In Search of the Collaboration Sweet Spot

It’s not how often brands work together but how many work together that matters for customers.

Reading Time: 5 min 


For brands, the past decade has become the age of the “x”: Versace x H&M, Kanye West x Bon Iver, Cheez-It x boxed wine. The heavy hitters, in seeking to hit even more heavily, started collaborating more frequently, and these (sometimes unlikely) pairings have struck a chord with consumers.

The “x” cleverly denotes that working together multiplies the benefits for the product — and the end user — over and above what either brand would have accomplished solo. However, the overwhelming majority of collaborations to date might be better characterized as a plus sign because collaboration to date tends to be an exercise in applying the equation 1 brand + 1 brand = 2 brands. Rather than cheapening either brand, collaboration boosts the public image of both.

But what about collaborations of more than two? Lawyers work in groups to give their clients the best defense, architects build metaphorical bridges with other architects to figure out the best design for actual bridges, and programmers put their heads together in filling the virtual shelves of app stores.

These and other examples started rattling around in my head one afternoon in February 2017. I was visiting a friend in San Francisco and, with a few hours free, we headed out to Cellarmaker Brewing Co., a local brewery that was releasing a new beer that day. We arrived a full hour before the new beer was dropping only to find that a line had already formed around the block and was growing longer every minute.

The secret, evidently, had gotten out that this was no business-as-usual beer. Rather, it had been brewed through the joint efforts of three all-star breweries within the craft beer scene: Cellarmaker, Trillium (Boston), and Other Half (New York). Once we got to the front of the line, my friend and I (and the hundreds of others ahead of and behind us) happily handed over $10 per bottle — on par with what a 12-pack of a regular domestic might cost at the convenience store across the street.

As a beer fan, the long line and excitement made perfect sense; as a marketing professor, this baffled me. I had long lauded to my students the benefits of


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