New eras have a way of amplifying certain things and diminishing others. Collaboration is one thing that web3 has managed to amplify in a very positive way. In the making for the past decade, since the advent of blogging and the birth of the creator economy, collaboration as a business driver should be nothing new to business leaders.
So, no discussion about modern brand tools can be complete without the aspect, and opportunity, of collaboration.
Collaboration can be a fertile ground for new ideas, perspectives and even innovation. That magic word — innovation — has every business owner on the edge of their seat.
What is collaboration, plain-text?
Collaboration is when everyone rolls up their sleeves, defines a common vision, and is invested in the outcome with time and contribution.
Everyone brings their strengths to the table to create something new.
Let’s look at three business areas collaboration works in.
Collaboration as attractor (brand)
The most visible example of collaboration as a business driver comes from the fashion industry, with its many drops and collabs. This is a good example of how brands that are on opposite ends of an industry sector or occupy different market ecosystems (mainstream versus niche) come together to “rub off” on one another.
This creates the widely-known halo effect and is commonly used precisely for this reason.
Collaboration as innovator (product)
Less discussed but equally revenue driving is when collaboration is used to innovate. The pharma industry has been known to do this behind closed doors, i.e. with research institutes.
When launching the Appstore, Apple heavily collaborated with brands that they thought to be ideal apps for the iPhone, co-developing the applications with them and giving them a heads up on software improvements beforehand, i.e. with Shazam in the 2000s.
Collaboration as engager (customer)
I’ll only briefly mention the invigorating effect that collaborating with members of your community to create something new or context specific has on your brand and business. Loyalty, engagement, sales can be positively impacted by this.
Of course, this is also used in a B2B context. Bayer, for example, supports NGOs and governmental organizations worldwide in sexual and reproductive health education with marketing assets, data sharing, know-how and insights collaboration, without the mention or suggestion of its products.
And don’t forget the employee as a collaborator, too. Employees want to be empowered and enabled, but also included to contribute to the organization beyond their job description. Some of the best ideas can come from within your organization if the culture supports thinking outside of the box.
Brand, product, customer are so-called strategic areas of impact. For collaboration to successfully work IRL, though, and not be yet another tactic, it needs to be executed with the right motivation, mindset and process.
As we learned earlier, collaboration thrives on seeing eye-to-eye on the Why. Keeping your cards close is common practice in business. Yet collaboration is most successful when you put your cards on the table. Not only does that help everyone understand the stakes, it also creates trust. Having said this, choose your collaborators wisely. Not everyone’s business practices and values align.
It can help to look at your respective propositions, and see where they align and could enhance one another.
Ideally, a collaboration has no manager and subordinate. It is a creative, innovative space at eye-level. Hierarchy only messes with the outcome.
This is where the magic happens. Nothing will get done if you’re not working the same machine. Define common processes, iteration intervals, infrastructure, communication etc. I’ve seen the best results when both parties decide to set up how they want to work from scratch, instead of one group of people imposing their structure and process on the other.
Furthermore, revisit and improve process along the way. If something doesn’t work, change it.
Collaboration is a mid- to long-term brand tool and shouldn’t be thrown about haphazardly (tool used in a non-tactical context here). Opting for a small number of collaborators and creating a collaboration circle (to not say community as it is desperately overused) is one of the most sustainable things you can do for your brand.
Lastly, weaving collaboration into your strategy needs to be thoughtfully considered and realized. I invite you to view this as a starting place, and have a discussion what collaboration can look like for your brand and business — no matter if solo or on a global scale.
Also in this series: Brand propositioning and culture.