The sign read "We proudly brew Starbucks Coffee." Suddenly, the thought of eating in a cafeteria seemed a bit more, shall I say... palatable. I wasn't even planning on drinking coffee (it was too late in the afternoon for me), but seeing that sign was comforting.

As the owner of this cafeteria knows, linking your brand to another product, service, place or even person can be an excellent way to reinforce or augment your brand attributes.

We are living in a world where everyone, and every company, is becoming more specialized. Avoiding becoming a commodity requires that you be differentiated from your competitors. Differentiation means being known for something, not a hundred things.

Creating brand alliances enables you to continue to benefit from the one thing you do best while also benefiting from the one thing your affiliate does best.

When you have built a brand that excels at what your customers want and have surrounded yourself with other strong brands, you maximize the brand experience while remaining true to your unique promise of value.

Some companies and organizations are excellent at building these valuable connections. This is not co-branding—sharing a product or service with two brand names. It is connecting your brand to another brand to bolster your differentiation, expand your brand attributes or increase your visibility. This advances your brand building and nurturing activities.

Bolster your brand

When your brand is highly differentiated from your peers' or competitors', it is important to fortify that differentiation through all of your brand affiliations. Some companies are exceptional at creating these kinds of reinforcing connections with similar brands.

Hotels seem to be the best at it. Perhaps it's because they have so many opportunities for brand partnerships.

W Hotels, for example, has chosen to join with Aveda, a personal-product company with a modern, clean and natural brand consistent with the design and brand promise of W.

Ritz Carlton is also excellent at making the right connections. The hotel chain promotes the "Key to Luxury" package, which gets you the use of a new Mercedes during your stay. Ritz Carlton had lots of options for luxury automobile brands.

But it chose Mercedes, which underlines its brand attribute of classic luxury. If the new Bulgari design hotels were to launch a similar program, they would probably choose a more modern brand of car, like Lexus, to back up the brand. But the Ritz also missed an opportunity. It chose to make its own line of toiletries rather than connect with a brand that could strengthen its brand position. Ritz Carlton is not known as a luxury toiletries company; it is a luxury hotel that provides the finest service and finest amenities. Hermes bath products in every room would be an excellent way to reinforce the Ritz attributes of luxury and exclusivity.

Sofitel, the luxury hotel brand of the French Accor company, has chosen Roget and Galet bath products. These soaps, gels and shampoos are quintessentially French. That's a key differentiator for the Sofitel brand—setting it apart from other upscale hotels.

Enhance your brand attributes

Connecting your brand to others can augment your brand attributes as well. And the brand you decide to link to doesn't even have to be a product or company.

L'Oreal decided to associate its brand with one of the world's strongest brands—the city of Paris. L'Oreal is not the high-priced designer hair-care product you'll find at leading salons. But it wanted to separate its products from competitors by adding the brand attributes of style and fashion.

That's why every time you see L'Oreal advertised, you'll see the word Paris—like in the tag line: L'Oreal Paris, Because You're Worth It.

As Nick Wreden reminded us in a previous MarketingProfs article, L'Oreal is no longer just a French brand. It is a global brand. But it chose to highlight its roots (no pun intended) to gain positive brand attributes through its association with Paris.

Yves St Laurent took it one step further. Its association is not with all of Paris but with just the trendy, stylish and creative left bank—hence, Yves St Laurent Rive Gauche.

Increase your visibility

From the actual product association through all forms of marketing and advertising, the connection of two brands helps increase visibility for both.

In the W hotels example, you can see that both brands have increased opportunities for visibility. Aveda benefits from this extra visibility every time someone visits a W Hotel, and even each time anyone visits the W Hotels Web site.

For a while, United Airlines boasted that it brewed Starbucks on board. Would I fly United just for the coffee? Even being the coffee aficionado that I am, probably not. But it does help improve the overall brand experience.

Creating these brand-building alliances is easy as long as the product or organization with which you are linking sees the value in it. And you don't have to be a giant consumer products company to benefit from these types of connections. My little company Reach has found tremendous benefit in linking with companies like Brandego, organizations like the ICF and Web portals like this site!

The key to developing these connections is to decide the criteria up front. When thinking about creating an affiliation like this, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want the other brand to have the same or different target audience?

  • Do I want the other brand to reinforce or augment my brand attributes?

  • Which attributes are going to be most visible in this association?

  • What areas of my business/offerings are not core to my differentiation?

  • What do I have to offer this other company or product in return?

  • What companies, products, places or even people come to mind when I think about my answers to the above five questions?

Whether a small business or a giant corporation, think about opportunities for brand affiliations. Ask yourself if there are opportunities to connect your brand with others for mutual benefit.

Note: William Arruda is the Prof Expert of an upcoming virtual seminar: "Branding Basics—Profiting from Your Company's Greatest Asset." To learn more about the upcoming seminar, click here.

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image of William Arruda

William Arruda is a personal branding pioneer, the founder and CEO of Reach Personal Branding, and the author of Ditch. Dare. Do! 3D Personal Branding for Executives.

Twitter: @williamarruda

LinkedIn: William Arruda