Marketing partnerships have long been an important marketing strategy for brands and businesses to drive revenue, expand their customer bases and meet and exceed future growth goals. In this edition of Spotlight Southeast Asia, WARC Asia Editor Gabey Goh looks at how COVID-19 has changed the playing field and takes a deep dive into what’s possible with partnerships that wasn’t before.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on how brands in Southeast Asia can develop effective marketing partnerships for growth. Read more

In Southeast Asia, partnerships are ubiquitous in many categories and use cases. From Watsons partnering with Grab to expand its online presence across Southeast Asia, and IKEA partnering with renovations startup Livspace in Singapore, to basketball specialty concept store Titanomachy’s multiyear merchandising partnership with the NBA in the Philippines – just to name a few.

Thanks to COVID-19, partnerships have increasingly become a key avenue for growth as brands seek to leverage the network effect of such endeavours to amplify marketing strategies and stretch limited resources. But in an increasingly saturated and fragmented marketplace, how should marketers be approaching partnership marketing to ensure that the effort is distinctive and will yield positive outcomes?

Brand discovery remains a fragmented process

Data from research firm GWI, covering consumers in Southeast Asia, suggests that brand discovery remains a fragmented, multipoint journey.

  • Consumers are most likely to find out about new brands through TV adverts (37%) or social media ads (37%).
  • When looking at touchpoints other than ads, search engines (42%) are the most important points of brand discovery.
  • Recommendations and comments on social media are of value to one-third of consumers (34%), closely followed by brand and product websites (33%).

This places an added emphasis on using partnerships to effectively cover ground in gaining attention and awareness. With Southeast Asians wanting brands to be eco-friendly (62%), listen to customer feedback (53%) and be socially responsible (53%), marketing resources will need to be divided even further.

Brands must take an open and long-term approach

Partnerships should not be viewed as a zero-sum game. Brand marketers interviewed for this Spotlight agreed that win-win scenarios should be the top objective with a view towards longevity.

  • Go in prepared: Brainstorming potential solutions and options for all parties before even walking into the room can ensure more effective outcomes.

    “If we believe that the other business is here to stay, there are opportunities in the long run... It is ideal to go with proposed solutions that can meet neutral objectives rather than go in and brainstorm,” said Candice Ong, Chief Commercial Officer at rewards and discovery platform, ShopBack.

  • The customer comes first: While it’s important to ensure both parties benefit, the needs of the consumer must be kept at the centre of any potential collaboration.

    “We will also prioritise our customers’ interests while balancing the interests of our partners. We know what our customers need the most, so we are always on the lookout for suitable partners in the ecosystem to elevate the customer experience,” said Derek Tan, Chief Brand Officer of used car marketplace Carsome.

How can brands do more with partnerships

Have all forms of partnerships been exhausted or are there untapped channels or innovations that brands have yet to fully leverage? For brands looking to do more with others, contributors from the Southeast Asia Spotlight offered some tips and food for thought:

  • Find partners across the consumer journey: Radical media consumption shifts and changed consumer priorities wrought by the pandemic have opened up opportunities for marketers to leverage different types of marketing partnerships. “Having a deep knowledge of the evolved consumer journey, which is becoming more and more a personalised experience, will help brands find the relevant partners that can accelerate the value that they offer,” writes Maita Consulta, Chief Strategy Officer, Mediabrands Philippines.
  • Partner for the people: While meeting business objectives remains a core driver of any brand partnership, it boils down to how such a collaboration can ultimately benefit consumers in their daily lives – a point that has taken on added importance, thanks to COVID-19. “Brands should view partnerships as a call to go back to basics, that it is ultimately about the consumers. Perhaps, post-pandemic, this consumer-first approach will stay and strengthen the foundations of brand-consumer relationships far into the future,” writes Siyoree Thaitrakulpanich, Senior Associate, Strategy, at Ogilvy.
  • Leverage partnerships to tap into cultural shifts: In a COVID-19 climate and beyond, brands need to look at localised cultural beliefs that are on the cusp of evolving or have evolved and need to be harnessed. “There has been a cultural shift in what people expect those in positions of power, including brands, to do when it comes to showing appreciation. Brands should create partnerships that create tangible and impactful good,” writes TSLA’s Junk Desk.
  • Be unique and viral to steal the spotlight: When the market is saturated, being innovative is key and a marketing collaboration is one way to create trends and virality. “As long as the collaboration has the right story to back it up and if it targets Gen Z or younger audiences, an out-of-box or “gimmicky” idea is necessary,” writes Imperia Oktabrinda (Pimpim), head of strategy, McCann Indonesia. “Such a collaboration may not necessarily help long-term brand equity, but it will be remembered by the target audience as an exciting brand.”
  • Scenario planning can strengthen longevity: To ensure the long-term sustainability of partnerships, it is crucial to project multiple scenarios alongside partners to weather the unexpected. “The come-and-go nature of many partnerships, especially multi-million-dollar sponsorships or celebrity-studded platforms, signal short-sightedness. To immediately end the partnership is the best solution but is not good for brand image,” writes Nguyễn Thuỵ Anh (aka Mic), planning director at Climax Creatology.

The events of 2020 have sparked a myriad of new possibilities when it comes to partnership marketing. The emergence of new and unexpected collaborations in the region suggests an appetite and openness that is driven by the need to stay top of mind in challenging economic conditions.

Amidst the pressure to be distinct and memorable with consumers, marketers will need to ensure that any endeavour is set up for maximum impact – for a win-win outcome for all.