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Why Morgan Motors was the right premium brand to partner with

This month we announced a unique new partnership with legendary British motor car manufacturer, Morgan Motors – a big step that required careful planning.
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Announcing the Morgan Motors collaboration was a huge moment for Christopher Ward, with the partnership having been in the pipeline for over a year.

A successful partnership between two brands can deliver a wide array of benefits, yet they are also potentially perilous when they go wrong. We therefore had to be certain that a partnership with Morgan Motors was the “right fit”.

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We’ve been approached many times in the past with offers of partnerships, including from several Premier League clubs, a number of Formula One teams and various big rugby sides.

Such opportunities can initially be very enticing, and from a vanity perspective the notion of partnering with one of the biggest sporting brands in the world is hard to resist. Yet in none of these instances did we feel these brands truly understood we were trying to achieve.

Our key messaging revolves around classical British design and heritage, and providing quality, Swiss-manufactured timepieces at affordable prices. Communicating a message of affordable quality would seem somewhat hollow if we were partnered to a football club who regularly splashed tens of millions of pounds on new players.

The costs involved in partnering with some major international sporting brands were also very high too, which went against the grain of what we are all about. As such, we always erred on the side of caution.

Brand alignment with Morgan Motors

When entering into a partnership it is crucial that you feel that your brand values are aligned. The biggest red flag is when a company has evidently not taken the time to research and understand your brand’s ethos, history or product. It’s difficult to find common ground with a company who have no interest in you beyond financials.

As a business, the main aim of a partnership is, ultimately, driving sales and widening your brand exposure. But to compromise your brand integrity for the sole purpose of achieving increased sales is ill-advised – especially for small-to-medium-sized businesses who generally have a more personal relationship with their customers. A spike in sales is rarely worth a long-term tarnishing or selling-out of the brand’s image.

The foundations of a partnership are no different to the fundamentals of wider business. Just as it is very difficult to go into business with someone without mutual respect, neither should you enter a partnership with a brand who are equally unreceptive. A strong personal relationship between the key figures at the two brands is vital.

morgan-motors-christopher-ward-partnership-watchIt was for this reason that Morgan Motors and ourselves conducted our meetings face-to-face, never on email or over the phone. We both took the time out to show the other party our production facilities, and to fully immerse each other in our brands’ histories and operations. Both companies’ senior designers also spent many hours together, and throughout the whole process everyone from both parties remained flexible and open minded. This formed the basis of an excellent business relationship, that was underpinned by a strong personal bond.

We see Morgan Motors as a brave company. It is a traditional brand, but not traditional thinkers: if you were to go to a focus group with the idea of a three-wheeler car in 2016, I’m sure conventional wisdom would be extremely skeptical. But it took a risk – and look at how popular it has been.

Avoiding partnership risks

Of course, there are always risks involved in a partnership. This could be inflexibility from one or both of the sides involved, or one company overshadowing the other in what should be a 50/50 partnership. That is certainly a danger for a smaller business which risks ploughing a lot of money into a partnership with a far bigger brand. There’s a chance that you could be drowned out and viewed as an add-on by the consumer, rather than being taken seriously as a company in its own right.

Some statistics argue 90 per cent of brand partnerships fail, but I’m confident we won’t have that problem. The reason you do your due diligence and take your time in making the decision is to ensure that you are on equal footing.

That being said, quantifying success could be difficult. Driving sales, collaborating on innovative products (such as the new watches we are launching with Morgan Motors) and wider brand exposure are the main goals. But if we are still in partnership in five years’ time, I would consider that a success in itself. The challenge from this point onwards is how best we work together to maximise the benefits of the partnership.

I doubt we will seek further partnerships any time soon. For a premium brand, I think it is better for us to carefully pick and take our time. Rushing into collaborations risks over-saturating your brand and there is a threat of appearing desperate.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Mike France

One of the leading retailers of his generation, Mike France operated from his early thirties at board level for several blue-chip companies (BHS, Sears, Debenhams) before becoming CEO/co-owner of the world renowned educational toy brand, Early Learning Centre together with his business partner, Peter Ellis. The pair sold the business in April 2004 and within weeks came up with the idea of launching the world’s first pure-play online luxury watch brand. He is also on the advisory board at Kurt Salmon Consulting and has previously held various non-executive roles as varied as Premier League football clubs (West Ham United) and in several private equity ventures.

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