Many thousands of years ago, when stromatolites were producing the earth’s first breathable air and I was cutting my teeth in marketing, we thought about brands as self-defined “boxes” — things that were defined from within and presented to the world in consistent ways. One famous CPG marketer once said, “Give me a good product demo and $12 million a year to burn it into people’s heads, and you’ve got an amazing business.”
Thus were filled the TV waves and magazine pages of my youth. The Pepsi generation. Please don’t squeeze the Charmin. Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways. Three temperatures, one detergent.
I don’t need to explain to any marketer that things have changed a lot since then. And perhaps the nature of effective branding has, too. How are we to build lasting brands in a world where people won’t sit still for conventional brand building?
Old-School Versus New-School Branding
Old-school branding was about telling. New school is about showing and proving. So how do we evolve our thinking — how do we move from telling to proving — in effective and efficient ways? Maybe the answer is in thinking of a brand not as a discrete set of attributes and meanings but rather as a connected entity that builds its relevance by associating with related and appealing things. Thinking like a connected platform rather than a self-defined box.
Connected platforms are all the rage these days. Many digital brands are actually connected platforms rather than self-contained products. They have achieved market dominance in part because they opened themselves to others.
Thousands of companies now make products and services that build onto these digital platforms and add tremendous business value. Such companies offer a set of products but also a platform on which others build products and businesses. And in part because of this amazing connected ecosystem, many such brands now hold places in the world’s top 100 most valuable brands.
Expected — And Unexpected — Partnerships
Software was where it started. But more and more categories these days are being transformed by brands acting as connected platforms. Through partnerships:
Some have pursued classic partner relationships with web communities, media, comparison and loyalty properties. Such partners offer tried-and-true ways to deliver rapid scale in high-quality, high-credibility environments.
Other brands have developed their connectedness through unexpected, transformational partnerships with brands that you might not immediately think of when you contemplate brand partnerships. For example, we don’t often associate the world’s luxury brands with partnerships. But these days many of the world’s most elite brands are willing and anxious to partner with other businesses.
Still, others have done both: working with classic partnership categories and engaging in what we at Performance Horizon call transformational partnerships with fascinating and at times unexpected partnership arrangements.
The wonderful thing is that all three approaches work really well.
A Hypothetical But Feasible Example
That’s all nice in the abstract. But let’s make this a little more real with a hypothetical example. Imagine that a luxury car company wanted to reach high-net-worth individuals to market its new ultra-premium sedans.
They could connect their platform to another platform like a leading bank with lots of rich customers. By creating a special partner program, the car company could reach and persuade a set of individuals in a low-clutter environment with an endorsement from a financial institution that they trust.
Car manufacturers and banks working in partnership is not necessarily the sort of partnership you might expect. But if you think about it for a moment, such a pairing has all the ingredients of a valuable collaboration. Scale. Targeting. Credibility. Brand fit. And the benefits go both ways.
Now imagine that the company builds a connected brand strategy that creates a massive partner list of hundreds of expected and unexpected partner types to grow its business and better monetize its relationships with its own customers. That’s a brand as a connected platform.
Sales And Brand Building
Profitable campaigns. Derrieres in bucket seats. High-net-worth customers who feel special. And a richer brand image that fosters affinity with high-profitability customers. What more could marketers want? Partnerships tick all the goals boxes.
So, partnerships are the ultimate instance of brands as connected platforms. Partnerships are also almost always at the top of channel ROI and profitability rankings. Their remarkable sales effectiveness and efficiency demonstrate that the connected platform as a success strategy is no fluke. It’s an idea whose time has come.
If it isn’t on your to-do list, it should be.
Thanks to the Forbes Communications Council for publishing this first!