Branded or Unbranded: What’s Right for Your Channel Partner Content?

May 1, 2019

Branded or Unbranded - What’s the best choice for Your Channel Partners-1In working with dozens of enterprise OEMs and ISVs over the years, one of the biggest frustrations we often hear is around the lack of channel partner engagement. Gartner echoes this complaint, stating that, in the average channel program, only 20 percent of partners are engaged and producing.

But if you ask most suppliers, even that number is incredibly optimistic. They’ll even say (mostly off the record) that without their top 5 percent of partners, they might not have any significant channel revenues at all.

So why the industry-wide channel paralysis? Is it too much vendor competition? Misalignment of priorities between supplier and partner? Or is it something simpler, like a lack of useful channel content?

 “In the average channel program, only 20 percent of partners are engaged and producing.” 

Why your co-marketing materials aren’t being used

As an agency that works with a number of partner marketing organizations, one of our key priorities in every engagement is to actually talk to the partner companies and see where their heads are at in regard to marketing support, go-to-market materials and leverageable content. More often than not, what we’ve found is that there is a distinct disconnect between what they want from their supplier and what they’re typically getting.

Recently, we conducted a series of partner interviews for a large enterprise software vendor. They wanted to know why their co-marketing materials weren’t being utilized by partners and what they could do to improve their utilization numbers.

Overwhelmingly, the responses that came back centered on two things:

  • The lack of top- and middle-of-funnel content
  • The inability to build and promote their own brands through the vendors’ supplied marketing materials

The first point wasn’t much a surprise. After all, name a large tech company that doesn’t have reams of content that spells out in infinite ways why their product or solution is better than the competition. From sell-sheets and white papers to PPT presentations and ROI calculators, these types of middle- and bottom-of-funnel assets are readily available for partners to use at any given time.

But as we all know, the buying process has dramatically changed in recent years. For partners to nurture their own leads and continue growing their existing customer base, they need conversations, not differentiated solutions. Prospects want to talk about pain points, not feature sets. They’re thinking about business challenges, not infrastructure specs…at least, not yet.

That’s why more—and better—top-of-funnel (TOFU) content is needed. Better yet, partners need more content that doesn’t promote your brand. They need more assets that address customer problems.

And while we’re at it, we highly suggest that you give partners MORE ROOM to promote their own brands. In an article written for Channel Marketer Report, Mike Moore, VP of Channel Strategy at Averetek, noted that when CMOs see partners as unreliable participants in bringing the company’s message to the market, they generally direct their brand teams to exert tight control over use of the company’s brand identity and marketing materials.

The problem with enforcing strict co-branding guidelines, wrote Moore, is that it makes “through-partner marketing incredibly rigid and potentially ineffective.”

Your logo isn’t the hero

It’s often a forgotten point: partners have a brand of their own. And who wouldn’t want to promote their own brand! So why not allow them to do just that? If they’re developing the leads, nurturing them through the buying process, and educating them on the benefits of using your solution, is it really necessary to be the primary brand on a piece of content? After all, you both win in the end.

So we recommend easing up on the reigns of controlling the branding of the TOFU content you supply for partners. Even better, we humbly suggest you provide these valuable marketing materials in three ways for partners:

  • Co-branded content – The industry standard. Give equal room for partners to customize and add their own branding. Or god forbid, let them take the primary branding space and only use the back page/cover for your more well-known brand mark.
  • Neutral-branded content – We get it. Most enterprise vendors have spent millions on developing their brands, so they want to use it. But we’ve found many partners are more hesitant to fully leverage content assets that scream, “this is (vendor name) content.” Why not develop a mini-brand that leverages components of the supplier brand (such as colors or fonts), but doesn’t uniquely identify it as such? This way, the partner can hopefully get more recognition and awareness of their brand while promoting your quality asset.
  • Raw content – The bare bones. Give partners the source files, illustrations and copy documents and allow them to use in their preferred ways. This route also allows partners to customize the content for multiple purposes and to “spin it” to best suit their business capabilities and skill sets

To sum it up, the key to better partner engagement just might be providing content that works better for them than it does for you. But as we’ve already mentioned, it’s still a win-win—and that’s what everyone wants in the end!

Need help improving partner engagement or creating go-to-market campaign kits that your partners will actually use? Contact us today.