The opposite of competition is collaboration, and while understanding your USP is always essential for a business, so too is understanding where you have commonality, and where joining forces might result in a better outcome for both businesses. Collaboration should therefore be a key part of business strategy.
To get you thinking how this might work for you, below are some examples of collaborations that Onyx has been involved in (for clients and ourselves) and some of the things we think about before we form a collaboration.
Collaborating for Increased Credibility and to Help Customers
Many brands, through no fault of their own, lack credibility and that can be a fundamental barrier to achieving their business goals. RBK is an online payment service that is a household name in Russia and in parts of Eastern Europe. They set up an office in London in Spring 2012 to access the European market. RBK’s first priority was to establish a brand that was trusted in the UK and had visibility with business.
Onyx advised them that the most trusted and authoritative source of advice to UK traders was the Government’s UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), which included the UK’s overseas embassies and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. UK businesses who want to trade with Russia will most commonly seek help from them.
We therefore used our connections with (and insight into) the Government to broker an introduction to the UKTI’s Russian desk. We explained how RBK were willing and able to help UK companies trade with Russia and so help the UK exploit this enormous market.
As a result, UKTI publicly advised all Russian traders that RBK was the solution to the most common barrier that UK merchants face when trading with Russia (payment and ensuring receipt). UKTI informed all relevant UK government staff to advise traders to use RBK. This included UKTI staff in the regions and in the embassies and consulates in Russia who meet and advise UK trade delegations. The Government’s collaboration helped BIS support exporters and gave RBK the credibility and publicity it needed.
Collaborating to Raise Awareness
Any business that delivers a service should understand the value of case studies to illustrate your effectiveness in doing your job. However, too often, it is seen as a favour to the business providing the service and nothing else, but the most effective use of case studies is through a collaboration that benefits both businesses.
Onyx secures case studies for clients on that basis with great success. Sometimes it results in award wins or new business for the subject of the case study and our client, but more often it is simply great PR.
We worked with American Airlines, for example, for our client Smart Cookie, who was providing their VR. The collaboration resulted in a front-page story for the airline in Marketing Week, as well as six pages of editorial inside. In return, American Airlines ensured that they promoted Smart Cookie’s work within the features.
Collaborating on communications activity is a subject that is worth raising at the contract stage, otherwise it can seem like an extra ‘hassle’ for the client. Try to engage with their marketing team, who are more likely to understand the benefits for their business.
Collaborating With Individuals
Celebrities have long been used to increase the appeal of a brand to their target market. There is some debate about how effective this is. We find it works best when you prioritise authenticity (we like to find celebrities who are genuine about their interest in a brand) rather than finding the most famous name, who will often cost a lot and whose cynical followers are only too aware that they are being paid to promote brands. If the followers have already seen that the celebrity has an interest in the brand or subject matter, it is far more convincing and there is far less risk that the celebrity will do something that conflicts with your messages.
In 2013 Onyx was working with LEGO education and the Royal Academy of Engineering on a programme that aimed to increase the number of children considering engineering careers. We engaged a number of very different celebrities to engage the target audience. These included Faye Tozer (of Steps fame) and Zoe Tyler (then of Loose Women), to target parents and teachers and Ross Brawn, Formula One Managing Director of Motorsports, to help us secure more interest from engineers. All helped drive the social media as their posts were shared by their fans.
We also engaged graduate engineers who were young enough to act as role models for older school students. We secured invitations to Number 10 for our graduates and that further helped us increase the profile of the campaign.
Onyx’s connections with both celebrities and government organisations helped to secure these partnerships at no cost to the brand. All were passionate about helping to encourage young people, particularly girls, to consider the excitement of a career in engineering and that gave the campaign the authenticity we needed (and kept the budget low).
Informal Collaborations – AKA Making friends
The more you help other people, the more they will help you. It is a simple human instinct (for most people) that they will want to help people who have helped them. It also makes for a much more pleasant life! That help can be advice, connections, desk space or invitations to events.
Onyx has even proactively helped other business to start up. Some business people have questioned this: if we weren’t getting paid, why were we helping, we should be more ‘business’ like? If I’m honest, at the time, it simply felt like the ‘right’ thing to do. But it taught me a lesson, as it is now very clear how beneficial, in business terms, our actions have been.
We have great networks and can form collaborations for clients because we have acted as a friend to other businesses. These friends are a valuable source of new work as they recommend us on to others.
Collaboration is Key in Communications
The above only touches on a few examples of collaborations. There are hundreds more, but it should give you an idea just how valuable they can be.
To get real value it is important that you research the reputation of any business you intend to collaborate with; is their reputation something you want your business to be associated with? Does it fit with your brand values or is there a conflict?
Of course the degree of fit needed will depend on the nature and longevity of the intended collaboration but you do need to think broadly. You may not be entering into a financial relationship but if the other business has a history of late payments what does that say about their respect and generosity towards other businesses? Is it more or less likely that they will try and take far more than they give in their collaboration with you? Onyx employ investigative journalists to find out the worst that can be said about intended collaborations, for either our clients or ourselves. On a couple of occasions we have been shocked by what we found out, and our in-depth research has ensured that a crisis was avoided.
To secure the collaborations that will work you should be mindful of why the other person or business would want to collaborate with you, what’s in it for them? Sometimes you will find that people do just want to help you, but if not, it is important to understand how you can sell the benefit to them.