We all know the famous four P’s of the marketing mix: Product, Place, Price and Promotion. Times have changed, our consumers and audiences have changed and the landscape in which we all operate has changed. With that, the marketing mix is in need of a change as well. Organizations need to be leveraging all of the value drivers of Strategic Partnerships, or risk being left behind.
In this article I am going to talk about six value drivers that strategic partnerships can deliver outside of the most commonly understood areas of value: sponsorship and revenue generation. It is time that organizations recognize the importance and impact strategic partnerships can have across a very broad range of business and marketing objectives. For clarity, strategic partnerships are not to be confused with sponsorship, which we find frequently renaming itself as partnership in order to disassociate from the, at times, negative connotations of the word sponsorship. Sponsorship is indeed one tactical value driver of strategic partnerships, but it is only one of many value drivers.
Narrative / Messaging / Positioning
Back in 2012 I remember seeing a sign going up on the development site for a new Target store in Canada. The sign was three simple symbols. It started with a maple leaf, followed by a heart and was capped off by the Target symbol. I looked to the client I was with that day and said, “The beginning of the end!”. There are many reasons why Target Canada failed and my statement was not a direct commentary on strategic partnerships. I was calling out the arrogance of such a statement. “Canada Loves Target”. As organizations, we cannot make these types of statements; but our strategic partners can. That sign, if put up by the development company refitting the new store, would have been perfectly acceptable. Strategic partnerships give our partners the ability to communicate our virtues as a trusted third party in a manner that we cannot.
Audience Access / Growth
The first element of access is generally well understood. Strategic partnerships have the ability to give organizations access to a new audience. What is often overlooked and under appreciated is the ability to convert that introduction / access into a direct conversation with the audience. That conversion is where a long-term, authentic relationship can begin. Think of it as being introduced to someone new at a party and then keeping in touch with that person and developing your own friendship with them. There are few great examples of this because this opportunity is far to often overlooked. One that I love to talk about is the strategic partnership between MADD x Uber X Tweed. This was all about introducing each other’s audiences to one another and creating direct, owned conversations for each of the strategic partners while also growing the collective, owned audience. It was a brilliant partnership that was activated almost flawlessly. The resulting impact dramatically surpassed all performance metrics established at the onset.
A disturbing example of this is actually an organization we are currently working with and going through the process so I will refrain from sharing too much information for now. I do anticipate this being a very strong case study and a set of strategic partnerships that will earn many awards in the very near future. The client is a property that is spending millions on content and programming for its primary locations. The fact is that instead of paying for this content / attractions, through strategic partnerships they are able to give partners access to their audience and that means an opportunity to offset the expense by way of earned revenue opportunities for the content providers. These partnerships will conservatively be able to save the organization $12 million annually and will ultimately result in an improved customer / guest experience for the property.
My favorite example of this and one I refer to often took place at a partner summit our firm held for the CWHL. Our moderator was Laura Richard, partner at TACK10 Strategy and on stage she had a representative from Scotiabank, Bauer Hockey and a few other partner organizations. She started off by asking her famous line “A question for each of you; if you had one ask of and one give for another partner, what would those be?”. The representative from Bauer said they activated in the space very well and could offer that, but they really had little research ability to understand the key drivers of the audience when it comes to purchases. The Scotiabank representative chuckled. When Laura asked him why, he said they had teams on research and could easily and happily share that information. What they were not doing well in this partnership, however, was figuring out how to engage the audience with their activations. It is important to understand that strategic partnerships can be made between your organization, but your value to partners also increases if you can leverage the combined expertise of multiple partners and create opportunities to share it.
Customer / Guest Experience
One strategic partnership that I loved was between the Canadian National Exhibition and Meridian Credit Union. There were many elements to this partnership, but one that was not overlooked by our client, the CNE, was getting partners to activate in a manner that was fun, interactive and authentically fit into the environment that is the fair. Meridian stepped up to the challenge and saw impressive results in doing so. Their activation included a few carnival style games which were all complimentary – guests lined up to be a part of the action. To wrap it all together and top it all off, Meridian also did not ask for people to sign up for accounts on the spot. They wanted to engage with the guests, leave a memorable experience with them and if that connection was strong enough, provide guests with a takeaway after the fair and invitation to set up time to discuss accounts. Too often we look for immediacy with these activations, rather than differentiation and allowing the experience to be just that. Yes, the CNE has an entire midway of games to pay and play, but this was a bonus to the guest experience only Meridian could deliver.
Credibility / Trust / Authority
This partnership is personal as it was something I sourced for my own business while I was President at Mako Design. When I started there, we were a regional design firm and I had my sights set on being a firm with a global presence. We needed credibility on a huge scale to grow the business and strategic partnerships are how we earned it. It started with partnerships with Ryerson University and the University of Toronto, but we needed something bigger. I remember sitting in a strategy session thinking “We need to be on Oprah!”. Well a strategic partnership with Frito-Lay saw us exchange our design services for a co-branded design competition that was and still is the largest competition of its kind. Did Dreamvention make it on to Oprah? No, Oprah was off the air, so it launched on the Ellen Show and quickly drew the attention of other major partners including Google.
The Final Bell
These are just a few objectives that strategic partnerships can help deliver measurable results for organizations. Unfortunately, the full value of the opportunity is often not realized due to organizational structure and the focus on top line revenue growth. Those responsible have their hands tied because there areas where performance can be created are far too often division driven and not within the control of the individuals or teams facilitating partnerships. Organizations need to look at strategic partnerships and those responsible for them with a lens and provide flexibility and accountability that is area of expertise and division agnostic.
James Chalmers is the Group President and CEO at TACK10 Strategy. TACK10 is an award-winning professional consultancy focused on building and delivering products, tools, services and training in the areas of Growth Strategy, Performance Management and Partnership Portfolio Optimization. As a for-profit business, TACK10 believes it is our role to have a positive impact in the communities in which we operate. In 2017, TACK10 made the bold decision to become a Certified “B” Corporation. The ethos of this manifests through a commitment to: People, Purpose and Profit. 5% Pledge: Annually TACK10 invests 5% of the previous year’s total revenue in providing complimentary services to organizations who themselves are having a positive social, environmental and economic impact in the communities in which they operate.