What Is a Brand Deal?
First, let’s define terms. A brand deal, for the purposes of this course, is a relationship between a content creator and a business wherein you, the creator, talk about the services provided through said business, and are thus directly compensated. How this actually manifests in your work can take many forms. When it comes to things like gaming peripherals, a brand deal will often involve the streamer using their accessories, thanking the company, during the content for their contributions, and talking about the products themselves. Other companies, like service providers, might simply ask for you to say that your content is “brought to you by” their brand, or to talk about their services. This will be different for every individual relationship. The point is, you, the creator, are being compensated directly, not typically for any subsequent business the company gets out of the endorsement, but for the endorsement itself.
Notice that this does not include affiliate links. Affiliates, as discussed in our course on monetization strategies, involve a creator being compensated on a per-sale basis. These are distinct from brand deals.
Usually, there are few to no requirements for setting up affiliate links. You won’t be dealing with a real human being at the company with which you’re working, you’ll just go to their site, generate a link, and put it on your page. Affiliate links are a valuable tool for any creator, but they are significantly simpler to implement than brand deals, and offer far less earning potential. Every creator should investigate both avenues for revenue, but it’s important that they know the difference.
Step 1: Identifying Brands You Already Use
The best brand relationships are those that develop organically, between a creator with genuine respect and affection for a product and the people who make it. That’s why the first important step in any journey towards endorsement deals is taking a good, long look at yourself.
Brands you already patronize, which already have a presence in your life and in your content, make the best partners. Products and services associated with your content need to be things you believe in, things that organically connect with what you do. The last thing you want from these relationships is to come across as a salesman, a mercenary for hire, and having a familiarity and affinity for the products you’re working with will go a long way towards preventing that. Don’t let that give you the impression that your audience is just waiting to turn on you for accepting an endorsement. These deals are ubiquitous for a reason, and fans understand that more money coming in means more of the content they love. Still, completely out-of-nowhere sponsorships can do real damage to your brand, and the trust your audience places in you.
Gaming brands are the first obvious category that springs to mind, and it shouldn’t be difficult to come up with examples. Certain tools of the trade sit in the workspace of every streamer: gaming rigs, microphones, cameras, capture cards, gaming chairs, keyboards, controllers; the list goes on and on. Every piece of equipment, every accessory and component, represents an opportunity. Not only are these the brands most organically connected to your content, they’re also the businesses most involved, already, in the streaming space, which means you can go in confident that they’re interested in working with content creators.
For the same reason, it’s also important to consider brands that are, while not necessarily gaming companies, still oriented towards gaming and gamers. For the most part, these are consumable goods: energy drinks and powders, focus-enhancing vitamin powders, and any other food or drink clearly branded with the space in mind. These companies are just looking for gamers’ eyeballs, and your audience has what they want. For this reason, many are already active in the streamer space, and if you’re a consumer of their products, they’d be thrilled to work with you. The longer you think about it, the more companies in the gaming space will spring to mind. I haven’t even mentioned all of the services geared towards content creators and streamers, things like overlays and bots and extensions. There are also the games themselves, developers indie and AAA, all looking for exposure, all interested in working with content creators in varying capacities.
Still, another reality must be made explicit: the gaming brand-deal marketplace is flooded. Every streamer out there is building relationships with keyboard manufacturers and energy drink makers. That doesn’t mean that there’s not potential there for sustainable revenue, it just means that those brands aren’t going to do much for your branding. They’re not going to make you stand out, and there will be a ceiling on how much you can really make. There are just too many people out there doing the same thing, limiting its value. And yet, there are other opportunities out there, potentially more lucrative and much better for your own brand. Something of which very few are taking advantage.
I speak of brands entirely outside the gaming space. In another course, we cover what makes up your own brand, and a big part of it is what, outside of gaming, makes you unique. Not only do these things represent ways to define yourself and your content, but they’re also opportunities for less obvious brand relationships, with companies that do a great deal more for your own identity, with a potentially better pay out.
So, what makes you, you? Does it manifest in a love for a certain brand of clothing? Maybe you wear hats, or jewelry. These brands might not have even heard of streaming, but that doesn’t mean they won’t want to work with you. Are you really into cosmetics? Reach out to your favorite brands in the space. Sport some grade-A facial hair? Maybe you can rep your go-to products for keeping it clean and luxurious. Into physical fitness? The list of opportunities there is extensive, from equipment to nutrition, clothing to recovery. All of these are simple, high-potential examples, and none of them have to do with gaming. Figuring out how you can take advantage of a similar opportunity is vital, both for your finances, and the uniqueness of your own brand.
Step 2: Reach Out
Many streamers think that this is the most complicated part of the process, but, in reality, it’s the most simple. Contacting brands isn’t spycraft. You don’t have to track down decision makers and insinuate yourself into their lives. Some companies make it easy, with portals dedicated to reaching out about brand relationships, or with job titles in their marketing departments dealing with “influencer relations,” but often, especially for companies outside the gaming space, you won’t be so lucky. Still, the process is fairly straightforward. Go to the company’s web presence and look for public email addresses in the marketing department. Ideally, you’ll find something that goes directly to a real-live person, but you also might have to settle for something generic, meant for “business inquiries” or something similar. Both are fine. You are not invading their space, or breaking rules of decorum. These emails are listed so that people, like you, can reach out with opportunites. But, that’s all you have to do. Send an email. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
Writing an Introductory Email
Reaching out to a brand representative is the beginning of a business relationship, and, as such, any email should be written in a clear, concise, and professional tone. Improper punctuation, grammar, spelling, or formatting will lead to your email being completely ignored, so take your time, double-check everything, and stick to a standard font and format. It's a great idea to search for typical examples of business emails online, for reference.
To begin, after a salutation addressed, ideally, to a specific person, succinctly identify yourself and your channel in one or two sentences. Include viewership statistics, like average total viewers, average concurrent viewers, peak concurrent viewers, and anything else you have available. Remember: this person does not know you or your content. The more hard-data you can provide to demonstrate your platform, the better. Do not lie! You’ll be surprised how many brands are perfectly happy to work with a still-growing creator, and the worst thing that can happens is you receive a polite “no thank you.” If possible, it’s also a good idea to include a link to a representative example of your content, to provide even more context.
These emails should be brief, no more than a couple quick paragraphs. If it takes longer than a minute to read your email, from start to finish, it’s too long. Again, you have to keep your audience in mind, and the people with whom you are trying to work are very busy, receiving many requests like yours. This isn’t a bad thing, of course. They receive requests because they’re receptive members of the community, but it still means their time is limited. Being clear and quick not only gets your message across, it leaves a strong professional impression.
After reaching out, if you haven’t heard back in a week, feel free to reach out once more with a simple, one sentence follow up. If you still haven’t heard back after a few attempts, it’s likely time to move on. You can always come back later. Remember, there’s no telling why you haven’t received an email back, and the reason can be as simple as you getting lost in the pile. Additionally, you are not invading these people’s privacy by reaching out, or following up. They want to work with creators, and are happy to have people reach out to them. Be open and honest about your intentions, and you’ll find people want to help.
Finding Additional Opportunities
If it feels like you’ve exhausted all of the organic opportunities presented by the products and services you already use, don’t worry! There are still other places to go when it comes to building that element of your professional network.
Turn to other channels and see what brands are currently engaged in the space. Watch other streams and take a look at who they’re working with, while keeping in mind any that you would feel positively about endorsing. Then, investigate their services and give them a try. If you find their values align with your own, don’t resist the urge to reach out. In the other direction, be sure to avoid any relationships with brands you don’t like, or whose products rub you the wrong way. Not only will your audience see through it, but so will the brands, and it can damage your reputation in the space as you put in inferior work.
Live events and gatherings are also an excellent opportunity to find sponsorship opportunities. Conventions are packed with companies looking for content creators to work with, both on the show floor in booths and just walking around. Give and receive business cards while discussing the product and how it could work with your content. Attend after hours events hosted by brands and sponsors, and see who you can engage with. While many brand relationships are explicitly sought out, you’ll find many creators find their best brand deals through organic relationships started at live events. You never know where or when you’ll be able to find an opportunity, so it’s important to just put yourself out there and be open to possibilities. Luck is a factor, but so is patience and a sharp eye for opportunity. For more information on how to make the most of live events, be sure to check out the “Networking 101” Course.