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Types of Strategic Alliances

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Collaborative agreements between businesses can take a number of forms and are becoming increasingly common as businesses aim to get the upper hand over their competitors. The main types of strategic alliances are listed below:

Joint Ventures

A joint venture is an agreement by two or more parties to form a single entity to undertake a certain project. Each of the businesses has an equity stake in the individual business and share revenues, expenses and profits.

“Joint Ventures are agreements between parties or firms for a particular purpose or venture. Their formation may be very informal, such as a handshake and an agreement for two firms to share a booth at a trade show. Other arrangements can be extremely complex, such as the consortium of major U.S. electronics firms to develop new microchips,” says Charles P. Lickson in A Legal Guide for Small Business.

Joint ventures between small firms are very rare, primarily because of the required commitment and costs involved.


The 1980s was the decade where outsourcing really rose to prominence, and this trend continued throughout the 1990s to today, although to a slightly lesser extent.

The early forecasts, such as the one from American Journalist Larry Elder, have been shown to not always be true:

“Outsourcing and globalization of manufacturing allows companies to reduce costs, benefits consumers with lower cost goods and services, causes economic expansion that reduces unemployment, and increases productivity and job creation.”

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing has exploded over recent years, with the most successful online retailers using it to great effect. The nature of the internet means that referrals can be accurately tracked right through the order process.

Amazon was the pioneer of affiliate marketing, and now has tens of thousands of websites promoting its products on a performance-based basis.

Technology Licensing

This is a contractual arrangement whereby trade marks, intellectual property and trade secrets are licensed to an external firm. It’s used mainly as a low cost way to enter foreign markets. The main downside of licensing is the loss of control over the technology – as soon as it enters other hands the possibility of exploitation arises.

Product Licensing

This is similar to technology licensing except that the license provided is only to manufacture and sell a certain product. Usually each licensee will be given an exclusive geographic area to which they can sell to. It’s a lower-risk way of expanding the reach of your product compared to building your manufacturing base and distribution reach.


Franchising is an excellent way of quickly rolling out a successful concept nationwide. Franchisees pay a set-up fee and agree to ongoing payments so the process is financially risk-free for the company. However, downsides do exist, particularly with the loss of control over how franchisees run their franchise.


Strategic alliances based around R&D tend to fall into the joint venture category, where two or more businesses decide to embark on a research venture through forming a new entity.


If you have a product one of the best ways to market it is to recruit distributors, where each one has its own geographical area or type of product. This ensures that each distributor’s success can be easily measured against other distributors.

Distribution Relationships

This is perhaps the most common form of alliance. Strategic alliances are usually formed because the businesses involved want more customers.

The result is that cross-promotion agreements are established.

Consider the case of a bank. They send out bank statements every month. A home insurance company may approach the bank and offer to make an exclusive available to their customers if they can include it along with the next bank statement that is sent out.

It’s a win-win agreement – the bank gains through offering a great deal to their customers, the insurance company benefits through increased customer numbers, and customers gain through receiving an exclusive offer.

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