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Growth Through Purpose ™
Growth Through Purpose ™

How and Why Brands Now Live or Die By Association

Strategically aligning with non-profit or for-profit partners has long-proven a successful way to break into new markets, access new consumers, or amplify and strengthen one’s own brand image. Today, we see industries and business models converging at ever-increasing speeds merging the lines between profit and purpose. Brand building by association, however, can have untended consequences if the execution is not thorough enough or if a collaborating partner has the tendency to ‘shoot from the hip’. Let’s explore three collaborations that went awry:

Uber and UN Women
In March of this year, Uber and UN Women announced a partnership founded on the goal of creating 1,000,000 jobs for women around the world by 2020 via the Uber platform. This seemingly ambitious goal for gender equality and economic empowerment, however, was quick to turn sour. A mere weeks after the partnership was publicized, UN Women declared they were ending the collaboration. Perhaps instigated by a letter published from the International Transport Federation which exposed Uber’s lack of basic job protections, including minimum wage and health care, up against the potential of the partnership to actually dis-empower and further marginalize women’s role in the economy. The dissolution marks a clear divide between surface-level intention to do good and actual, on-the-ground impact.

Trump and Macy’s, Univision, and more…
Looking at corporate partner relations, the recent cascading effects of Donald Trump’s opening presidential campaign statement is a remarkable demonstration of brands choosing social conscious over profit. Univision, long-time broadcaster of Trump’s Miss USA pageant, was the first company to disband its relations with the Trump organization stating their connection and support of Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans whom Trump explicitly offended. Another big hit to the Trump empire was Macy’s announcement that it will be phasing out the Trump menswear brand due to his derogatory comments. Trump’s major business partners continue to sever ties, of which the latest brands include NBC Universal, ESPN, Nascar, PGA and more.

KFC and Komen Women
Negative publicity and brand alignment can work against non-profit partners as well. As brands clamor to gain their share of voice with notable causes, it is critical to pause and question both the intent and suitability of a purpose-driven partnership. One of the most prominent causes brands have been aligning with is breast cancer and affiliated research and treatment non-profits. The amount of awareness and funds brand partnerships have pooled into this arena is nothing short of important. However in the case of KFC and the Susan G. Komen organization’s initiative, Buckets for the Cure , the partnership proved to cause more negative backlash and misalignment with the cause. While detractors implored the impact of fatting foods increasing the risk of breast cancer, many others ‘lost faith’ in the Komen organization with this campaign undercutting the cause.

Let’s take a look at what a successful purpose-driven partnership can look like.

Pampers and UNICEF
For almost 10 years, Pampers and UNICEF have worked together in a thoughtful partnership making on-the-ground impact. Since 2006, the partnerships has helped eliminate Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus in 15 countries and helped protect over 100 millions moms and their newborns. This long-standing program continues to prove beneficial for both parties, with plans for continual growth an impact. By clearly aligning with Pampers and UNICEF’s core brand and product or services, as well as consumer base, there is a clear and complimentary relationship.

How to avoid potentially costly mistakes?
Here are five questions to guide evaluation of new partnerships or collaborations:

1. Does the partner and proposed initiative(s) align with your brand values?
2. Will this partnership translate into a long-term program or initiative, with the opportunity to scale impact?
3. Do your core products and/or services complement or compete with the proposed partnership?
4. What does success look like, for your brand, for your partner?
5. Will your stakeholders understand and get behind the collaboration?

What other examples do you know of successful or unsuccessful partnerships? What factors contributed to their success or failure?