Who will be your next brand partner

Shifting your brand to the inner circle

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An observation from the Havas CES 2016 report that we will increasingly see more companies working together across widely different marketplaces is a reminder of the new bridges that brands must be looking to build going forward. Inevitably these invite new approaches.

According to the report, with Ford working with Amazon and LG working with Netflix, brands need to be thinking about the broader ecosystem in which consumers live and engage, and formulating partnerships to address these that are mutually beneficial for all parties. The fact that these partnerships are focused on meeting the needs of consumers also suggests that it’s time to completely re-engineer how we think about who works with who and what goes with what.

The five bands of brand likeability

This is where the meshing of big data and little data gets interesting. It could enable companies to form consumer-specific viewpoints about the brands that people want in their lives and to build partnerships with other brands that cater to individual needs. The key is vicinity: the attraction and relevance of brands that people feel close to. Partnership in this context is about bringing brands together in arrangements that consumers want to have bundled in their lives.

That goes to two places.

The first is that brands will need to “plot” their position in consumers’ lives much more exactly. I think brands radiate out from consumers in five distinct bands of likeability:

  • ‘Outside my life’ – the brands that consumers don’t care about because they don’t know them, actively dislike them or don’t regard them as relevant;
  • ‘Distant brands’ – the brands that consumers have at the periphery of their awareness but they don’t engage with to any great degree yet. These brands will either build greater relevance with consumers or slip outside of their lives;
  • ‘Aware brands’ – the brands that consumers talk about but they are not yet loyal to. These brands are part of their consideration set, so they provide a sense of greater choice, but are not seen as a must-buy yet;
  • ‘Functional brands’ – these are the brands that people use but that they only have a transactional relationship with. They take their presence for granted, not really valuing it until it stops or disappears (usually unexpectedly); and
  • ‘Immediate brands’ – these are the brands that consumers know and are involved with and that they see as an expression of the life they are forging.

Partnering on the basis of vicinity

When we think about brands in these terms and not just in terms of sales, it seems obvious that brand strategists should spend less time thinking about sales funnels and more time pondering how to draw brands further into this ‘identity funnel’. They need to be looking for ways to fashion brands to align more closely with the specific and dynamic views that consumers have of who’s part of their ‘immediate’ life.

Brand strategists should spend less time thinking about sales funnels and more time pondering how to draw brands further into this ‘identity funnel’

If we think about partnerships between brands in these terms, my second thought is this. Brands that are looking to partner in the next era of partnerships should do so with brands that are either in the same vicinity as them, or perhaps even closer, for a specific group of target consumers. An aware brand should partner with another aware brand for example or, ideally, an immediate brand. By doing this, the partnered brands will potentially achieve a greater degree of relevance together than they would separately. And the partnerships themselves should be focused on, and positioned as, increasing likeability and personal relevance for that tribe of consumers rather than as markets as marriages of convenience.

Note: A version of this post has been published elsewhere under the title The New Era Of Strategic Partnerships.

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