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US Market Entry: co-branding strategies are a matter of teamwork for UK companies

UK companies looking to enter the US market do not have to go it alone. Bob McCarthy takes a light-hearted look at the benefits of co-branding.

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As UK companies ponder how to enter the US market, or expand in an existing one, marketing managers think they have to do it alone. They also quickly realize it's too damned expensive!

What are the alternatives open to the enlightened marketing professional at a company that knows it can create a beachhead in the US? The opportunities are there, you just need to find them and figure out how to match your brand with perhaps a most unlikely partner. Let's take a look at co-branding.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of serving the needs of two very disparate clients, the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and world famous toy manufacturer Mattel. For many people, those two brands seem to be on opposite ends of the marketing spectrum. The Dodgers were the men and boys' domain and Mattel was Barbie country. At first glance, there was nothing there that would allow for co-branding and cross-promotion. Their worlds and target audiences were entirely different.

Then the number 40 jumped onto our radar screen. The Dodgers were celebrating the 40th anniversary of their arrival in Los Angeles and Barbie was going to be 40 years young.

The Dodgers were well aware that many pre-teen girls (aged five to 12) played baseball but that not many came to the stadium with their mothers; that was dad's responsibility. After looking a little closer they also discovered that single mothers never considered baseball as an event they would take their daughters to for the same reason. With the changing character of the single mum household, what could be done to attract that under-exploited segment?

Mattel on the other hand was always looking for ways to expand and enhance their positioning. Competitive products were chipping away at their share of market and Barbie needed a boost in the market. Being affiliated with "America's Pastime" opened the door to a niche marketing opportunity and co-branding and cross promotion was the key.

After several meetings, strategies and tactics were developed and implemented. We brought the two brands together to celebrate the Dodgers' 40th anniversary and Barbie's birthday.

Not only did Barbie become a Dodger but Major League Baseball so loved the concept, she became a New York Yankee and a Chicago Cub too.

The co-branding and cross-promotion of these two disparate brands took their respective industries by storm. Toy Fair, the toy industry's premier trade show, celebrated Barbie entering Major League Baseball. The baseball stadiums in the three major markets rejoiced as young girls and their mums came to the games. The public relations value and coverage created such a media event that the programme was considered a success by both brands, not to mention the increased sell-through experienced for Barbie, the baseball player.

In retrospect it seems simple and self-evident that there should be a tie-in between baseball and a major toy company. We had to look outside the box to see what made sense. Sometimes just celebrating something is the way you bring your product into the limelight.

We have often heard the old statement about "guilt through association". What we all need to investigate is validation through association and that is exactly what marketers can accomplish by utilising co-branding and cross-promotion to enter a new market or to expand sales in an existing market.

As companies look to expand, they need to explore how they can extend their brand by studying market dynamics and demographics. Co-branding and cross-promotion may be one of the most powerful strategies of your marketing plan.

Today's marketing executive is looking for the best return on investment (ROI) for every dollar spent. To find a way to share that expense is ultimately to the marketing executive's advantage.

Co-branding may be the cost-effective solution because it allows your brand to take advantage of the strength of another brand in a different category with mutual benefits.

Special events, and even charity events, present opportunities that will allow your product to be positioned next to the brands with which you should be affiliated. Those types of events are great ways to meet non-competitive manufacturers with whom you might be able to co-brand or cross-promote with in the future.

US companies are on the look-out for marketing partners that can generate excitement for their brand. The benefit to UK SMEs is that co-branding and cross-promotion may be a highly effective tactic for providing additional support to the introduction of your brand to the US. In the case of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Barbie, it was a matter of finding the right team.

Bob McCarthy, based in Los Angeles, is a Worldwide Associate of MGSE and President of McCarthy Marketing Management (M3). The firm specialises in strategic partnering and representation with both national and international companies in the areas of co-branding, sponsorships, and new product development. Contact Bob McCarthy at mmm.bob@verizon.net.

MGSE, a member of the British American Business Council Los Angeles, works with small and medium size enterprises in the US, UK and Europe who desire to introduce their business or products to the US market. We specialise in developing marketplace evaluations and facilitate market entry for companies that wish to establish a new operation or expand their current business. For more information on US market entry visit www.mgse.us.

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