Can Collaboration Be the New Competition?

I find it interesting that there is such a strong, prevailing mindset that companies within the same industry must always be in competition with each other. Whether the focus is business to business, or business to consumer, it’s true that companies are fiercely fighting to attain and retain customers – customers who, no doubt, are closely watching their expenditures in these challenging economic times. However, what if companies adopted a different mindset?  What if companies became more open to collaborating with each other?

We are already witnessing the possibilities that can arise when companies open the doors for stakeholders to actively participate in various corporate functions and decisions through social media, leveraging online community engagement, crowdsourcing and co-creation. Companies, by tapping into minds outside of their corporate walls, are expanding their knowledge base and becoming more innovative as a result.

Now, imagine what could happen if companies became more open to working with each other?

Last winter, I came across a great example of collaboration in marketing. New to Ontario, I went to the LCBO (Ontario government liquor store) in search of a good microbrew. To my surprise, the LCBO carried a six-pack of beers from different craft brewers. What a delight to see the brewers working together to promote their products. The craft brewers are members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association – through the association, 25 brewers collaborate on a number of marketing initiatives designed to educate and expand awareness amongst the buying public.

Needless to say, I bought the six-pack; also, since then, I have repeatedly purchased a number of the beers that were in the six-pack.

In another example, a group of coffee roasters have come together to form Coffee Common – with the goal of working together to introduce consumers to the joys of exceptional coffee. Having previously worked in marketing in the specialty coffee industry at Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company, I am particularly excited about this initiative. Great coffee can be just as complex and nuanced as great wine, and just as delicious too. It’s challenging for one coffee roaster, with limited resources, limited budget, and in all likelihood a very localized geographic area, to make an impact. However, there is opportunity to be had through collaboration, which enables greater access to resources – notably minds and money.

The above examples are relatively small-scale in nature, but what’s to stop larger enterprises from becoming more collaborative? Imagine, for example, that companies became more willing to share intellectual property rights. The fear is, of course, a competitor will innovate, develop a better product or service and gain market share – but it is not possible, that by sharing information and collaborating, companies can work together to grow the overall market?

What are your thoughts?

Communications Providers and Customer Service

It never ceases to amaze me how often communications providers rely on promises of “better network coverage”, “faster Internet access”, or “better pricing” to differentiate themselves from competitors and lure consumers. Such advertising, in my opinion, does very little to make their brands truly stand out in the consumer mindset. Other than perhaps offering exclusivity for a particular product, such as an iPhone, it seems that you could insert any brand in any campaign.

How can a communications company stand out and be remarkable? How about innovating around customer service? Wouldn’t it be amazing if your cellular provider contacted you mid-contract, to advise you of a better and more cost-effective cell phone plan based on your usage? Would that perhaps build your loyalty to the brand, and reduce the chance of you switching when your contract expires?

Communications companies could also benefit from establishing themselves on social media, to open themselves up to customers and engage with them. Yes, they can and will receive criticisms from customers that can be viewed by anyone. However, putting a human face on a cold, corporate brand has a tremendous upside. As an example, read about Comcast Cares.

What are your thoughts?  How should communications providers innovate, so they can stand out from the competition?