by side with the Company Brand—If you and your company are on an equal footing when it comes to acquiring clients and legally owning clients, you may be required to co-brand at a 50/50 level. If your company allows, develop your own Personal Logo and place it with the company logo on all stationery, Personal Brochures and Web sites. If allowed, make your Logo as large or larger than the company mark. This strategy is common in the real estate industry where Coldwell Banker, Prudential or RE/MAX are the big brands, but the agents are the stars. You’ll also find the same thing in auto dealerships: “Worthington Ford,” “Longo Toyota” or “John Elway Chevrolet.”

Personal Brand in front, Company Brand behind—If your efforts primarily generate new clients, or you are the primary owner of your clients, this is the strategy for you. It’s also my favorite strategy. You should have your own Personal Brochure, stationery and Web site clearly displaying your logo, and your company affiliate should be minimized as much as your company allow.

Which Choice is Right for You?
Ask yourself, “Who owns the client?” If the answer is you, then brand your name first and the company second. If you both own the client, brand both equally. If the company owns the client, its name comes first with your name minimized.

Some branding purists will not agree with this approach. But the reality is that in business, relationships are too complex to simply prohibit co-branding. You use what works, and if co-branding with your company makes your Personal Brand stronger, that’s the most important thing.

Another Bad Example of Branding

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The Shaft: How Some Companies Prey on the Poor

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Mark Montoya has been working in personal branding for more than a decade for hundreds of online and offline companies, small businesses and individual service professionals. His focus has been toward improving the way jobseekers find employment on the Internet. He has synthesized his expertise by helping job seekers obtain their ideal choice of employment over the Internet on his sites and, and through his books 101 Tips Every Job Seeker Should Know and The Ultimate Online Job Search eBook.

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10 thoughts on “Co-Branding: It’s Not Always a Bad Idea”

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