- A strategic alliance is a partnership between two businesses with shared goals. Each company remains independent but pools resources to reach new markets and strengthen brand awareness.
- Examples of strategic alliances between big brands include Uber and Spotify, Starbucks and Target, Disney and Chevrolet, and Red Bull and GoPro.
- Small businesses can benefit from strategic alliances as well, as long as you're clear on your goals and have the resources to contribute in a mutual partnership.
Some of the best business results are born from strategic alliances.
To get a better picture of how this type of marketing works, we rounded up 10 examples of strategic alliances from big-name brands that have been a huge success. Use them as a springboard for inspiration to start your own valuable partnerships!
What is a strategic alliance?
A strategic alliance is a clearly defined partnership between two businesses with shared goals. In these business relationships, each company stays independent, while pooling resources together to reach new markets, strengthen both of their brands, increase market share, and get results they might not be able to see on their own.
(Affinity marketing strategies and co-branding new products or services are two major examples of strategic alliances.)
The best strategic alliances are ones that offer clear benefits to the audiences of both brands. When a partnership appeals to both audiences, then the two businesses are able to expand their reach and generate more sales. It’s a win-win strategy!
Top 10 strategic alliance examples
You’ll notice some popular brands, like Target and Starbucks, are mentioned in more than one strategic alliance example. If this type of partnership works for you, it can be used to grow your markets in many ways. Just be sure to time your strategic alliances and choose your partners wisely.
Here are our top 10 strategic alliance examples:
- Uber and Spotify
- Starbucks and Target
- Starbucks and Barnes & Noble
- Disney and Chevrolet
- Red Bull and GoPro
- Target and Lilly Pulitzer
- T-Mobile and Taco Bell
- Louis Vuitton and BMW
- Apple Pay and MasterCard
- BuzzFeed and Best Friends Animal Society
1. Uber and Spotify
Uber’s partnership with Spotify lets Uber riders easily stream their Spotify playlists whenever they take a ride. This makes the Uber experience feel more personalized, and encourages Uber riders to subscribe to Spotify Premium (for more control of their tunes both inside and outside Uber).
Uber’s rivals don’t have a similar personalized music experience, so this gives the rideshare giant a competitive advantage over Lyft and other similar services. And since not all Uber riders have Spotify, and not all Spotify users ride with Uber, both brands gain access to new, broad audiences in this business alliance.
2. Starbucks and Target
One of the most well-known strategic alliance examples is the Starbucks and Target partnership. In fact, you’ve probably seen this strategic alliance example several times. As soon as you walk into Target, there’s a Starbucks counter waiting to blend your favorite drink.
Target and Starbucks know their brands share similar a audience – busy shoppers looking for affordable “luxuries” and a quick escape from the everyday.
This strategic alliance was formed all the way back in 1999, and is still going strong. We see thousands of Target stores hosting Starbucks cafes to help fuel people’s Target runs. And Target customers know if they get hungry or thirsty during a shopping trip, Starbucks has them covered right in the store.
3. Starbucks and Barnes & Noble
Starbucks formed another successful in-store partnership with Barnes & Noble. While many larger brick-and-mortar bookstores haven’t survived the tough competition from Amazon, Barnes & Noble has seen continued success.
One reason is the co-branded Starbucks “B&N Cafes” inside most Barnes & Noble locations. A hot beverage and a good read have always paired well, which gives book enthusiasts have another reason to visit a physical Barnes & Noble store instead of buying online or from a competitor.
And at the same time, Starbucks gets to expand its audience even wider and boost sales by setting itself apart from competitors.
4. Disney and Chevrolet
At Walt Disney World’s EPCOT, Disney and Chevrolet have partnered to create Test Track – not just a thrilling ride, but a detailed Chevrolet brand experience. In this strategic alliance example, innovators from both brands collaborated to create a one-of-a-kind ride experience that leveraged the competencies of both brands.
As people move through the Test Track queue, they can watch videos about the Chevrolet design process and see current and futuristic Chevrolet models. Then, they’re invited to design a custom Chevrolet vehicle in a branded interactive game. The ride itself is a “test drive” of the vehicle they designed.
As visitors exit the ride, they can see more of the latest Chevrolet cars, speak to a Chevrolet representative, and even create a Chevrolet commercial with the car they designed.
Chevrolet gains plenty of brand exposure, while Disney benefits from the car company’s design expertise with an immersive ride experience for guests.
5. Red Bull and GoPro
In 2012, Red Bull partnered with GoPro to support a record-breaking skydive from a balloon. Red Bull sponsored the dive, and the skydiver wore a GoPro camera to capture it.
The two brands later formed a long-term strategic alliance for Red Bull extreme sports events, such as the Red Bull Rampage. Only GoPro cameras are used to capture an athlete’s point-of-view shots at these events.
The Red Bull/GoPro strategic partnership is so successful because the brands have similar adrenaline-seeking audiences. Thanks to this strategic alliance, both brands now have an even stronger association with high-level thrills.
6. Target and Lilly Pulitzer
Lilly Pulitzer is a high-end women’s fashion brand known for its signature colorful patterns. However, its pricing is not accessible for most shoppers. And with the brand’s own stores being largely based in the eastern and southern United States, its brand awareness and accessibility are limited.
In 2015, the brand established a partnership with Target to release a more affordable, limited-edition Lilly Pulitzer collection at the retailer’s online and offline stores. This allowed Lilly Pulitzer to offer more affordable and accessible clothes for shoppers across the country. And in exchange, the strategic alliance generated buzz for Target, since it was carrying brand name items from a sought-after designer.
The collection didn’t just generate buzz – the first release sold out within hours (and in some stores, within minutes). This prompted other Lilly Pulitzer and Target collaborations in the following years, all of which have sold out just as fast.
7. T-Mobile and Taco Bell
During the 2019 Super Bowl, Taco Bell and T-Mobile unveiled an attractive brand partnership: T-Mobile customers could claim a free Taco Bell taco every Tuesday through the T-Mobile app, just for being a T-Mobile customer (no purchase required).
Yes, that’s it. All a customer needed to do to get a free taco was to stick with their T-Mobile plan. This strategic alliance example was a great way to encourage brand loyalty to T-Mobile. And since the promotion had customers rushing to Taco Bell to claim their free taco, they likely bought other food or drinks there. It also made the act of going to Taco Bell a habit, even after the promotion ended.
Another reason for the strategic alliance’s success? As Convince and Convert explains, “The [two brands’] customer bases are naturally aligned in that they skew male, they skew younger, and they skew toward value seekers.” That, coupled with the investment in Super Bowl ads and social media campaigns, made it a partnership worth talking about.
8. Louis Vuitton and BMW
Despite being in different industries, Louis Vuitton and BMW are both exclusive luxury brands focused on craftsmanship.
Those who can afford a BMW vehicle can probably also afford a Louis Vuitton bag. Because of their shared audience and values, the two brands partnered up to create a collection of Louis Vuitton bags custom made to pair with the BMW i8 sports car.
According to Patrick-Louis Vuitton, Head of Special Orders at Louis Vuitton, “This collaboration with BMW epitomizes our shared values and creativity, technological innovation and style.”
The four-piece bag set comes in a sleek black outer color and electric blue lining that matches the car’s design perfectly. Each one is also made from material you don’t see too often in bags – carbon fiber, just like the i8’s passenger cell. Plus, the entire set of bags fits perfectly into the i8’s parcel shelf.
The Louis Vuitton bag set may have retailed for a whopping $20,000, but that’s a reasonable price for someone who may also be in the market for a car worth over $135,000.
9. Apple Pay and MasterCard
When Apple released the Apple Pay system for contactless transactions, it was poised to change the way people used their credit cards forever.
But first, Apple needed credit card companies to partner with them and support the technology. MasterCard was the first company to do so. So when Apple Pay launched, only MasterCard customers could pair their card with an iPhone and make payments without actually having their physical card with them.
By forming a strategic alliance with Apple early on, MasterCard connected itself with a company known to be on the cutting edge. This successful strategic alliance example also paid off later, when Apple partnered with MasterCard again in the launch of their Apple Card credit card.
10. BuzzFeed and Best Friends Animal Society
Forming a strategic alliance with a nonprofit can also be a great marketing strategy, as long as the partnership is genuine and relevant to your audience. Just ask BuzzFeed and Best Friends Animal Society, two brands that formed a simple yet effective strategic alliance intended to produce content.
One of the most popular posts was a BuzzFeed film of Emma Watson (of Harry Potter and Beauty and the Beast fame) answering fan questions and playing with adorable kittens. Of course, these kittens were all available for adoption from Best Friends Animal Society.
In this example of strategic alliance, BuzzFeed was able to produce cute and cause-forward content. And thanks to BuzzFeed’s 200-million strong readership, the content successfully drove more adoptions at Best Friends.
Types of strategic alliance
Strategic alliances vary in how they’re set up. Here’s a brief overview:
- Joint venture: Two companies come together to launch a new business entity, where profits are shared
- Equity strategic alliance: One or both partners purchase shares in the other company
- Non-equity strategic alliance: Partners pool resources to launch a joint initiative or project, but they both remain fully independent companies. They don’t form a new entity, and no equity changes hands.
A non-equity strategic alliance is the most common type. The examples we’ve showcased in this article are non-equity strategic alliances.
Next steps for exploring a strategic alliance
As you’ve seen from these 10 successful strategic alliance examples, partnering with another brand can be very fruitful, as long as both brands benefit from the partnership.
Look for a strategic partner brand that has a similar audience and similar goals, and be clear on what the partnership will offer to both brands.
And remember: Even though the strategic alliance examples we shared are between large, established businesses, small businesses can benefit from strategic alliances as well, as long as you’re clear on your goals and have the resources to contribute in a mutual partnership.
For more tips on starting a partnership with another brand, be sure to read our article on affinity marketing.
Or check out related articles focused on partnerships: