Why it’s time for CMOs to embrace disruptive external partnerships

We explore the growing impetus for disruptive brand partnerships and how CMOs can take the lead on this growth opportunity


Ingredients for successful partnership

And yet disruptive partnerships are rare. Phillips agrees maturity is vital to driving a fresh take on partnership – maturity in terms of understanding what your brand could do, in understanding marketing encompasses everything that touches your customers, and recognising the different ways ecosystems and partnerships can work together.

“We don’t have a lot of that in Australia to be frank. It’s not just digital, technology or data capability, it’s the maturity of an organisation to think they can work with someone else that goes beyond the culture of you sell our brand, we sell yours and block everybody out,” Phillips says.

“That goes beyond the old mentality of intercept and isolate your customers, which is something a lot of us were trained in as marketers in 15 years ago. Fusion and strategic partnership represents a big shift many wouldn’t be thinking about.”

There are of course hygiene factors to external partnership that can throw a spanner in the works. While aligning with another organisation might make sense strategically, having the trust in place between two organisations in order to facilitate collaboration, and a need for greater levels of things like data sharing, push requirements around partnership up much higher.

“Unless you have access to the legal, finance teams and CEO, you may not be able to pursue these partnerships properly. Knowing your constraints as well as your strategy is important,” Phillips says.  

Davis agrees what often prevents external partnership are “the basic hurdles of how do we protect ourselves commercially and legally, how are we going to share our data? How are we going to collaborate? Who’s office? What are the ways of working? How do we start to trust each other?”.

“That stuff is frustratingly hard and feels harder than it should be,” he says. “I had an example of two retail companies across Europe several years ago I was working with, who brought people to the table at a senior level to explore opportunities to partner. They spent 6-8 weeks mucking around with their legal teams to create the foundations to let them even have the conversation. The thing eventually fizzled out and died.”

The more recent trend of pursuing partnerships with startups has possibly hindered the wider partnership trend and approach, Davis agrees.

“There were bizarre situations of startups being shepherded into buildings of corporate Australia without real reason why. It felt like the objective was just to ‘be’ around startups,” he says. “It’s not easy as a large organisation to collaborate with a startup – they don’t work the way you work. And the results have not followed through. My fear is that has discouraged external collaboration where actually all it has taught us is it’s hard to collaborate externally.”

Davis’ therefore encourages brands to find partners that can help you have an impact with scale. “It’s as much effort to sell a big deal as to sell a small deal, so if you’re going to invest in the effort to partner with someone, aim for the bigger bang,” he says.   

Finding the right opportunity

As to identifying the right partnership opportunity, the top piece of advice is to start with the customer problem you’re trying to solve and a clear view of your business objectives, then look for a partner to solve it.

“Equally, however, if there is an organisation you have enough commonality with, dealings with historically and enough trust, then in this space and environment I’d say get together and talk about what matters to both of you and see if there is something opportunistically you can do,” Davis recommends. “Your chances of success might be higher because you might just clear some of those hurdles with greater ease.

“If you start from a place where you’re asking how this can be a strategic driver of growth for me, that’ll lead you down the right path.”

Phillips knows most CMOs don’t have lot of time to pursue strategic objectives given their modern remit and demands on marketing. He also knows CMOs need to think about this from a brand perspective.

“Some purist brand marketers will be nervous about this – when you start bringing brands and businesses together, you wash your attributes and associations and clarity can drop. You need to be quite strategic about partnerships here,” he says.  

“And think outside your adjacencies; look at your customers and what your aim is. All marketers fall into the trap thinking our brands are really important in our customers’ lives. You have to recognise you often don’t, it’s such a privilege to be part of their lives. If you can kind any other ways to solve problems through collaboration, then look at them.”

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