7 Ways to Build Better Partnerships

Partnerships are critical to inventing and growing businesses. Over the course of my career, I’ve experienced this while working on brands such as Cheerios, Yahoo!, Best Buy, Land O’Lakes, and more. The best partnerships I’ve been part of were built on trust and brought both companies to places they never imagined possible. It doesn’t always work this way. I’ve also been part of some really bad partnerships that were riddled with politics, selfishness and uncertainty. To help you avoid this, I’ve offered up seven actionable steps to make the most of your existing, and future, partnerships.

1. Map Out Your Core Values

The values of an organization are a key part of your decision-making DNA. They serve as the guiding principles to how you do business and the experience you create for customers. When seeking out partners, map out your core values against theirs and see how they overlap.

2. Double Down on Purpose

It’s critical for an organization to have a fundamental belief in the world. It’s even more important for companies to prove how they make their belief a reality. How a company is living their purpose should be complimentary to yours. If it is, both the partnership and experience for the end user will benefit.

3. Seek Out People, Not the Sign on the Door

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received in my career is to seek out people, not the sign on the door. Meaning, find the people you want to work with most and go from there. If you take this approach, you’ll find yourself more open minded about who you work with.

4. Ship Impatiently

You’ve found a great partner. Time to start planning … er ... making. A testament of a meaningful partnership is its ability to ship good enough experiences over a short period of time. ‘Good enough’ and ‘short’ are subjective to the partnership, but a more frequent ship rate pays dividends.

5. Expect Much, Compromise More

You should expect a lot from each other. Never settle for having done something the ‘best’ way. Together, you can always make something better. However, making things better comes with strong opinions. Be willing to compromise among them. You’re both great. So are your ideas. Compromise.

6. Listen For the Why

Actively listen for the why behind a partner’s point of view. If you truly understand the why, it puts both of you in a position to better assess the what. Partners that skip right to the what are oftentimes paralyzed with an overabundance of ideas without a vision. Hearing the why avoids this.

7. Fearlessly Explore Together

Because exploration means risk of failure, you should expect your partners to have the courage and humility to know that failure is an essential ingredient of long-term success. This means easing up on short-term constraints and enabling your partners to help you find new ways to grow.

Avoiding Campaign Impermanence

As I’ve mentioned before, smart brands avoid campaign impermanence.

They do this by generating organic demand, with a remarkable product and outstanding service leading the way. In true Field of Dreams like fashion, companies like Slack are proving that if you build a meaningful enough product or service - people will come (500,000 / day, to be exact!)

With organic growth comes a marketing tipping point. The company can remain product-focused, or they can become a brand. To become a brand, the organization must have a clear sense of purpose. Communicating why your company exists helps pave the way for future organic growth.

Let’s assume we’ve decided to build a brand. The product is great, the service is noteworthy and our purpose makes people feel connected based on shared values. Now what? The predictable next step would be to create a campaign. Marketers write an RFP, hire an agency, get free campaign ideas, focus group them to death, hire another agency to create a media plan and voila - you’re in market!

Now that’s campaign impermanence at its finest. Status quo all the way, including when you get ROI data back that says it worked (SEE: the more it’s been done, the easier it is to track effectiveness). Very much a lackadaisical way to illuminate product newness and drive awareness, IMHO.

Let’s go back to the point where we decided to build a brand. Same hypotheticals apply assuming a great product, service and brand purpose. Rather than creating a start-and-stop campaign, we begin to craft digital content platforms that keep our most dedicated customers coming back for more. We give them every excuse to share their love for our brand. We invite them in; make them feel proud.

Kit and Ace, a purpose-led luxury clothing company, is doing this incredibly well. Shannon Wilson, the original designer at lululemon, has successfully launched new technical cashmere product lines for women and men. They’re now focused on building the brand through content platforms such as The Wall Dot Com and Meet Kit

These two platforms do a great job of connecting creators and buyers to make them feel proud of what they’re creating with the brand. The Wall Dot Com and Meet Kit are not campaigns, they’re continuous digital brand expressions that generate engagement over time. Campaigns, on the other hand, have a bell shape curve impact and focus solely on maximizing impressions.

New and old brands are starting to understand the value of modern brand building. Nike’s dropping their mass media budget by 40% while expecting to grow the company by $9 billion in three years. How so? By focusing on their own digital platform, Nike+. Cheerios created The Family Breakfast Project, a digital initiative focused on connecting families in the morning. Patagonia has created several digital platforms (The Cleanest Line, Patagonia Ambassadors, The Fitz Traverse) to deliver on their purpose of using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

This is only the starting point of an ongoing list of brands avoiding campaign impermanence. Admittedly, it can be challenging to distinguish the difference between a “campaign” and a “platform” or whatever you want to call it. Rather than obsess over the right word to describe it, I’d like to collect as many examples as possible so people can experience it for themselves. Anything come to mind?

Leaders Lead. Managers Follow.

People who lead ship while managers administrate. Leadership happens when people on a conference call look at you when tough questions are asked. Management takes place when you’re expected to recap said conference call. Leading means inspiring people to do their best work and getting out of the way. Managing keeps an eye on falling in line and institutes the status quo.

I’ve come close to managing in my career. Each time this has happened, I’ve intentionally made a move in the opposite direction. Maybe this explains why I’ve moved around a bit in my career. It certainly explains my meandered path to GoKart Labs, a place home to many meandered career paths.

Don’t let the comforting jazz hands of management distract you. Sure, you may be proud of how many people you manage. You efficiently navigate the organizational back channels. You’re compensated well. But, are you leading? Shipping? Inspiring people to do their best work? Probably not.

Leading is the path of most resistance, but totally worth it. Follow that path and you’ll manage just fine.

Guardians of The Pareto Principle

The odds of purposefully challenging the status quo are stacked up against us. 80% of the time, the status quo prevails and things continue on as they’ve always been.

Then there’s the 20% of the time. The time unusual overrides usual. The time possibility ignores impossibility. The time you intentionally sidestep the noise in pursuit of clarity to find the signal.

Over the last several months, I’ve let the 80% get the best of me. This is a note-to-self to make the most of The Pareto Principle. By joining the 20%, it will make 80% of us better.