As Warc’s Knowledge Officer I’ve observed some notable trends that stood out in the marcomms industry in 2014 and that will continue to play an important role in brand communications in 2015. I’ll be publishing a series of blogs covering these hot topics over the next few weeks. The first looks at powerful partnerships.

Partnerships are hot! The right collaboration can have a powerful effect on marketing strategy. Aligning with experts can enhance a brand's credibility; the right collaboration can expose a brand to new audiences; what's more, a clever partnership can support that all-important shopper-marketing strategy.

I've dug deep into the Warc archive to showcase a selection of case studies from 2014 that have implemented such strategies to great effect.

Pantene weather program is a great illustration of smart collaboration. This case study describes the hair care brand’s strategic partnership with Walgreens, the US pharmacy chain, and The Weather Channel. It used contextually based mobile advertising and real-time location-based data to address a key consumer pain point – ‘bad hair days’. Upon checking the daily forecast on The Weather Channel, mobile phone users were served a personalised "haircast" with suggestions for the most appropriate Pantene product to suit the conditions outside. Shopper marketing was vital: the tie-up with Walgreens (where sales increased by 24%) smoothed the path to purchase, and consumers received relevant discounts and rewards.

Another partnership that caught my attention is The Cosmopolitan Hotel of Las Vegas’ collaboration with United Airlines. To attract more people already in Las Vegas to its gambling facilities, events and eateries the hotel partnered with the United to capture would-be visitors’ attention in mid-air as, according to Angela Wise, vp/marketing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, this was the "point of decision time in a medium where absolutely no one is competing with us”. Passengers received a gift box from the hotel which contained special offers, a $25 gaming voucher and useful information. The initiative has proved very successful and is being rolled out to 2016.

And for brands seeking to boost their expertise credentials or emphasise its brand equity the right partnership can work wonders. Pedigree, the petcare brand, partnered with dog rescue charities to build its nutritional credibility. This advocacy strategy helped Pedigree engage with dog owners and reinvigorate its business.

There are start-ups and then there are legacy brands trying to create a start-up culture. One way long-standing brands are doing this is by partnering with new innovative companies and incubators to enhance their innovation credentials. In May 2014 Unilever, formed the Unilever Foundry, an innovation hub set up to explore opportunities to work with start-ups. This helps the FMCG giant stay relevant by generating pioneering ideas. Unilever are not alone, other major companies who see opportunity in this space include Nestle and Coca-Cola.

Arguably music is an under-explored area rich with partnership opportunities. Collaborating with musicians can be effective in changing consumer perceptions about a brand and helping drive business growth. What’s more, music taps into our emotions and can transcend cultures and geographies thus the right musical partnership could assist brands seeking global resonance.

Under Armour, the US sportswear brand is committed to partnering with and championing up and coming musicians. As Brenden Miller, director of music and brand partnerships said, "We're a humble but hungry brand, and I really identify with the artists that are underdogs that were told they couldn't do it and are now touring around the world. We want to be known as the brand that partners with the artists, and we want to make sure we're on the same page in terms of messaging". Elsewhere, Coachella, the US music festival, entered into a strategic alliance with Spotify, the music streaming service. And more recently, Uber, the car service company, has announced its own collaboration with the music app.

Brands are increasingly aligning with media partners to optimise their marketing objectives. One such example is Fosters, the beer brand, who partnered with Shortlist, a free weekly UK magazine, whereby the two characters in the ads, wrote a regular dilemma column, to engage with the male target audience.

Elsewhere J Jill, a women's clothing retailer in the US, partnered with The Motherhood, an online Mommy blogging media platform to reach its target female audience. And in the UK, BEAR, a dried fruit brand, was a relatively unknown in the category but a focus on stripped back ingredients and an appealing BEAR character helped this challenger brand achieve rapid sales growth from £0 to £6.4m in 3 years. BEAR partnered with National Geographic Kids who included product samples in one of their issues and both brands hosted Wild Nights Out (a family event to promote the great outdoors). BEAR also partners with the Forestry Commission which enhances its sustainability credentials.

Perhaps partnerships are the new sponsorships…

Want to know more about this growing trend? Warc subscribers can find out more here.