The Moral of Collaboration

I’ve shared this old Chinese parable with you before, but it’s too pertinent to this month’s message not to repeat. A dying man bids farewell to his three sons. He asks the first son to bend a bamboo stick, which the boy manages with ease. The man asks his second son to grasp two bamboo sticks and bend both together. With some effort, the son flexes the bamboo sticks. Finally, the venerable father asks his third son to hold a number of bamboo sticks and bend them. Impossible. The old man left the world with these words of advice: Work alone, you’re vulnerable; stick together and you’re invincible.

Collective strength’s inherent power has implications for you and your Web site. The Internet is approaching three-digit billions of pages. With competition like that, sticking together is the way of the future. By “sticking together,” I don’t mean simply maintaining and exchanging links. Sure, it works, and remains an important feature of Web navigation. But you must go a step further: Team up with a brand that shares a synergy with your own.

Let me give you an example.

Imagine you sell office supplies online. Potential partners are synergistic businesses, such as services that look after office plants, staff massage services, cleaning business offices, installing phone systems, offering database services — you name it. You needn’t sell these services or even charge money for having these partners appear on your site. Instead, offer these services at strategic, relevant points on your site. In return, your partners will promote your products and services on their sites.

How does this differ from traditional affiliate programs? The key is in not locking yourself into obvious product categories. Combine products with services. For example, could offer education seminars on topics such as using office products, managing time, or maintaining a healthy work environment. These services represent a range of potentially relevant services for Staples’ customers and a great opportunity to spread the word about the company via sites that share Staples’ audience.

Think creatively. Consider products and services that relate to your offerings. I’ll bet you end up with a list of ideas that’s pages long. Next, identify the top 10 products or services that would get the best value from teaming with you and from whom you’d derive the best value. Consider if you should go local, national, or global. All strategies are worth considering, and each has pros and cons. My advice would be to go local. Localized alliances make it easier to secure visibility, and your partners’ audience will likely to be more receptive to your offers.

Sticking together on the truly World Wide Web is increasingly important. Brands can no longer survive alone. Well, perhaps they can, but there’s significantly more value in partnership. A consumer brand alliances survey published by the American Marketing Association shows 80 percent of respondents are likely to buy a digital-imaging product cobranded by Sony and Eastman Kodak. Only 20 percent say they would buy the same product if it were branded by only one company.

In collaboration, the sum of a brand alliance’s parts can be greater and more effective than they are in isolation. Remember the wisdom of that old Chinese man: Work alone, you’re vulnerable; stick together and you’re invincible.

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