Cooperation marketing – opportunities for small businesses

If you want to survive in business competition, you have to look for allies in the long run. You can get this through cooperation marketing, which also offers small and medium-sized companies a lot of opportunities.

Having a brilliant business idea and getting it ready for the market is one thing. To win customers for this is quite another. And even if you have successfully placed your company, you can’t sit back and relax. Digitization, leaps and bounds in consumer behaviour and growing price sensitivity are forcing the most considerable flexibility that small companies can rarely afford on their own in the rarest of cases. If you want to be well-positioned for the future, you should think about cooperation marketing.

Cooperation marketing: focus on the target group.

The target group is the linchpin for future marketing cooperation. It has to be definedreachedconvinced and repeatedly wooed.

The most important prerequisite is, therefore, to know your customers and their needs. This is not as natural as it sounds. Young companies, in particular, often take their target group too far, so that they do not address them precisely. This is where an intensive target group analysis is helpful, to which you may need to consult a marketing expert.

The target group leads to possible cooperation partners. Because they should have access to the desired clientele or at least part of it, of course, the potential partner must not be a direct competitor but instead must offer something that complements their performance. If this is the case, the desired triple-win situation or win-win-win situation has been achieved. All three parties benefit the customer and cooperation partners one and two.

The target group should be limited as precisely as possible for cooperation marketing measures.

Brand cooperation goals

What do I want to achieve with cooperation? Advancing your own company with outside support and using synergy effects, in general terms. In practice, of course, concrete goals are required that can be plannedimplemented, and the results measured, including:

  • Increase awareness
  • Strengthen your image
  • Maximize sales
  • gain new clients
  • Increase range
  • open up new sales channels and sales markets
  • Improve customer loyalty
  • Save costs
  • Expand offer
  • Add know-how

Most respondents clearly emphasize expanding the sales market. The points of competitiveness and knowledge are likely to become more critical in the future. This is suggested by at least one study by the digital association Bitkom :

Digitization as a cooperation project

“Four out of five companies cooperate with other companies to drive digitization,” is the conclusion of the Bitkom study. The motives behind it:

  • Knowledge transfer to your own company (48 percent)
  • Cost reduction (45 percent)
  • new markets (27 percent)
  • new customer groups (21 percent)
  • Develop new products or services (20 percent)
  • Pooling forces in the competition (18 per cent)

To a large extent, however, the cooperation only consists of outsourcing specific tasks for cost reasons. Bitkom general manager Bernhard Rohleder calls for “real cooperation” for the future so that the digital transformation in Germany succeeds. Cooperation “between global players, medium-sized companies and startups” is also essential.

However, one form of cooperation that has only become possible through digitization is already working well: reciprocal links to achieve a better ranking for your website.

Forms of cooperation marketing

Sponsoring is a particularly striking marketing cooperation

Cooperation marketing has many faces. There are rather striking models such as co-branding and sponsoring that catch the eye of many laypersons.

There are also more subtle forms that are hardly noticed by the public. The boundaries between individual measures cannot always be drawn. Many intersections can be beneficial in a cooperation marketing mix.

  • Affiliate Marketing: The affiliate partners advertise products and services of an e-commerce provider on their websites. If the link leads to a business transaction, a commission flows. The big advantage for small business owners: no financial risk.
  • Barter Deal: Barter (the short form) denotes a counter transaction in which no money flows, but services are exchanged.
  • Co-advertising: Two or more brands come together in a joint promotion, in which all are perceived individually.
  • Co-branding: At least two brands form a new product, but are still recognizable as independent brands.
  • Co-Events: The partners organize and finance an event for the joint target group.
  • Co-marketing: The partners bundle their marketing measures for a product or service to reduce costs. The advertised product can be a form of co-branding.
  • Co-promotions: At least two brands work together on this particular advertising measure. These can be information stands, competitions or the distribution of samples, for example.
  • Cross-selling (sales cooperation): The companies use the sales channels of the cooperation partner to reach new target groups.
  • C (S) R cooperation: The abbreviation stands for Corporate Social Responsibility, whereby the S for Social tends to be left out. The companies are involved in various areas such as childcare and the environment, which in turn can be achieved through different forms of cooperation.
  • Ingredient branding: The component of a product is made visible as a separate brand on the product and the packaging. Closely related to co-branding.
  • Licenses: The licensee receives the right to use the trademark (s) of the licensor for a fee.
Local branding limits cooperation marketing in one place.

Local branding: Suitable for companies whose marketing partners are mainly located in the same place. Based on the concept of regionality, however, local branding is not a separate form of cooperation, but somewhat limits the selected ways such as co-events and co-advertising to the local environment.

Media cooperation: A company cooperates with selected media. For example, collaboration can be such that the company provides information and receives editorial reporting.

Product placement: Better known as “product placement”, it is about placing products as elegantly as possible in the media, mainly films. Most significant risk: suspected surreptitious advertising.

Sponsoring: The company supports athletes, clubs or events financially and is named as a sponsor and receives advertising space.

Testimonial cooperation/influencer marketing: celebrities, influencers or bloggers advertise a product or service.

Which forms of cooperation are best suited depends on the objectives and groups as well as the requirements and financial opportunities of the companies involved? According to the marketing agency Connecting Brands, the most frequently implemented measure or form of cooperation marketing in Germany is co-promotion.

Find suitable cooperation partners.

Many companies get to a cooperation partner without really looking for one. A chance encounter triggers a conversation that ends in cooperation. That can work. However, a previous analysis and a targeted search for a suitable partner promise more success.

Own network

The best prospects are cooperation with a partner you already know. That is why your own business and private network is the first choice when searching. Not only are people with whom you deal every day, but also more extensive or less frequent contacts.

Customer database

In this regard, your customer database can also be a real gold mine, especially if employees with direct contact keep feeding them additional information. In this way, it is not only possible to filter which of the business customers offers which products and services, but also which one is already entering into cooperations or is thinking about a new collaboration.


This is the method with the lowest inhibition threshold and the least effort if you do not yet know a potential cooperation partner. On the Internet, where a large part of the young companies are already at home, you can take a sneak peek and make contact.

Social media

Business partners have also found each other on Facebook. However, the first choice is business portals such as Xing or LinkedIn, where you can get the right contact person for the chosen company.

Contact exchanges

A more targeted search is possible via various contact exchanges, such as from the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK)perspective SMEs and Biz Trade. This can also be used to search for successors, financing, licenses and company investments. There are more specific portals for individual sectors and regions, such as the city ​​of Munich’s cooperation platform

If you are looking for a suitable cooperation partner, it is worth considering all possible ways.


If you like to get an overview of the various companies in a particular region yourself, you can search through the relevant registers of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Chambers of Crafts online. The stored company profiles reveal who is a potential cooperation partner.

Real-life networking

Networking events are offered in all major cities and can be found via city portals or Xing. You can also get opportunities to scan for partner suitability at industry meetings, congresses and trade fairs. The latter explicitly offer space for networking.

Influencing factors in cooperation marketing

The agency connecting brands also dealt with the factors in your study that are most promising for brand cooperation.

Partner choice

The choice of the right partner takes according to the study results, with 77 per cent of the main square one. The compatibility of the two companies must be checked carefully beforehand. It is not limited to the fact that products, services and objectives fit together. The sympathy bonus also plays a role. After all, one plans to work together over a more extended period.

Creative concepts

The creative cooperation concept follows in second place. It is not enough to bundle the activities. You need an approach that stands out from the crowd and offers customers real added value.

From marketing to management

This leads us almost directly to the desired win-win-win situation. However, the respondents rate the marketing of cooperation as more important than this. Because a campaign or campaign can be so good – it fizzles out silently if the target group does not notice it. Professional management is still classified with enormous influence.


Controlling, which is treated somewhat neglected, is not directly responsible for the initial success of brand cooperation. Still, it does play an essential role in the course of the collaboration. Those responsible should continuously review the goals set so that they can be improved if necessary. In the event of adverse development, only the exit helps. This is noticed in good time by professional controlling so that no damage to the image occurs.

Cooperation marketing for small and medium-sized companies

Smaller and tiny companies, in particular, can benefit from cooperations, and in many cases are even dependent on them if they want to survive permanently. The idea is obvious to look for a cooperation partner from the “own league”. Often, especially in the context of digitization, it is necessary to look for partners who are much smaller or larger than your own company.

Companies of the same size

In some cases, it is advantageous if the cooperation partners have a similar number of employees and resources.

The three-person graphics office keeps getting inquiries as to whether it can also deliver texts. In cooperation with a small text agency, it can make a complete offer to customers. The writing partner can then offer his clientele an all-round carefree package with layout and illustration. In this way, both cooperation partners receive more orders, which, however, do not exceed their capacities.

According to Nils Pickenpack, pure marketing cooperation works best between larger companies that are at eye level. Here it makes the most sense for the process if the departments involved have similar capacities.

Startup and medium-sized companies

In the study series “Success Factors in Medium-Sized Enterprises “, Deloitte explicitly examined “Cooperations between Medium-Sized Enterprises and Startups “. The results of this study show that companies with between 50 and 3,000 employees and small companies with only a few employees are somewhat alien to one another. Still, there have already been many fruitful collaborations between these different cultural companies.

For small and medium-sized businesses and startups, cooperation can give just the right boost.

Different ideas

According to the study, both types of the company agree that cooperation in the areas of strategy, business model and innovation is necessary, but have different ideas. Medium-sized companies prefer a cooperation period of at least 36 months, whereas startups prefer one-off projects with an average duration of eight months.

Good chances of success

The Deloitte study mentions supplier relationshipsloose cooperation (for selected topics, which are usually not fixed in writing), pure project cooperation, and often longer-term and contractually regulated contractual partnership as promising cooperations for this partner constellation. Sometimes collaboration also leads to the creation of a joint venture or equity investment.

Practical example

Using the specific example of a medium-sized hardware company, the study shows what cooperation can look like in practice. As the hardware business is declining, the company is building a data centre. To be able to offer customers a broad portfolio of software services, the medium-sized company is cooperating with a startup for IT solutions that complement the offer.

Cooperation partner for large companies

Larger medium-sized companies have been working with corporations for a long time, for example, as classic suppliers for complex products such as machines or cars.

Even small startups are increasingly sought after as cooperation partners if they have products and services in their portfolio that corporations cannot offer. Some traditional business models no longer work with digitization. “Large companies are too sluggish to think out of the box,” explains Nils Pickenpack. For this reason, they cooperate with young startups, which in the following often leads to a takeover.

Startups often think “out of the box” and are, therefore, attractive cooperation partners for large companies that have often become sluggish.

Specifically, Nils Pickenpack mentions a car company as an example that secures entry into car-sharing or a specialized app via a startup. At Daimler, for example, this is done by participating in the mytaxi driver app.

Step by step to cooperation

Spontaneous collaborations can work, but in most cases, proper planning makes sense.

  • Assessment and analysis: To be able to enter into cooperation, I have to be clear about where my company is, what kind of collaboration it needs and what it can offer in return.
  • Objective: What do I want to achieve with cooperation? Do you want to open up new business areas for more new customers who bind existing customers better? Or a combination of several goals? The more precisely the goals are named, the greater the chances of success.
  • Looking for a partner : Once the first two points have been clarified, I can look for a suitable partner. The optimal candidate offers me what I need, is not a direct competitor and benefits from the offer that my company can make.
  • Establishing contact : The first contact is non-binding. If it becomes more concrete, it is necessary to get to know each other personally. In order to work well together, the employees involved not only have to harmonize professionally, they also have to be friendly. If my gut feeling speaks against it, it will be difficult with the cooperation.
  • Negotiations : At this point, the potential cooperation partners must deal openly with one another. Then the possibilities are explored. Skills, preferences, and capacities need to be on the table to pinpoint the framework for collaboration.
  • Fixation : For smaller cooperations or if I have known the partner for a long time, oral agreements may be sufficient. Otherwise, a written fixation makes sense. The common goals are defined in a concept. How should these be achieved? And who has to perform which services? How often do meetings take place? What should the controlling look like? This also includes regulations in the event of failure: How is unforeseen profit slumps, negative headlines of a partner dealt with? Who is liable and how? What happens if a partner has given false information or kept negative developments secret? When will the cooperation be terminated?
  • Success monitoring : Only a regular review can ensure that the goals set are also achieved. How this should be carried out should also be part of the written fixation.

Categories: Digital Marketing, E-commerce, Social Media

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