Sunday 22 September 2019

How to look after your brand when partnering others

Your business

It’s no Mickey Mouse operation, and customer experience is key at Walt DisneyWorld in Orlando
It’s no Mickey Mouse operation, and customer experience is key at Walt DisneyWorld in Orlando

Alan O'Neill

I had my first trip to DisneyWorld in Orlando in 1980 and have been an ardent fan ever since.

I have returned with family and I have also attended workshops in the Disney Institute. This is where I got to study its business model and its approach to customer experience behind the scenes. I never cease to be amazed at how it delivers a consistent customer experience every day. It does that with 70,000-plus employees, with different personalities and backgrounds, from all over the world.

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What binds them all together is the clearly defined culture that it protects with zeal. Those who don't fit in with the culture are dealt with quickly and it doesn't take prisoners. It is highly protective of its heritage, brand integrity and its culture - and rightly so.

As you know, Disney also has destinations in other parts of the world. Recently I went back to Disneyland Paris with my family.

We had a fantastic few days but I'm sad to say that if I were to rate the Florida park at 9/10, our overall experience in Disneyland Paris was 5/10.

The superb rides are pretty much the same as in Florida but the queuing time was just ridiculous. The park needs serious capital injection, as much of the infrastructure is shabby.

And given that the employees play a big part in the overall experience, I would score them at 3/10.

The venue was very understaffed for peak season and few of them looked happy.

The challenge of protecting your brand when you work with partners

The initial ownership structure in Paris was a joint venture with investors and the Disney Corporation. It clearly wasn't working and I'm happy to hear that Disney took back 100pc control in 2018.

It will fix this problem in time, but in the meantime I wonder what damage has been done to its reputation in Europe.

It made me think about the risks that any brand holder has when relying on partners. Like Disney, you might be considering a joint venture or licence with an international partner to manufacture your product in their country.

Perhaps you are a brand that sells through third parties.

Or what if you're a distributor that relies on others to market and sell your product?

Franchisors too rely on small business owners to maintain their standards.

Or what if you are a business with an overseas office, that is somewhat removed from your day-to-day control?

You could even be a wholesaler that relies on contract drivers to deliver your goods.

Whichever scenario applies to you, you need to watch out.

The risks for the integrity of your brand are high, so you can't allow others to represent your brand without clear guidelines.

Guidelines when selecting partners for your brand

Colin Gordon is a highly experienced marketer with a 30-year track record in the FMCG sector. Recently retired as chief executive of Glanbia Consumer Foods, he also led organisations such as C&C Ireland (now Britvic) and Imperial Tobacco. He has extensive experience in partnering with global brands and contractors and here he shares his top tips.

1 Ensure common objectives and language

Apart from all of the financial targets, remove ambiguity by being very clear with your partner about what is or isn't acceptable with your brand.

That might have to do with standards, market positioning and all communications such as advertising, sponsorship, logos and websites.

Clarify which budget any promotional activity belongs to, ie sales or marketing. Write these expectations down in a contract of engagement as this will help to resolve conflict later.

2 Who owns what?

Outline exactly who should do what. Who is responsible for each phase in the supply chain? Who should have the final say on marketing and other issues?

Who owns key global accounts that have presence in different countries? Who owns innovation and new product development?

Every person should know which part of the P+L they are responsible for.

3 Keep it simple

With respect to the legal community, most contracts have lots of pages with very long sentences. While the devil will always be in the detail, challenge your advisers to keep it simple so that the contract cannot be misinterpreted.

4 Be authentic

Rather than an exclusive focus on profit and loss, be sure that you select a partner that you know will respect and have passion for your brand. That has to be authentic and real. You want them to treat your brand as an adopted child that they will care for in all weathers.


I do appreciate that sometimes you are so glad to get a deal at all, that you're afraid to rock the boat and jeopardise the agreement. The main message here, though, is to consider all touch-points in advance and stay involved throughout, to protect your brand equity. You'll regret it later if you don't.

There is a trend in the department store industry that supports all that I've said here.

Many of the big fashion brands will only partner with a department store if they can secure a concession agreement, rather than be a wholesaler of product to those stores.

In other words, they want to control the shopfit, location in the store, product collection, marketing and staffing.

Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci are good examples of those companies that guard their brands like a fortress.

There's a message in that for all of us, regardless of size.

  • Alan O'Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to

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