Once upon a time, marketing partnerships were all about big investments translating loosely into a vague ROI. Bigger sponsorship deals measured success on how many people had seen a TV ad or billboard, or how many had been exposed to the branding by attending an event. What is so interesting about the surge in popularity for smaller scale tie-ups is the types brands are investing in and what is considered success at the end of it.

Why are we investing?

When done well micro partnerships, defined as investment of £0k – £50k per year per partnership, are cost-effective and can show great ROI, as well as add heaps of value to your brand. The latest OneChocolate research confirmed companies are flocking to invest in them, with the main drivers being brand awareness and brand value, both ranked ahead of sales increase by our marketers.

This reflects the shift we’ve seen in brands investing more in content and experience over material which simply sells the product. Right now, the most successful companies are those which consumers want to buy from again and again. Audiences are now a lot savvier about brand reputation and more concerned with a company’s social responsibility than ever before. A micro partnership allows a brand to keep growing positive recall and establish itself as trustworthy and ethical, so sales are likely to keep increasing. This is far more valuable than a shorter-term sales spike, only to watch competitors overtake that lead with a longer term play.

Finding the right partner

Our study found many marketers are selling in micro partnerships to their senior teams based solely on gut feel. Some said they were trusted to “give it a go”, while wanting to “try something new”, and seeing “everyone else doing it” were other key factors. This shows a market still in its infancy, with many willing to trial and test on a small scale before investing more in what works best.

But almost half (49%) consider the struggle to find a suitable partner a major barrier to investing in more micro partnerships. Harder evidence from similar partnerships or competitor activity really helps here. Following others’ leads without judging their successes is a risky game, so audience insights are invaluable. With micro partnerships requiring such quality insights, research and resource, it’s perhaps not surprising that 55% are currently using agencies to manage them. Whether in-house or agency, working with experienced marketers is key here.

Across all partnership types, the main shift we’ve seen over the past 12 months concerns authenticity. Any tie-up has to have meaning, a logical reason behind it. Finding a great partner is all about finding one which has multiple touch points where the audience will want to connect with your brand. For example, in-store events where your product or service can enhance the experience, or digital channels where you can offer informative content the audience really needs. Keeping these considerations front of mind when deciding on a partner will streamline the research and simplify negotiations.

Delivering ROI

The report has shown a move away from traditional metrics towards more meaningful brand value measures, so engagement above traffic, clicks, reach or even sales. This is also reflected in the areas we’ve seen the biggest investment increase: celebrity, affiliate and influencer partnerships. Brands are looking to align with personalities already trusted by their target audience, working with them to create meaningful content. While they aren’t without their challenges, micro partnerships are great for moving the needle for both awareness and engagement over the long-term. Brands are seeing that in spades now.

The next challenge is how to tool up to be able to evaluate and prove that impact. We can see more sophisticated measures coming through, with advances in digital marketing meaning we can measure engagement in all shapes and sizes. But our research found marketers are still afraid to set ROI targets, which is the next hurdle. Doing the right research and having the right conversations with your partner at the beginning are crucial, as we talk about in more depth in the report.

We’ve certainly revealed a more sophisticated attitude to micro partnerships than we might have seen before with bigger sponsorships/partnerships. There’s a real focus on the need to find the perfect partner and deliver something meaningful, looking at how people have connected with a brand as opposed to seen it. With the vast majority of marketers set to up their investment in micro partnerships and try new types, showing ROI will only get easier.

To read more on what’s hot and what’s not, finding the right micro partner and proving ROI, read the full report here.

Jill Coomber

Jill Coomber


Jill Coomber, Co-Founder, OneChocolate