Business partnerships offer unparalleled opportunities to build your business with the strength of others. They can be low-cost, high-yield, and therefore smart strategies. But only when you work out the specifics and you can be confident the brands fit.

Plenty of people are puzzled that Oprah Winfrey's network OWN is partnering with actor Tyler Perry whose trademark humor regularly mocks and denigrates assertive black women. Partnerships are great but they also produce enormous opportunities for phenomenal brand conflict--and not only the obvious ones between Winfrey and Perry. Any seasoned marketer will tell you that all brands must conform to the three 'C's: consistency, consistency, and consistency. So if you want to wreck a brand, it's simple: just be inconsistent.

A Case Study in Partnership Wreckage

If you want a master class in how to do this, look no further than the British Airway alliance with American Airlines. The upshot of this is that when you book with BA, you may find yourself on a flight operated by AA. Highly-seasoned travelers will know to look at the fine print but everyone else will be duped.

Until the day of travel looms. They'll find that they can't check in with BA; they get shoved over to the AA website and have to agree to data-sharing. Then, because it isn't clear really whose flight this is, which terminal it leaves from isn't obvious either. Don't assume you know--you don't. Finding the information you need can take a long time.

Already you're confused. And when your flight begins, you're baffled. BA's transatlantic flights have a huge selection of current and vintage movies; AA has a small selection of movie flops. BA has a library of great TV shows; AA has found a few you've never heard of. Drinks are served. On BA the drinks are free; on AA, wine is free but spirits incur a charge. That is, unless you have conscientious cabin crew who once told me they didn't charge because they thought the policy was stupid and wrong.

On BA you'll get a decent meal; on a BA flight operated by AA, you might get a meal, and it might be edible. On BA you will probably get helpful service; on AA, you can watch as the cabin crew run away from struggling passengers.

But remember: this is a BA flight--right? I couldn't tell you. The brand confusion is so profound, the messaging so inconsistent that, when I book with either, I have no idea what I'm paying for.

How are your partnerships doing? Let me know in the comments below.

Published on: Jun 19, 2013
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