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The Partnership Edge: Make Friends For A Successful Life

Forget teeth gnashing and sharp elbows, success in business is all about collaboration and partnership. But beware: it doesn't always go smoothly, as BaseKit's Juan Lobato explains.

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Forget teeth gnashing and sharp elbows, success in business is all about collaboration and partnership. But beware: it doesn't always go smoothly, as BaseKit's Juan Lobato explains.

Throughout history, some of the most sustainable businesses have relied on a strategic partnership framework. Although many organisations thrive independently, external partnerships can offer an “in” to a new audience or community – one potentially much larger than a new business could reach on its own.

This tactic is recognisable in high-street retailer H&M’s approach - its annual partnerships with luxury brands have lead to their collections selling out within hours. From Tinder to Tesco, frequent collaborators often find themselves reaping the benefits of a win-win situation.

New market advantage

For a start-up, plugging into an established brand’s resources can be invaluable, giving its new offering a sense of familiarity and lowering its perceived risk. Along with reaching a wider audience, a partnership is mutually beneficial, offering shared knowledge and resources while meeting the objectives of each organisation involved.

"It's easy to fall into the trap of being charmed by every potential partner"

That said, entering into a partnership relationship is not always a straightforward process. And, likewise, they don’t always work out. During initial meetings with a potential partner, businesses should make sure that the partner has a strategic market presence or brand that can be leveraged. As well, the engagement should be scalable and there should be a clear opportunity to increase revenue.

Keep it in the family

Because a partner is an extension of an organisation, it is essential that businesses spend considerable time learning about each other during the discovery period. Both parties should commit to fully understanding each other’s missions, styles, and what they both stand for, to ensure that they reflect similar values that will continue to appeal to the target demographic, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.

When the audience detects a disparity in business values, a brand’s reputation can be severely affected. For instance, the Girl Scouts have been under pressure to end its partnership with Mattel, over claims that the group’s relationship to Barbie “undermines the Girl Scouts’ vital mission to build girls of courage, confidence, and character.”

When businesses’ values aren’t aligned, the partnership can undermine the strategic vision and alienate the intended audience.

Chief Executive of the Arcadia Group Sir Philip Green (L) meets with Prime Minister Tony Blair at the opening of the Fashion Retail Academy on October 31, 2006 in London. The Academy is supported by  popular high street brands Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, Outfit, Topshop, Topman and Wallis, Next, Marks & Spencer.The Academy provides a combination of retail business and fashion education.  (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Philip Green's Top Shop knows how to spot a good partnership opportunity

There are many wonderful businesses out there, but it is all too easy to fall into the trap of being charmed by every potential partnership opportunity – even when there is no well-defined business benefit. While evaluating prospective partners, businesses should develop a plan to keep partnerships within the intended scope of the organisation.

When a partnership is too vague, the brand risks being poorly defined and thus less meaningful to the consumer. Another unfortunate case of co-branding is Will.i.am’s partnership with Intel (it named the musician Director of Creative Innovation, while he released the track “Geekin’” with vague references to tech).

The collaboration is confusing at best; at worst, the ambiguous partnership has the potential to damage both parties’ audiences and brand loyalty.

The fine print

Although it may not be the most romantic way to start a relationship, many shrewd couples begin a marriage with a prenuptial agreement. In business, a prenup is akin to an exit agreement, but contractual agreements shouldn’t end there.

Due to the nature of partnerships, they should always begin with all obligations clearly defined – often contractually - and agreed upon by both parties in writing. These details can often include responsibilities, risks, rewards, payments, SLAs, and guidelines, but will depend on the nature of the relationship.

Once the paperwork is done, both businesses can begin to define a strategic vision of what success will look like for both sides. If both parties involved feel they are able to leverage the strengths of the other then the groundwork is complete. That being said, the world still needs to know about the partnership; this can be conveyed through marketing content so long as strategic and consistent communications are distributed from both organisations.

Businesses don’t need to reinvent the wheel. A partnership approach can stem from something as simple as recognising a need and leveraging another business to help facilitate the solution. These kinds of give-and-take partnerships can contribute to brand growth and influence consumer perception in unimaginable ways.

Looking for a potential partner that shares your vision? The key is to be informed and intentional in your decision. Your customers will thank you later.

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The Partnership Edge: Make Friends For A Successful Life

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