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redefine marketing

Collaborating competitors
redefine marketing

An important job of marketing has always been to gain an advantage over the competition. This is difficult to do if you have regular communication with your competitors, allow them to be involved with your new-product developments, or make them aware of your future marketing plans. That’s why Macy’s never told Gimbels. Why the Coca-Cola Co., for many years, would never even mention Pepsi’s name in Atlanta. They insisted that A.C. Nielsen Co. label Pepsi as the “Impostor” in bimonthly sales and market-share reports to Coke management. And it’s why Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. for years never uttered even a polite “arigato” to Eastman Kodak Co. In the past, competitors rarely spoke to one another about anything except the weather, much less collaborate.
But that was marketing before the millennium. In the future, you can expect a dramatic change in terms of competitive relationships. Today, an increasing number of longtime competitors are collaborating and cooperating in specific marketing efforts for their mutual benefit. It’s a trend you can expect to grow as we approach the year 2000.
In the early days of VCRs, Sony Corp. introduced the Beta system. It was incompatible with the rest of the industry, which already had agreed to operate under the VHS system. If you had a Beta tape it would run only in a Beta VCR. Even though the Beta system was superior in performance to VHS, Sony lost the VCR marketing battle because it refused to collaborate or cooperate on the industry standard.
Kodak, when it recently introduced its Advanced Photo System, did not make that same mistake. Despite the fact that Kodak and Fuji are fierce competitors, Kodak collaborated with Fuji, Nikon Corp., Canon Inc. and Minolta CameraCo. Ltd. to establish a new photo operating system that would be compatible throughout the industry. To do otherwise would have been a costly marketing gamble with short odds.
Another example of competitive collaboration is one that recently was formed among high-technology companies in Rochester. The recruitment of highly skilled “tech” people is a major problem for our larger companies as well as for hundreds of smaller companies that specialize in high-technology applications.
High-tech prospects are reluctant to come to Rochester because they think it will be a dead end for their careers. What they don’t realize is that there are hundreds of jobs and career-building opportunities–more than in most other locations across the country.
Working through the Industrial Management Council, the Greater Rochester Metro Chamber of Commerce Inc., the city of Rochester and Monroe County, these high-tech companies have agreed to collaborate by funding a joint effort to attract high-tech talent to Rochester.
The program–called “Smart Dog” –involves the development of a Web site that will list each company’s job openings. Advertising in other cities will direct high-tech prospects to access the “Smart Dog” Web site for information on a wide range of career opportunities. Along with these job listings is information on Rochester’s cultural, educational, recreational and entertainment offerings.
The message is simple: Rochester is the community where you can have a high-tech career and a life at the same time. The result of this program will be an increase in available manpower for Rochester’s high-tech companies at lower recruiting costs, which would not have been possible without collaboration and cooperation among competitors.
The power of collaboration and cooperation is not limited to profit-making businesses. Highly competitive non- profit organizations are beginning to realize the advantages of these strategic alliances as well. In June, the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Rochester, N.Y. Inc., the Rochester Area Community Foundation, St. Mary’s Foundation Inc., the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester–in association with Frontier Corp., Jill Cicero & Associates, the Advertising Council of Rochester Inc. and the Rochester Grantmakers Forum Inc.–collaborated and financially supported the launching of a three-year advertising campaign called WILLpower.
The purpose of this campaign is to increase the dollars available for charitable purposes by providing information on the benefits and rewards of charitable planned gifts through individual or family wills.
It is estimated that 80 percent of Americans die without a will. And 90 percent of the people who do have a will do not leave any money to charity. The WILLpower campaign is designed to aid all non-profit organizations in the Rochester area in their individual efforts to secure planned gifts. Naturally, the foundations that have collaborated and helped fund this campaign expect to realize an increase in the charitable planned gifts to their own foundations as well.
There already are early signs of success. It is anticipated that this collaborative effort will dramatically increase charitable giving on a planned basis for a large number of Rochester-area religious and community service organizations. It would not be possible on this scale without competitive collaboration and cooperation.
The agricultural industry has long known the benefits of collaboration and cooperation. Cooperative advertising campaigns for the Dairy Council (“Got Milk?”), Beef Council (“It’s What’s for Dinner!”), and the Egg Industry (“The Incredible, Edible Egg”) are all collaborative efforts funded by growers, packers and farming associations to build awareness of and preference for these farm products.
As we approach the new millennium, you can expect to see more of these collaborative efforts among groups of competitors, or individual competitors in specific strategic marketing alliances.
The reason is simple: The cost and risk of some marketing ventures is too great to attempt alone. But collaboration can sometimes make all competitors a winner.
And in the end, isn’t that the real role of marketing–to win?
(Jack Kraushaar was a BBDO senior vice president in New York City and from 1983 to 1991 was chairman of Blair/ BBDO in Rochester. He now is president of the consulting firm JFK Communications.)

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