‘I love creating partnerships, I love not having to bear the entire burden of the creative storytelling.’ – Steven Spielberg
Instead of trying to do everything alone, strategic partnerships can be an effective way to build businesses. As each partner leverages the assets of the other, they can expand or penetrate more deeply markets for existing and contemplated products, compete in new markets, gain access to new distribution channels, benefit from positive brand imagery or fine-tune new business models. Partnerships are especially valuable to companies seeking quick entry to a particular market or business line because of technological disruption, new market entrants, or aggressive moves by competitors.
Not surprisingly they can take various shades of grey from joint ventures to looser alliances and often have a specific focus:
– Strategic marketing partnerships allow companies with good match (e.g. target audience, brand/value perceptions, etc) to enhance their brand image and boost awareness in a cost effective and synergistic manner, combining two brand budgets and marketing outlets.
For example, the partnership between Christian Dior Fusion Sneakers and Colette gave Christian Dior the opportunity to launch its funky, innovative, luxurious new line (a fusion between traditional sneakers and Dior couture shoes) in Colette’s exclusive and prestigious distribution network. For Colette, being chosen as the store where the sneakers first appeared generated great PR for the trend-setting retailer.
Should the partners be in different parts of a same market, clients can be referred between one another and partners can expand beyond their respective customer base as illustrated by H&M’s on-going collaboration with haute couture designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Lanvin or Alexander Wang. This allows H&M to offer high-end fashion branded items over a limited time period to drive people into its stores and support its brand positioning as a trendy fashion destination. Haute couture designers increase the awareness of their own brand and forge a bond with a new generation of potential customers, who will hopefully aspire to owning more pieces from their high-end collection.
This can also take place across different product markets as is the case with the partnership between the high end camera company Leica and the luxury fashion brand Moncler. The limited edition ‘fashion’ camera makes the perfect aspirational purchase for both high-end target audiences and reflects the sense of aesthetics of the camera owners.
– Strategic supplier partnerships can include manufacturers, distributors, or vendors. They provide security of supply (including new products tailor-made to specific needs) and might lead to special discounts and lower prices, a classical example being Apple and Google working with many small application developers to create an ecosystem of mobile services.
Such relationship can sometimes edge towards schizophrenia. Apple’s main supplier of microchips for its iPhones is Samsung, its main rival in the smartphone market. They compete aggressively in the market while collaborating closely on the design of the semiconductors Samsung sells to Apple.
Strategic supplier partnerships can also be created to bring a unique competitive advantage to one the partner. H&M is collaborating with I:CO, a logistics firm, as it has started to offer customers the opportunity to bring their old clothes to its shops and receive a discount on new ones. I:CO sends some of the used clothing to the second-hand market or to be recycled.
– Strategic technology partners help business share the burden of the high costs often associated with new technologies. The need to develop electric, hybrid, hydrogen fuel-cell and other forms of propulsion, and at the same time also to invest heavily in their petrol and diesel engines has led car-markers such as Toyota to partner with rival BWM on fuel-cell technology.
Technology partnerships can also bring companies from different industries together such as Allianz teaming up with Google to create an “accelerator” centre in Munich, to foster startups seeking to use data analysis to improve the insurance market.
They can also bring together companies operating across different parts of the technology spectrum such as the Apple and IBM alliance. IBM’s big data analytics and more than 100,000 industry sales consultants and software developers help Apple penetrate the global corporate enterprise market with new class of applications to connect users to big data and analytics on iOS devices.
Despite all those successes, making partnership relationships work is often notoriously difficult. They are akin to marriages of convenience, where trust and respect are often tested by the underlying rivalries and occasional spats.
Rules to achieve successful partnerships abound but focus should be kept on partnering with a company with a similar vision and culture, and on building trust on an on-going basis through working openly and transparently together. In any case, the majority of partnerships do not exactly pan out the way they were anticipated to, so flexibility as always is a primer.