Digital Dialogues: Why the strongest marketing partnerships are more like friendships

Ilona van Wegen / November 2019

This article is a summary of Episode 4 of the Dutch-language podcast, Digital Dialogues, made in partnership with Adformatie. Ilona van Wegen is industry leader for omnichannel retail and brands at Google. She’s driven by a desire to help brands connect more directly with their customers.

When I was younger, I was a dedicated gymnast. Although I competed in singles competitions, the partnerships—or friendships—that I made with those around me helped me to grow and become a much stronger competitor, and helped my teammates improve too.

The same goes for businesses. The strongest partnerships are, in fact, a lot like friendships; they require time, sharing, compromise, and trust.

So, why are partnerships a vital part of any digital strategy, and how can you get the most out of them?

The evolution of collaboration

How we collaborate has changed.. Today, brands partner with a broader ecosystem of partners than ever before. The focus is on personalised data about the consumer, with ever-evolving technologies changing how we target them.

As Veronique Roos, digital strategy lead for the advisory branch of consultancy PWC, explains, “We see that partnerships are becoming more comprehensive. There are far more alliances on data and more efficient technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“Nowadays, everyone talks about data-driven marketing functions, but many organisations are still at the starting point of that transformation. So, they ask themselves: ‘Do we have the internal resources to develop or acquire new capabilities, or do we develop them with partners?’ The answer is that more and more companies are choosing to look outside of their own confines.”

The entire digital landscape is changing; it’s becoming so complex that knowing what type of partnerships work best for your business can be tricky. Assessing your strengths and weaknesses, and being open to new ideas is a good starting point.

Outsourcing and the importance of trust

Before establishing a partnership, you need to decide on what aspects of your business you need to outsource. And once you've found a business to collaborate with, flexibility may be required as your partnership grows. Give and take on both sides builds trust, perhaps the most important aspect of any partnership. Once you have that trust, you can start planning effectively, and you will begin to see results.

Wouter Kolk, CEO of Ahold Delhaize for Europe and Indonesia, partnered with Google. “We've been working with Google for a few years. The partnership has been a journey for both parties; we see or learn the digital steps that we have to take, we see that we have to develop new skills, new capabilities within the company in order to be as strong as possible. And, unquestionably, we need partners for that.”

For the likes of Kolk, a certain comfort level is important; a friendship-esque relationship: “When you encounter certain issues, you have to be comfortable reaching out to your collaborators: ‘Why don't you call our team at Google to see how we can solve that?’ That's what partners are for.”

PWC's digital maturity

The Digital Maturity Benchmark tool measures how digitally mature companies are. PWC’S score is a strong 3.7 out of 4, making them multi-moment on the maturity scale

Roos explains that learning through partnerships has been vital to achieving such a high score. “We learn a lot from the startup ecosystem. We see many different parties and are pleasantly surprised by what is being developed, and we can bring it back to our customers.”

Digital Dialogues is a six-part Dutch-language podcast series from Adformatie and Google about digital marketing maturity. The podcast explores how companies can become truly progressive with their marketing, and features insights and discussion with industry and science specialists.

Listen to the full series on Spotify, Google Podcasts or iTunes.

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