What do business partnerships look like in the world of Social Media? To answer that question, I asked Susan Frech, CEO and Co-Founder of Social Media Link, the leader in online advocacy activation for brands.
What are the key ingredients in great partnerships?
Partnership can be highly effective to companies. It allows them to compete in new markets and offer unique advantages. With any partnership, you must make sure of two things - both parties understand upfront expectations and that both parties understand the value of the partnership. Whether it's a co-branding partnership, channel partnership or a strategic operational partnership, key players must both be able to communicate the end value. A partnership without these components is destined to fail.
Can you describe a partnerships that shows great consumer brand partnerships?
I often admire consumer brand partnerships as they so publicly display the value of the partnership to the end user. Marketers must consider the entire consumer ecosystem and discover opportunities that mutually benefit all parties. One of the most amazing "partnership engines" in recent time in Amazon, specifically their Echo product. In addition to the dozens of integrations into the Amazon Echo, just recently, Ford announced Amazon’s Alexa into cars with its Ford Sync 3 service, giving drivers the ability to control their car and smart home devices.
Amazon’s Echo is definitely a game changer. How do you think integrating Amazon’s Alexa with Ford Sync 3 will work? What possible challenges do you see in the partnerships, and how can they overcome them?
Voice-first, pixel-free browsing is the future, driven by the connected consumer, ubiquitous technology and the proliferation of mobile. In fact, Gartner says that in just 3 short years almost a third of searches will be screen-less. As I mentioned, Amazon is getting ahead of this by setting up partnerships with many companies to integrate Echo/Alexa capability. So this latest move with Ford is part of smart, forward thinking strategy that continues to secure Amazon’s role as an easy portal for consumers to brands wherever and whenever they want. For all of us tethered to technology, it seems obvious that we should be seamlessly connected at home, at work, on the go and now in the car. This consumer expectation needs to be on the radar for brands in terms of how consumers will discover products, research them, and what marketing messages are acceptable in these new voice-first interactions. For Ford, the move to connect with Amazon is a savvy first step, but I suspect consumers won’t accept being limited to which digital assistant rides along with them, whether Alexa, Siri or Cortana. The car will be an extension of home, and brands like Ford will have to fit into the consumer’s lifestyle versus the other way around.
Is there a company or organization that you look up to that builds great partnerships that you are not part of?
In my space of social media marketing, I think companies like Buzzfeed display the ability to form great partnerships. BuzzFeed's strategic partnership with GroupM was aimed a driving brand outcomes with BuzzFeed's creative and data assets. BuzzFeed and GroupM both know their markets and clients extensively. As a result, they understand what drives their decisions and what's important to them. Consequently, these companies are prepared to invest in clients' business objectives.
What advice can you give to managers who are looking to build strategic partnerships?
1. Be very clear about what your brand stands for and whether the partner shares those brand values or complements them appropriately. Your brand is a promise and guarantee of a familiar and loved experience by your customers – don’t put your ability to deliver that at risk.
2. Be clear about what the goals are for the partnership – for you and for the partner. Make sure each of you is getting what you need out of it. Imbalance breeds contempt. Take stock of performance against goals often – if it’s not mutually beneficial, know when it’s time to walk away.
3. Trust, but verify - is a wise Russian proverb. Study up on your potential partners to make sure that they can deliver what they promise and you get a sense of what they stand for – beyond what they tell you.
4. Partnerships are like marriage. The little things that make you think “Hmmmm” before you enter into the union will become major annoyances once the honeymoon is over. Do not ignore red flags. Like Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”