Month: September 2018

‘Collaboration’ has long been a buzzword in the business world.

Companies recognise that remaining relevant requires not only internal collaboration and team work, but also collaboration in the form of partnerships with other organisations.

Defined as “the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing”, collaboration makes good business sense.

Consider the success of fast fashion retailer H&M’s collaborations with luxury design houses such as Balmain and Versace, or Uber and Spotify’s value-add partnership that allows you to connect your Spotify account to your Uber car’s radio.

But with great reward often comes great risk. Collaboration can be seen as a smoking gun means to achieving greater brand awareness and financial rewards based on a partnership vision that focuses too heavily on the ‘what’ – the strategy – and not enough on the ‘how’ – the tactics, or fails to adequately recognise the risks.

In these cases, the results can be disappointing. Loss of autonomy, dilution of your brand, lost time and resources, or a negative impact on your brand’s reputation, are just some of the risks.

So today I’m challenging you not to mention the ‘c’ word without first taking these six steps to determine whether you or your business are really in a position to commit to a collaboration.

Do so and you’ll be well on the way to more successful partnership opportunities that yield better results for you and your partners.

  1. Time is of the essence

The first key question you should consider is whether you have the time and resources to nurture a collaboration opportunity. You should consider the potential drain on company resources, both in terms of the number of hours key staff would likely spend on such a partnership, and upfront financial costs. Remember that the drain on financial and company resources is often greater than expected.

  1. Identify your processes

Before entering into any external collaborations or partnerships, you should identify your processes for critiquing the value of your collaboration. Ask: what am I seeking to get out of the partnership first and foremost? Once you know this, you’ll be able to deduce how best to measure this  – whether it be greater brand awareness, a spike in sales of a particular product or service, or customer satisfaction levels.

  1. Leverage your strengths

When negotiating any partnership, be sure to know your strengths. Consider both your access to knowledge and people. For example, you may have a small team, but you could have expert specialised knowledge that is particularly valuable to a potential partner. Alternatively, you may have a broader organisational focus, but perhaps you have the people power to support this work and do more of the heavy-lifting. Knowing and leveraging your strengths before commencing negotiations with prospective partners will ensure you get a better deal for your business. Be prepared to ask yourself and your team the tough questions about what you bring to the table as an organisation.

  1. Mind the gap

Also be aware of your skill gaps – and ensure you partner with an organisation that doesn’t have the same gaps as you. Consider whether you have complementary skill-sets, and creative ways to bridge any skill gaps.

  1. Better off alone?

Finally, assess the ideas and opportunities that collaborations offer and weigh these up against the potential challenges. Ask yourself: am I really better off collaborating, or could I/we be better off alone? Consider what you could do with the resources required for your collaboration if you decide not to go ahead. Which option is more favourable from a commercial perspective? And don’t forget to consider brand reputation and PR risks. LEGO’s collaboration with Shell is one example of a company failing to recognise the PR risk of such an association, as attitudes to Shell’s environmental practices have shifted over time.

  1. Trust is a must

Finally, weigh up the ‘co-opetition’. The term, utilised to describe collaborations with organisations that would often be considered your natural competitors, sums up the need for trust. In order for partnerships to be truly successful, all parties need to be willing to share ideas and insights. At the same time, protecting your IP and business plans is essential to mitigate unnecessary risk.

So, be sure to exercise consideration and caution when using the ‘c’ word. While collaborations aren’t for everyone, successful partnerships can offer immense value to all parties.

I’m interested in your thoughts… Do you have a favourite company collaboration? And are there any other considerations you would weigh up before using the ‘c’ word?

In a pre-online shopping world, and before the Internet was mainstream, the retail sector seemed a much surer bet.

But even then, there were brands that didn’t rest on their laurels.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this is The Body Shop. Under the stewardship of founder, Dame Anita Roddick, the company was innovative, and a tad rebellious.

Working for the brand on and off for more than a decade, my work in retail sales evolved into a training and mentoring role with the brand.

In 2003 I spent two years in Ireland developing their flagship store in Dublin, helping to improve outcomes and processes. It was my first foray into learning and development – and a path that Anita herself had influenced me to pursue.

I met Anita on several occasions and found her to be passionate and funny. I remember talking to her when I was at a career crossroads myself after starting a degree in Management, and finding it wasn’t the right fit.

Her words of wisdom helped bring me clarity, and it was this clarity that set me on a path to study PR and Communications – a fruitful course for me that’s led to my own learning and development business for brands.

There are many lessons I took from these conversations, and my experience working for this iconic brand, but here are a few of my top takeaways. 

Staff buy-in is key
The people on the shop floor, the franchisors and management have the power to shape an international brand’s reality, no matter how good it may be in other countries. The ‘90s and early 2000s felt like a real golden era for The Body Shop in Australia – and it was run very much in the spirit of Anita. She loved seeing what she could create, and having the right people working for her to bring the brand to life. We were proud to work for The Body Shop, and it showed. 

Make it fun
Anita was a fun person who attracted people who were smart and energetic. She led the way by creating an engaging and interactive retail space that changed the way people interacted with cosmetics. Customers could really engage with the products on the shop floor; they could smell and test the products on a large scale, making their shopping experience more fun and interactive.

Show you care
One of the most unique aspects about the brand is its clear social conscience – and its innovative and at times rebellious approach to community work and advocacy over the years. Our team worked on community projects in some pretty out there places! In 1993 I can remember working with people with AIDS at a time when there was still a huge stigma associated with the disease.

The public were looking for ways to get involved in community campaigns – and The Body Shop offered them that opportunity. We ran a lot of campaigns that fit with the brand’s values, such as a campaign to save the Siberian tiger. We sold soaps in the shape of tigers, took donations, and also offered people petitions they could sign. The public were buying our ethical products, but they were also buying into issues that they cared about; it was a feel-good, community experience that hasn’t really been replicated by a brand continuously on the same scale since.

Give people choice
I think choice is another major reason for the brand’s success. The Body Shop have always offered a substantial product selection and a range of size options. The company were also one of the first to offer the option to recycle your products, where you could bring your products back to be refilled. This was another way that The Body Shop showed their commitment to the environment. Good business is about giving people choice.

Great customer service will set your brand apart
While some blame the rise of online shopping for the demise of many businesses in the retail sector, if you have awesome bricks and mortar, I truly believe you can still be successful. Many brands are failing to engage their audience with the sort of humour and imagination that Anita championed. No-one gives money to people – or brands – that don’t make them feel good! Great customer service remains a key part of the story. Working for The Body Shop I learnt a lot about the human race: how to be respectful, how to make people feel comfortable, and how to involve customers with a product. The Body Shop achieved this, and taught me a huge amount about what it means to serve and understand people and communities.

Let your principles shine
Being a principled leader is perhaps one of the most important lessons I took away from meeting Anita, and my time with The Body Shop. Of course, the brand had to make profits, but Anita also asked people what they cared about – and reflected this through the company’s products, campaigns and initiatives. To this day, principles guide me, and the brands I work with too, in part thanks to those early lessons I learnt from Dame Anita Roddick.

 

Feature image: Daily Mail UK