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the perfect spice

April 2, 2009

In the 1600’s – nutmeg, that stuff you can buy in Tesco’s in a little bottle, for less than a £1 – was more precious gram for gram than gold. In fact, the United Kingdom negotiated the purchase of New York from the Dutch king, in return for nutmeg rights in the East Indies.  Weird – but true. The spice was seen as invaluable and commanded a huge price and essentially changed world history ( if you are interested, read the whole story in Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: Or the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History).

In 2009 good brand partnerships and alliances are built on practical coordination and making things work  – but really great and lasting brand partnerships have that little extra, that certain something , that dash of another perfect magical spice that makes them zing. Its ‘the fit’. And like nutmeg in the 17th century –  that fit is highly valuable. Partnerships are of course about commercial win and gains – but  to obtain this you need to manage the blend of people, business approach and brand personality. Brand fit is easier to note when you see it, than to build it. Teams that look great on paper, often fail on the pitch. Partnerships that are just built on the numbers, often fall over in reality.  In some cases  it seems brand culture and style is key; Disney and McDonalds and Coke. Others seem based on ccommercial practicality; such as simple on-line affiliate deals (transactions). But these are not genuine collaborative partnerships and can often fall over as soon as a better deal comes along. And some are based on a real synergy – enabling and respecting the speciality of the other. I think it comes down to focus. Even Picasso worked inside a frame, as an old creative director once told me. A great brand partnerunderstands their own genuine commercial focus and recognises that the other party has a competitive advantage in another area, that complements, does not threaten. And if you ensure the partner gets value, then if they and you are smart, you should get yours, as the fit is right. When I flew to Shanghai a few years ago, I could use Air France’s rather groovey business lounge at Heathrow. In Shanghai, I could drink free fizzies and read trendy magazines in an equally cool one owned by Air China. As a consumer, I benefited from this neat alliance and in my mind this adds more to the brand of each partner  – than a whole load of social networking, agency DM, promotions and advertising. It was a neat, almost seamless passing of consumer care and it builds effortlessly on the collaborative strengths that they both bring to the relationship. As a consumer – I looked better on them both.  It’s all about the fit – that mysterious spice of business relationships, understanding the bounderies and focusing on driving value. As for what the hell happened to all that nutmeg? Well that’s another story.

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