Building Collaborative Brands:

Back in 2006, two fisherman brothers is Austin, Texas were frustrated with how quickly ice melted in their coolers during a long day on the lake. They decided to do something about it, and they created a product that revolutionized an entire industry. The company came to be known as Yeti, and in 2016 alone they increased their market value by over 500%.

This is a story we’ve heard countless times before. Reed Hastings hated paying late fees on video rentals, and went on to found Netflix, which revolutionized the video rental business. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia could not afford the rent for their loft apartment, so they started Airbnb, which, again, revolutionized its industry.

What’s most interesting about brands like Yeti, Netflix and Airbnb is not the brilliance of their ideas or the fact that they solved a pressing problem. It is something much more elemental and human. They were part of the culture of people with a common belief, a common passion and a common need. They were instigators – and in fact collaborators – for the interests and lifestyles of people very much like them.

It’s abundantly clear that these companies and their leaders are excited to participate in — and elevate — the communities they serve. And as you would expect, those communities are equally excited to participate in their success. The brands act as advocates and facilitators for a way of life. Their consumers in turn act as contributors, sharing their ideas, needs and personal advocacy. This creates a common bond and a common culture. Brand and culture essentially become one.

If you think about it, the entire role of a brand is to bring people, ideas and experiences together around a common interest or need. And that is the definition of collaboration.

Collaboration entices participation among audiences in building a story around the brand, driving adoption and building powerful new experiences. Brands cannot do this in isolation. They can’t do it with consumer research, and they can’t do it with reams of trend data, advertising or brilliant social media strategy. Collaboration generates an incredible sense of ownership among everyone involved in what a brand does and how successful it becomes. That’s because consumers rely on brands to help define who they are and how they want to be seen. The more they identify with a brand and what it represents, the more they want to contribute to its success.

But this collaborative role is one that few brands are in any position to play, because it requires a crystal clear vision of the purpose, passions and interests of their own organization—and more importantly—the culture of people inside the company. Most marketers are too busy looking outward to ever truly get a handle on the culture of their people, their passions and their beliefs.

Of course, collaboration requires participation from both sides. So brands need to do more than understand themselves, they need to find the common threads between the culture of their company and the culture of their audiences. If a company knows itself and its audiences well enough, they can absolutely find unique commonalities. But they have to dig, and often dig deep. That’s where the magic happens.

So what do you have to do to become a collaborative brand?

1. Get the culture of your company aligned.

In a truly collaborative relationship you have to know yourself first. Everyone has to be on the same page, everyone rowing in the same direction and fighting for the same cause. The company has to be true to itself before it can become part of the culture outside of itself. Any dichotomy, any lack of authenticity is deadly. Ask Uber.

2. Influence and be influenced

This is the critical part of a collaborative brand. The culture of your company needs to influence the culture of your audiences as much as they are influenced by it. Just being heard is not enough, you have to inspire as much as be inspired. People want to discover, they want you to bring something new to the party. Lead at times and follow at times. That’s what collaboration is—getting into a flow and rhythm where you get each other and know what the other needs. When to give and when to take.

3. Be prepared for a lot more work

Branding is not static, it’s extremely dynamic. It’s far more rewarding work, (inspiration and innovation can be very fulfilling), but a collaborative brand is ever-changing, evolving and inspiring. It needs constant care and feeding, as well as consistent interaction and collaboration with your audiences.

When brands and consumers find their commonalities, there is an entirely new dynamic at play. Each side helps support and build the other. That kind of collaboration invigorates relationships, elevates engagement and builds momentum few brands can ever hope to achieve.

Learn More

What the world needs now: Why new grads need to focus on collaboration as a key skill

25 Quotes on Collaboration

How to Create a Culture of Collaboration