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Clever brand partnerships with apps

Clever brand partnerships with apps Drew Hubbard

Brand sponsorship and partnerships with popular mobile apps are akin to powerful influencer marketing -- only the "influencer" isn't a person. It's the app itself.

Chart-topping mobile apps boast a type of audience relationship that is unmatched online or via social media. These apps have been invited into the daily lives of users on the most personal of all devices. They are trusted. They are valued. By partnering in a smart way with such apps, brands can bask in and absorb some of the glow from those relationships. Furthermore, app sponsorships and partnerships are a valuable way to diversify marketing efforts and expand brand awareness.

Let's take a look at some smart alignments with the various categories of lifestyle apps that are popular today.

Food for thought

Does anyone call the restaurant to order food anymore? Once I discovered I could cut out most human interaction when it came to my food-delivery routine, I was forever changed. There are more food delivery apps out there than I care to count, but GrubHub has come as close to a household name as the category is likely to get. It's no wonder that entertainment brands are taking note.

See below for a simple email partnership between GrubHub and ABC announcing ABC's fall lineup with a foodie-friendly copywriting tie-in. A smart way to keep both brands top of mind as people settle onto their sofas for some quality viewing time. I'd like to see more brands tapping into food app audiences via custom menu suggestions as well.

Dating games

Not far from food on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, we find sex. So you can bet that both needs are well-represented in people's app downloads as well. Even the old married folks like me have at least heard of Tinder and its role in coining the concept of "swiping right" on things when you approve of them. And you can bet brands know it.

Plenty of brands have worked with Tinder in the past year or two. I like the campaigns that really bake themselves into the essence of what Tinder is known for. For example, the Atlanta Hawks created memorable experiences for basketball fans by hosting "Swipe Right Night." The team encouraged fans to swipe right for a chance to win access to exclusive lounges filled with Tinder users interested in meeting other singles.

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Of course, plenty of brands are often tempted to not pay for the cow when they can get the milk (i.e., exposure) for free. But Tinder isn't an app community that's easy to tap in an organic way. Just ask The Gap, which received a public spanking (not one of the sexy ones) from Tinder for creating profiles for the purposes of pushing an advertising message. The app has cracked down on such practices, undoubtedly moreso as its paid sponsorship options have matured.

Transporting to a new level

Just as Tinder has coined new terminology for approving of the opposite sex, Uber has similarly redefined how we think of hailing a ride. Granted, recent controversies over Uber's speculated political leanings have dampened the company's reputation a bit, but it's my bet the phrase "the Uber of…" isn't going away any time soon.

For many people, their Uber app is their bus pass. Capital One tapped into this relationship for a big branding play by giving Uber users the option of ordering free ice cream to eat during their ride. The brand has continued its tie-ins with Uber since then, as with its "get every 10th ride free" deal when linking your Uber account to a certain Capital One credit card.

In another long-term play, Hilton launched a powerful partnership with Uber last year in which it enables its guests to set ride reminders, request Uber rides to and from nearby locations, and explore local sites via a digital guide powered by Uber within the HHonors loyalty app. It's a powerful loyalty incentive when you consider that using these options can earn you extra points with Hilton.

Music to their ears

Speaking of Uber, let's talk about some hot app-on-app action between the transportation app and music service Pandora. Under this partnership, Uber drivers can play music for free through the Uber Partner app with Pandora. Drivers can use the app any time. And when they have a rider, that person can choose the music they want to hear too. It's a nice way of integrating some added value into the Uber Partner app experience.

Also in the realm of music apps, Spotify is no stranger to partnerships -- or hot app on app action, for that matter. This summer, Spotify partnered with dating app Bumble to allow users to connect their Spotify accounts to their Bumble profiles to showcase the artists they listen to most on Spotify. The integration is intended to give Bumble users some insight into the music preferences of their potential connections -- a useful compatibility gauge, as well as a conversation starter for later.

Spotify has also landed high-profile partnerships with brands like Starbucks. Last year, Starbucks partnered with Spotify to give Starbucks employees premium Spotify subscriptions so they could curate music for their shops on Spotify. It also enabled users to earn My Starbucks Reward points through the Spotify app. The timing was smart, with Starbucks having announced earlier that year that it would no longer sell CDs in its coffee shops.

Ultimately, the sky's the limit when it comes to sponsorship and advertising opportunities with today's most popular apps. However, the smartest pairings are less about sponsorship and more about partnership. Just as apps are embedded in the fabric of users' lives, brands need to consider what role they can rightfully play there as well. Don't just invade a person's favorite mobile tool to scream your name. Feed into the system of rewards and convenience that the person has already come to cherish with a given app.

Drew is mainly a dad, but he's also a social media and content marketing guy. Originally from Kansas City and a graduate of The University of Missouri, Drew will gladly discuss the vast, natural beauty of the Show Me State. Drew and his wife,...

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