Katherine Ryan, VP of Global Marketing for AOL.
One of my biggest marketing epiphanies occurred to me 40,000 feet above the ground, in an airplane lavatory. Sitting ever-so-naturally on the sink basin was a bottle of Method soap, one of my favorite brands (my house is stocked with it). Surely I had never noticed any brands on any other flights. Back on solid ground, I got to researching and realized that this unexpected partnership had been huge for Method, catapulting them into the public eye; and great for Virgin America, who wholeheartedly embraced their association with the eco-friendly and hip home product line, even producing a catchy in-flight safety video. Soap, airline, who would have thought?
This NewFront season, unexpected but strategic partnerships will be the new trail to blaze, and will unlock previously unimagined value for brands looking to really stand out. There is not one single brand that could possibly meet each individual consumer’s needs. The consumer really is the one in control of our strategy, as today’s viewer expects innovative experiences, they are tired of being talked at and should now be part of the conversation.
Since the first NewFront season in 2008, we have been deluged by a sea of content, and not much of it has fit the marketing models we’ve always been used to. This pace of development of content, in both message and medium, has demanded that we keep up. Marketers have evolved their traditional approaches into clever solutions like branded content and native advertising, but marketing still has a lot of room to grow. The next step is to stop shouting over each other for attention. In order for the industry to keep up with the pace of evolution, we must think bigger than clever copy or activations, and re-examine who we consider to be “competitors.”
We are not in a zero-sum game. Consider the audience: most aren’t tied to a single brand. A lost viewer for HBO does not equal an extra viewer for Showtime. In a consumer’s dream, HBO and Showtime would instead call Starz, and partner for a joint streaming service.
The idea of partnering with “competitive” brands makes many uncomfortable. Your marketing mind has been keeping you up with worries about your NewFronts activation being bigger than everyone else’s. This means you’re worrying about your brand, not your consumer. The fact of the matter is that none of this content would exist if it weren’t for the consumer’s eyes watching it. So anything that is not about the consumer, and how to best serve them, is simply not something that should keep you up at night.
Rather, you should instead be exploring what you could gain from a strategic partnership, always with the interest of the consumer central to your thinking. By rethinking “competitors” as potential partners, you free yourself from the impossible responsibility of trying to be everything to everyone, their Pepsi and their Coke. Together, you can benefit from and lean on one another’s strengths.
So ask yourself: how could an unexpected partnership lead to a better experience for the consumer? How might such a partnership lead to greater reach for both brands? Could banding together with a competitor possibly lead to greater efficiency when executing on your collaborative marketing strategy? By keeping the consumer at the center of your focus and capitalizing on unlikely partnerships, you can actually begin to meet the needs of a virtually insatiable audience. You can be their soap and their airline, and surprise the consumer with experiences hadn’t even imagined.
This will be the 8th NewFronts, and although I am certain we will be introduced to even more great content queued up for the year ahead, it’s no longer enough to just have the biggest content muscles and loudest marketing voice. Today’s consumer is omnivorous and demanding, and crossing the aisle to work together will be one of the few successful ways forward. The whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts, but the arithmetic to get to that sum will take work, collaboration, and daring. Strong partnerships don’t mean you compromise on your own brand name or goals, but rather that you collaborate to lift one another up, reaping the benefits of a shared experience that might be impossible