Trust & Marketing Partnerships: Part One

Despite 300 years of business history and the best brands today consistently demonstrating that collaboration is the driver of innovation – why do most organisations still struggle to source and keep meaningful, long-term marketing alliances and partnerships? It is tempting to turn to issues regarding technology, markets, mechanics and commercial returns but one of the key hurdles  is quite simple and very, very human:  Trust is the magical ingredient and if you don’t have it, creative marketing partnership and innovative pioneering with a third-party is impossible.

Our Benchstone Gears model illustrates out how Fit, Planning and Momentum drive successful relationships but most marketers don’t even get to worry that the Fit is right – let alone creating a joint plan and committing resources. Without a decent foundation of trust and meaningful and open discussions and exchange of ideas – a partnership cannot evolve. Matt Ridley’s excellent book – ‘The Rational Optimist’ offers us a clue. The book delivers a fantastic insight into social and commercial progress and one of his central themes is ‘manufacturing virtue’ – and looks at how and why people work together. Or, to put it more simply – why are some people frightened of working with someone outside of their tribe? How and why did merchants barter fairly? And what happens if we trust more? In my experience, fear and a lack of individual trust and rapport are the big blockers to partnership pioneering. Decades of business school lectures and commercial pressures have led to executives to instinctively turn to ‘whats in it for me’ and jump to quick and easy profits that can get them to the next job – rather than trying to understand the needs of the other and seek to build long-term mutual opportunities. Ridley, whilst he was the ex-American Editor of The Economist is actually a science writer by trade and so he explains how our biological plumbing and wiring plays a part.  When we smile and empathise the hormone Oxytocin is released in the brain. Oxytocin is human trust juice and it counteracts the work of the amygdala gland. This is the gland that has also been made popular by Seth Godin too and its impact is what he refers to as our inner ‘lizard brain’. The amygdala promotes responses that keeps us safe – but also stationary, alone, avoiding danger – backing off and going slow. In experiments, participants taking Oxytocin before playing a game are 17% more trusting. And societies and individuals who are more trusting are more likely to trade and those who are more likely to trade more, and build more connections, become more prosperous. Closed, suspicious people are unlikely to make good traders, shop keepers – or run a nightclub.  Says Ridley;

“The entire edifice if human cooperation and exchange upon which prosperity and progress is built – depends upon a biological fact that human beings have a biological instinct that encourages cooperation”.

If we want to encourage marketing collaboration – and obtain the collaborative advantage, we need to promote and encourage a dialogue of trust and get that Oxytocin juice flowing, inside the heads of both parties to counteract their lizard brain. It is what is often called ‘the spirit of partnership’ – a willingness to engage, to appreciate the challenge and needs of the other, to show trust. Scepticism and suspicion are powerful forces to overcome. And of course, it is people and all their complicated social, psychological, cultural mores that dictate whether this trust can grow or not. As a lawyer once sarcastically told me, it’s easier and safer for them just to say No, rather than endorse any deal at all as they will always be seen as being sensible and risk averse. The lizard brain. One thing partnership pioneers must do, is firstly acknowledge that trust is part of the process and seek to build the conditions to help it thrive. One tactic, is to drive simple, low-cost, quick and easy trials can demonstrate collaboration and help overcome initial organisational uncertainty or fear.

In Part Two, we will look at what else can be done to help promote that all important ingredient of partnerships: Trust.

For more information on partnership marketing, see

Author: Andrew Armour

Andrew Armour is a marketing and media professional, a specialist in business partnerships and the Founder of the consulting business - Benchstone Limited. His career spans from the UK music industry to the America's Cup, from winning agency pitches to securing key digital content deals. He is married to Viv, lives in Hampshire and works in London.

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