How Ambitious Brands Create Strategic Partnerships That Accelerate Growth
Kristen is a product leader in consumer FinTech and banking integration. She co-founded Catch, a Y Combinator-backed startup combining savings, investment, and insurance for those without access to employer benefits. Early in her career, she worked with Commonwealth to design and scale innovative savings products that now serve more than 80 million consumers. Kristen also helped launch one of the first student loan repayment SaaS benefits platforms.
Aaron Contreras & Maurice Contreras
Founder and President of Volcanica Coffee
Maurice launched Volcanica Coffee in 2004 from his garage at home. The company now carries over 120 different coffees and supplies hotels, airlines and other commercial ventures with high-quality coffee. Prior to Volcanica, Maurice worked in marketing and sales with a telecom Fortune 10 company. He developed and launched over 40 mobile devices and wireless services with integrated national marketing campaigns generating over $1B in revenue.
Customer Marketing Manager at AdRoll
Veronica loves spending time with customers to deeply understand their priorities, goals, and blockers and how to translate that into programs that deliver value to customers and drive goodwill and reciprocity for companies. She is happiest when promoting my customers' success and sharing their unique stories with the world.
Director of Marketing & Business Development at PurePressure
Eric Vlosky has worked in marketing, sales, and account management in the cannabis industry for over 6 years. As a bonafide expert in the cannabis extraction and processing space, Eric has hands-on experience and relationships with some of the biggest processing operations across North America, and beyond. He speaks frequently and is often a part of seminars on cannabis processing, specifically pertaining to solventless extraction, which covers rosin, sift, and ice water hash. Eric got his B.S. of Strategic Advertising from CU Boulder’s prestigious program in 2012 and has had a lifelong passion for cannabis.
Sr. Director of Growth at AdRoll
Julie Zhou has built over a decade of experience in product management, growth, and marketing for some of the most well-known products in the world. She is currently a Senior Director of Growth at AdRoll (part of NextRoll Inc), a growth marketing platform for ambitious direct to consumer brands. Prior to that, she led growth marketing at Hipmunk (acquired by Concur), the fastest, easiest way to plan travel and was a product marketer for Google AdWords, Maps and Android.
- Brand Partnerships: Why They Matter for D2C Brands [AdRoll Blog]
- How to Build Partnerships as a D2C Brand [AdRoll Blog]
create strategic partnerships that accelerate growth.
PurePressure: What we've tried to do is
since we're such a small team and our budgets really aren't that large as you know,
we had to get really creative about how do we get more prospects,
and how do we get more leads without just putting a print ad everywhere
or quadrupling our digital ad budgets across all these platforms.
So we started tapping into other people's networks and saying you know, ‘what
kind of business. Can you source
for us?’ and creating really positive agreements that everybody's happy with so that you know,
they feel like they're being compensated properly.
They're finding business for us.
And then we come home with a lot more sales
Volcanica Coffee: Creating significant
partnerships that are going to take us to the next level
is where I'm at, and I just want to be in a position where I'm helping these hotels
and these airlines and just enhancing the experience.
You shouldn't be approaching these people like you're coming to sell them
What you're really trying to do is, you're trying to enhance an experience
that already exists for them.
AdRoll: Strategic brand partnerships isn't a new idea.
One of the best known examples of a brand partnership is the cereal box with
a branded toy inside. The combination boost sales
for both the cereal and the toy making both companies happier. In the digital era
marketing partnerships look a bit different, not only the products
or the services often less tangible.
But companies are no longer limited to partnering to distribute the product or service itself.
They can partner to enhance content, build brand awareness,
boost business, and break into new markets.
But for a partnership to truly work,
it has to be a win-win for all players in the game. In this episode,
we explore the tactics and strategies direct- to-consumer companies are using to seek out
and implement strategic brand partnerships.
I caught up with Julie Zhou, the Senior Director of Growth
for AdRoll, to discuss why partnerships matter for direct consumer companies.
Julie Zhou: One of the biggest challenges
for D2C brands looking to grow, that will become more of a
challenge overtime, is being discovered
and standing out.
There was a statistic from last year that said there was something like a
hundred seventy five different online mattress D2C retailers.
And that’s not even one vertical that's like, one specialty item within one vertical.
So the opportunity is very great.
But that means the discoverability is a bit of a challenge.
And in addition to discoverability being a bit of a challenge,
there is not that many signals of quality.
A D2C brand tends to be an ‘experience good’.
You don't know how good it is until you try it.
And if there's so many options out there prospective consumers are in a bit of decision paralysis.
So that means that it's very hard for you to just get discovered.
And then even if you are discovered, there is friction to a potential customer trying
you out because they're not sure of the quality.
So partnerships kind of solve
for both of those challenges. By partnering with a like-minded
brand who appeals to the same type of customer,
allows you to increase the potential target audience that you can get in front
of and be discovered by, and
because you are linked with another brand, that is a signal of quality and trust.
So that customers have your brand then trust the other brand
and customers of the other brand then trust your brand.
So it ends up being truly a win-win situation all around.
One of the most obvious ways (of partnering) is just increased distribution,
you know, you sell each other on your respective online store fronts.
Or if one of the brands is actually a distribution channel then your product
is then sold across that extra distribution channel.
In both cases both sides benefit. A much more interesting method
is when both brands actually end up creating something new together that may not have existed before.
So I believe that, I forget which company it was,
it may have been Birchbox and BarkBox.
I'm probably going to get it wrong.
But there was a subscription personal beauty service that
partnered with a subscription dog product service,
and then they created a special box together that was like, subscription beauty products
for your dog service.
And then that becomes a product that can be sold on
both platforms and it's something
unique for both companies so that it's not just selling each other's products,
but it's selling like a brand-new, unique kind of skew that didn't exist before.
I would say first look for a brand who benefits from partnering with
you, because you're asking a brand to put in a lot of work.
So first, find a partner who benefits from partnering with you,
and then at the same time that brand has to be one that your customers would benefit from.
But in this case,
it's one of the few times where I would say, your customer does not come first,
because if it's just your customers that come first you would want to
partner with the most popular brand out there,
right? But it's unlikely you would get them to partner with you
unless they also have like equal
or perhaps even more benefit than you would have.
The future of D2C
is going to involve continued fragmentation.
And so I feel that brand partnerships will become more and more custom and high-touch
in order to try and stand out amongst the crowd.
I'm hoping that we'll start to see more things, similar to actually, it's not quite a D2C example,
but similar to how actually AdRoll did a partnership with a fellow company called Yotpo.
So what Yotpo does, is they allow a D2C retailer to display reviews
and star ratings of their products across marketing channels.
And Yotpo and AdRoll did a partnership where AdRoll customers can sign up with Yotpo
and then via an integration. Yotpo then pushes reviews
and star ratings into the ads that AdRoll runs on behalf of the customers.
So in this case like, every single party Yotpo, AdRoll,
and the customer, all win and built a new product out of it that was better than
what either of us had before.
So I'm hoping that we'll see more
and more examples of that type of like, creative high-touch type of partnership.
AdRoll: The U.S marijuana industry is worth billions of dollars
and is showing no sign of slowing down.
It's predicted that in 2025 legal marijuana sales will earn
as much as twenty three billion dollars in the US alone.
PurePressure was founded in 2015 to provide the
cannabis industry with quality rosin extract products. Director of Marketing
and Business Development, Eric Vlosky, has joined forces with influences across
the industry to bring educational content. In the process,
he's developed strategic partnerships, to grow the company in a new industry.
PurePressure: What we found is that, you know,
we partner with a lot of other manufacturers in our space. Manufacturers in extraction specifically
because they might be doing solvent-based extraction,
which is the predominant way that it's done in cannabis.
And they have these big, I mean, we're really kind of going after the same customers
for the most part, but we're selling them very different things that are I mean,
it's sort of competition but not really in a lot of these ways.
So we've really tried to partner with a lot of these other cannabis
extraction technology manufacturers - very wordy.
So that's been really successful because we realize that you know,
we present an exciting new sales opportunity
for their sales team or at least to refer business back to us
because then they get it cut of adding equipment to labs that they already work
with, that they weren't going to sell in the first place.
So it's a good way for them to capture some revenue that was
probably going to come our way eventually.
And then, that's kind of the more, I'd say ‘textbook’ level business development
and strategic partnership stuff that we do,
you know going to these manufacturers,
but another thing that we do is work really closely with a lot of are influencers.
So not just going online and having them on IG lives.
That's kind of the icing on the cake to create content,
but we work with a lot of them
as well to source business
for us because they have networks and their influential within their circles to say ‘hey,
you know, PurePressure makes really good equipment,
you should talk to them’, and then we take care of them and pay it forward as a result.
So what we've tried to do is
since we're such a small team and our budgets really aren't that large as you know,
we had to get really creative about how do we get more prospects
and how do we get more leads without just putting a print ad everywhere or quadrupling
our digital ad budgets across all these platforms.
So we started tapping into other people's networks and saying,
you know, ‘what kind of business can you source for us?’, and creating really,
positive agreements that everybody's happy with so that you know,
they feel like they're being compensated properly.
They're finding business for us. And then we come home with a lot more sales.
It's been really successful and it's you know,
influencers, hash makers, consultants,
you know, there's so many different facets of networks that you could potentially tap into.
At least in our side of the industry that we've tried to leave no stone unturned
and make really friendly relationships
with as many people as possible.
The biggest piece of advice I would
have for other brands is just being really planful about who you identify
and just because a brand is very big
or very influential, or they have really big sales in your space,
it doesn't mean that they're going to be a great partner necessarily, and also,
making I'm sure that
when you're pursuing some of these partnerships, that whoever is someone that's really good at
negotiating on your team is actually the person who is going into it
as opposed to the person that may or may not be, because to negotiate well,
you really have to be able to compromise well,
and we learned a lot about
what our influencers needed to be paid in order to have it be worth their time to come back
and give us referrals and give us the keys
to their network, so to speak.
So you know,
and we only were able to do that
because we earn their trust
so I think partnerships or this kind of thing where there's a lot of layers to the onion,
but you have to be able to compromise
and you really need to be able to identify the brands that aren't directly competing with you
but the ones that are very complementary.
AdRoll: Volcanica Coffee started in Maurice Contreras’ garden (garage) in 2004.
Today, they source and distribute over 150 different varieties of coffee from their plant
outside Atlanta. Aaron Contreras (Maurice’s son), is now the Director of Coffee
and the team are working to strengthen strategic partnerships and accelerate company growth.
Volcanica Coffee (Aaron): We're actively seeking, you know,
very tight close partnerships with major hotel chains around the world,
but you know, more importantly just always being where our customers are and so,
you know, we're seeking out,
really high-end resorts in the Maldives, and different places like that, Dubai.
I think we at one point we were serving in a hundred fifty cafes in Qatar.
So I think like in terms of like how we're doing that we're working with venture firms.
But I mean, that's pretty it's pretty disclosed on that end.
But, you know, we're working with venture firms
and we're seeking to create big business with big hotels,
some airlines that were in discussion with as well.
I think closing those major deals are going to be big milestones
for us as a company. At the end of the day,
your company is only as big
as much coffee as you can put out, and my goal today is to max our output out
and whatever that takes, and so I'm just seeking contracts that are going to do that.
Just seeking big partnerships in big deals is where it's going to take us to the next level,
but more importantly is those .artnerships need to include our customer in there.
So, you know speak directly to airlines
and hotels just, being in that eye sight is important.
For us being at the most important thing that I've learned is like you shouldn't be
approaching these people like you're coming to (to) sell them.
What you're really trying to do is you're trying to enhance an experience that already exists
And I think if you're out there to sell like, you can do that all day.
Nobody wants to be sold and the way that I approach these people is
I'm trying to enhance their coffee experience.
And more importantly, also cut their cost of goods,
you know, because they're probably they're probably paying a really
marked up price by a large coffee company right now.
So I'm trying to help hotels and things like that.
We have no problem selling coffee, you know what I mean?
But I think creating significant partnerships that are going to take us to the next
level as where I'm at and I just want to be in a position where I'm helping these hotels
and these airlines and just enhancing the experience.
We're trying to approach other coffee companies that are serving just a very basic cup of coffee
and what we're trying to say is can you take this to the next level
because we believe that's
what your customer deserves
and then going directly into like sometimes like, butler's need training on how to pour coffee,
and things like that.
So we're really looking into a dynamically offering training
and different things like that to these new partnerships.
Maurice Contreras: I think there's definitely some opportunity. You know,
we've had some some some good interest from some very big brands actually,
so and we're still having conversations with them,
you know about just basically providing a specialty coffee service to their hotels
or to their airlines or whatever,
and I'm encouraged by seeing that those are brands that reached out to us that contacted us.
We didn't contact them. So that just tells me that you know,
there's there's some good opportunity out there if we you know,
imagine if we're in the position to start going after those accounts, that that would be cool.
It's got to be a word of mouth because you know from an international scale,
we are not doing any ad campaigns internationally.
So it's got to be word of mouth and that's where a lot of that stuff is coming from.
We have a lot of great, positive 5 Star reviews,
you know, for me as a marketer, I think that speaks volumes,
you know, somebody's looking for something and they see something that overwhelming has great reviews.
That's something worth embracing.
AdRoll: Customer advocacy is a brand marketing strategy that aims to build
deep relationships with customers
and earn mutual trust. By developing partnerships with customer advocates.
not only do you ensure that customers have an excellent experience with your product
or your company,
but you also create a new referral marketing opportunity
for your brand. Veronica Codvy is the Customer Marketing Manager at AdRoll.
She explains how she implemented a customer advocacy strategy to build a mutually
beneficial relationship and a partnership that in the long run also increases revenue growth.
Veronica Covdy: So AdRoll partners a lot with our customers through our customer advocacy program,
which is something that I manage. It's called AdRoll Growth Champions.
And basically the goal of that program is to drive additional value
for our customers by amplifying their growth stories and sharing them with a wider audience.
So content, speaking opportunities, basically trying to elevate their brand.
You know our ICP is smaller brands that don't have endless resources.
They have small teams. It could just be the founders just starting their business,
you know, but obviously we range from small to medium-sized
that are up against the big box retailer.
So the biggest value for our customers in this program,
is that brand exposure and us using things like our blog, our social media following,
newsletter, all those things to share our customer’s stories,
which is a huge benefit for them and our customers get super excited
to work with us on on those types of things.
Back when I first transition to the Customer Marketing role at AdRoll,
we really had a transactional relationship with our customers both from the sales side,
but also from the marketing side, we were really lead-gen driven.
And so there is always,
you know, we're focused on conversions
and and driving leads and things like that
and the customer centricity tends to get lost when you focus on those specific things.
So when I took over the program, and also when we got our new SVP of marketing, Jason,
he kind of flipped our thinking upside down with the flywheel model where the
customers should be at the center of everything you
do and you should really be offering that free value to your customers that generates goodwill,
and then enter your customers will show reciprocity for your brand by leaving you positive reviews.
Tellling their network about the positive experience they've had with your brand, and more.
So I really found that when you lead with the free value of the
program that tends to work way better
and I always try to think about it
like, what's in what's in it
for the customer? Anything that I ask a customer to do, what's in it
for the customer and what's that benefit that they will get?
Which I think is similar to brand partnerships.
When you’re a D2C brand that's evaluating a strategic partnership,
you should really ask yourself
‘what can I offer the D2C brand that I'm partnering with’?
What's a core competency that you know,
you don't have access to but I have access
to and you know, and vice versa and how can we work together to elevate each other's brands.
So I think in that regard, it's a little bit similar to customer advocacy
because our customers they don't always have the widest reach
or audinence because they're growing their brands. If we can use AdRoll’s following
and reach to get them some additional brand exposure.
that's something that they you know wouldn't have access to prior,
and it just all circles back to that additional free value.
A couple of examples come to mind,
I think you know, everyone will always say
when you're evaluating which partnership brand would be right for you.
It's important that your audience semi overlaps.
But I think that it's also important obviously to have you know,
a similar target demographic but you can also be super creative in the brands that you partner with.
So for example, one of the partnerships that I thought was was the coolest and kind of most