Partnerships that bring together brands from different sectors can earn attention and generate results, says Wavemaker’s Rogério Colantuono.

When it comes to brands, partnerships that boldly bring different elements together can unlock new and surprising perceptions, sensations and experiences that might lead to visibility, engagement, loyalty, and ultimately purchase.

But it’s important to notice that not all partnerships are born the same. Let’s look at two examples from Microsoft. When Microsoft partners with digital creators to promote its Surface devices, it looks big, it seems interesting, it contributes to the brand, and everything expectedly makes sense.

But when partnerships arise between brands that are seemingly disconnected, the conflicting nature of these associations generates a feeling of novelty and curiosity that sparks something new and attractive (when combined through a powerful insight). Xbox and Rough Guides are absolutely disconnected, but when Microsoft partnered Rough Guides to promote sightseeing inside their games, it unlocked a new perception of the console experience.

Partnerships that pay off

Be it Xbox and Rough Guides, KFC and data company PentaQ or Volvo and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, unorthodox partnerships can provide a shortcut to audiences and help brands significantly outperform their business goals.

This idea is particularly interesting in our current era of uncertainty, where people’s expectations and needs have been turned upside down and their perceptions of support, relationship and trust in institutions and brands have been severely impacted. How can a brand deliver on its customers’ expectations when those are in flux? How can it quickly build up new attributes that talk to new consumer demands? Innovative partnerships can be a powerful support tool – both a shortcut and a powerplay – that can allow brands to branch out in new directions, boost new attributes and bring fresh energy.

As the world emerges from the pandemic and reshapes itself through new perceptions and expectations, expect the same to happen within brands’ relationships with customers. The space for innovation will be broad, but crowded, so brands’ ability to stand out, prove value and provide amazing experiences will be tested.

It’s not just about bringing weird stuff together

It’s important to stress that the idea of innovating within partnerships is not simply a matter of bringing together brands that have nothing to do with one another. Effective, innovative partnerships need to have a context in which they make sense, big ideas that act as a connective tissue and clear, single-minded business goals. 

Though not exactly a partnership, take Tanqueray’s relationship with Pantone: it made sense because the Diageo-owned gin brand surfed the cultural relevance of the local song ‘Sevilla tiene un color especial’ (context) to find ‘the colour of Seville’ (big idea) in order to build local relevance in the Spanish market (objective). If not for these well-grounded elements, such a link would never stick and Pantone would have never endorsed the campaign and the colour.

The ‘catch’: only you can find your secret sauce

Due to the nature of this kind of partnership, there are no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solutions. Their power comes, in part, from the cognitive dissonance that they spark. Surround yourself with talented and trustworthy partners, develop a sound strategy, and, crucially, look at places where nobody else is looking.

And finally, if this sounds exciting, be prepared to be bold and make uncomfortable choices. Innovative brand pairing requires a bit of science, a bit of art, and a great dose of creativity. More than anything, it takes guts.

An abridged version of this article appears in WARC’s 2020 Innovation Report.