What’s driving the current wave of brand collaborations?

By Simon Cotterrell, Executive director, strategy

May 14, 2020 | 5 min read

Interbrand’s Simon Cotterrell unpicks the sudden wave of rival and random brand collaborations currently vying for consumers’ attention.

What’s driving the current wave of brand collaborations?

In this same month, 116 years ago, Britain and France signed the Entente Cordiale – a ‘warm understanding’ between the two nations agreeing to settle their disputes and form alliance. It’s almost hard to believe they ever had sour relations, but this was the case for much of history.

Businesses – much like Britain and France – have locked horns with each other for all of brand history. It’s a familiar notion. We know it as competition.

Yet businesses, faced with the challenges of coronavirus, are taking similar steps to our Anglo-French predecessors and are putting aside rivalries in favour of partnerships and the new opportunities that come from them.

Every day, it seems like a new collaboration is announced. We’re not just seeing inter-category, serendipitous innovations (like Morrisons and Deliveroo or and Budweiser/Remy Cointreau), but intra-category allegiances (like GSK and Sanofi, or Apple and Google) too.

And it’s not just the number of new collaborations that’s of surprise – it’s the speed at which they are getting viable products and services together.

In 2017, the American Express Business Collaboration Index reported that while highly collaborative businesses experienced significantly higher revenue growth, collaborations were often rejected due to long timeframes. 41% of mid-sized businesses said it took an average of six months to go from initial conversation to implementing a collaborative project. And yet, a month into the 2020 lockdown, new and large-scale partnerships are already thriving.

So why are brands coming together right now? And will they continue to do so after lockdown restrictions ease?

One could argue that in acting alone, a brand’s voice (particularly at a time when consumers have so many other things to worry about) is somewhat insignificant. Others might regard such action as verging on the opportunistic.

But I think there’s more at play than simply not wanting to appear off-register that is driving collaboration; brands seem to be displaying the same fundamental need for collectivism that we as individuals are all turning to. While they’re not literally helping neighbours do the shopping or corralling around screens to admire a distant friend’s living room wall, the simple human need to come together in a crisis is what I believe is giving the green light to such an active bout of corporate collaboration.

And, while many commentators are predicting the enduring effects on consumer psychology resulting from Covid-19, we’re questioning whether this newfound co-operation could have a lasting effect in business. After all, consumers like collaboration; seeing old enemies join forces creates a feel-good factor, while the innovation that pops out of unusual suspects getting their freak on is often as exciting as it is unexpected.

Even before Covid-19 changed our world, consumers were putting relevance and responsiveness at the top of their list of corporate qualities. When analysing the past 10 years of our Best Global Brands data, we’ve found the best performing brands over-index on both these measures. And if there’s two things these Covid-collabs are clearly demonstrating, it’s their ability to be customer-centric and fast to market in ways we’ve rarely seen before.

If these current collaborations set a precedent, they’ll also set an expectation. Then the argument is no longer one of ‘why collaborate’, but rather one of how. Today’s ‘unlikely’ will be tomorrow’s ‘norm’.

Consider what seems to be an unlikely partnership today - Nike and Tesco. The Nike Running Club app, with its access to your health and fitness data, along with the Tesco Grocery app, with its access to your grocery shopping data, is a holistic health and fitness lifestyle collaboration in the making.

Burned 600 calories on your last run? Here are some suggestions for carb and protein balanced meals from your local grocer. Your heart rate hasn’t gone below 180 BPM in your past few workouts? We’ve got discounted smoked salmon, packed with omega-3.

That’s the kind of added value offering consumers will expect to see brands collaborate to deliver.

So, while currently many companies innovate in isolation from their peers, from a customer’s perspective, not only are brand partnerships fast becoming more intuitive, they could soon be regarded as the more preferred. From a macro-economic perspective, and even an environmental perspective (the Greta effect will return), resource sharing also makes the most sense.

And businesses – not unlike nations – are destined to work together.

Simon Cotterrell is executive director, strategy at Interbrand London.


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