You may remember this story from childhood. Stone Soup is a European folk tale where a hungry stranger from out of town convinces the locals that his soup recipe—the basis of which is nothing more than a stone—will become something extraordinary.
In case you are unfamiliar with the story, the stone is the “hook” that gets peoples’ attention. Little by little, the curious townsfolk are enticed to offer up a bit of beef, a few carrots or a small onion—whatever little they have—to embellish the soup. By the time the soup is ready, many people have contributed. Together, they created a feast that everyone could share.
Stone Soup is a good model for brands in today’s uncertain, upside down situation of COVID-19.
stirring up endless possibilities
Innovative business leaders and entrepreneurs can roll up their sleeves and create surprising new possibilities. A few we've witnessed:
- The local country club and five area car dealerships who are teaming up to let customers support both businesses—and get services they need—in an easy, one-stop-shop approach.
- The bank who is purchasing gift cards from its restaurant and retail customers, then using those gift cards as employee rewards and client thank you gifts.
- The boutique who had to close its physical storefront but is working with a local printer who’s also experiencing deep hits to its business. Together, they’re designing inspirational limited-edition “work from home” T-shirts, then selling them online across the country.
- The credit union who is ordering takeout lunches from its restaurant customers, then having the meals delivered to essential personnel on the front lines of danger like health care, law enforcement and emergency response.
What can you expect if you put the water on to boil with a few small ingredients:
Social media amplification: when multiple brands partner for a sales promotion, they multiply their messages through the numerous social media channels and audiences they each command. This delivers an increase in both reach and frequency, taking their message much further than they could send it on their own.
Introduction to new audiences: while it’s certain there will be some crossover, well-matched brands have the opportunity to reach new audiences while they’re conducting their partnership efforts. As each shares the special activity with its own audience, that audience has a chance to learn about—and feel good about—the partner as well.
Building cultures: when they’re well designed, efforts like these create camaraderie and love. They bind both employees and customers to the respective brands as everyone sees the positive outcomes. Longer term, this will pay off in workforce recruitment and retention and customer loyalty.
Before you take the leap, consider a few essential ingredients of your success:
- choose wisely: partner with brands that are aligned with yours in terms of quality and shared values. A mismatch of values leads to dissonance that devalues both brands.
- avoid confusion: convey the offer consistently through coordinated messaging. Be sure you’re saying the same things using the same language so there’s no miscommunication about what you’re doing.
- avoid frustration: remember to educate employees about what you’re doing. Train them on how to help customers within this special framework because billing transactions, delivery or other details may need to be altered to accommodate this offer. Don’t leave them—and customers—frustrated because of lack of training.
- gear up: schedule your announcements so you can adequately serve the increased customers responding to your offer. There’s nothing worse than creating demand, then not being able to handle it. Don’t leave customers disappointed and disillusioned.
At the end of some versions of the story, the townsfolk beg the traveler to sell his magical stone to them. They have failed to see that the magic was created because they opened their hearts and hands to share the little they had.
the stone becomes a feast
Of course, the moral of this story: by working together, with everyone contributing what they can, a greater good is achieved.
Innovative, win-win team ups may start small, with an idea seemingly as insignificant as a stone. But inviting others to join in helps multiple businesses and their customers make it through lean times.
New partnerships are forming now because of necessity, but you can expect they’ll become lasting friendships among brands—and their customers—far into the future.