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Andrew Watts
Andrew Watts 29 March 2018
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The Power of Partnerships – combining commercial know-how with academic insight

The marketing landscape is crowded. Agencies are constantly vying to get ahead, looking for new ways to stand out. Blending academic insight from a partner institution with agency-led commercial wisdom can deliver exceptional results for clients. It’s a viable option with mutual benefits that more should be exploring.

Partnerships between businesses and academic organisations can be incredibly powerful and highly beneficial for all participants. Combining commercial know-how with academic insight produces outputs you can’t achieve via other means. At KHWS we’ve been working closely with Durham University Business School for a number of years, and so are well-versed in the benefits partnerships of this type bring, both to the academic institution and the commercial organisation.

Developing our proposition

For us as a business, the central benefit relates to our proposition, which we decided to relaunch in 2015. We saw the tremendous value of emerging behavioural science techniques and understanding to the marketing profession, and recognised there was an opportunity to reframe it all in an accessible and usable format. KHWS began working with Durham in order to facilitate this change, and the relationship with them has been evolving ever since.

The partnership means we benefit from the academic rigour being given to the way we’ve reframed the science. As well as giving us a key point of difference in the marketplace, working with them provides added credence to the way we’ve reframed behavioural science for marketers. From the University’s point of view, they love how we’re putting academic theories into a commercial context, so much so that they now want to use our work as case studies to demonstrate industry application of behavioural science. The students are all business, marketing and (applied, not clinical) psychology students, so the 'real world' commercial application of behavioural science is important to their learning. It’s genuinely rewarding to see our work being used to make academic theories in this space more accessible for students, in a similar, yet different way, from how we’re making it accessible to our clients.

Talent acquisition

Recruitment is another key area. As a result of our relationship we take on sandwich students from the school every year. These students aren’t just the cream of the crop academically; we know they will have already been exposed to the KHWS proposition before they walk through our door. That’s invaluable. The partnership acts as an important recruitment tool for us as an agency, and we’re able to act as a great source of work experience for students from the programme. It’s a 'win win' for both us and them. As well as taking on 1-year placements, we also have summer interns, and of course recruit graduates into permanent roles, so working with the university provides three recruitment streams. It’s now our internal talent team’s first port of call when they’re looking to make a new hire at entry level.

Market-leading innovation

Working with Durham means our clients get access to world-ranking creative minds; that’s a huge resource. It also enables us to do very targeted research, designed specifically to address client needs, quickly and efficiently. Most recently, talking to brands we’ve noticed that many have identified a purchase decision hierarchy, but they haven’t always linked these to actual buying behaviour. Identifying this missing connection is critical for marketing activity to trigger the mental short-cuts (known as heuristics) that we all use to make purchase decisions. The partnership enables us to take immediate steps towards addressing this gap for our clients.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. As our relationship matures we fully expect to unlock more positive benefits that will bring cultural, scientific and commercial boosts to us as an agency, in addition to its helping us to bring a new depth of understanding to purchasing decisions. What’s good for the university and their students is good for us as a business, and for the advancement of our sector more generally, I’d recommend this type of partnership to anyone. 

Applying real-world applications to academic theory is perhaps the most interesting aspect of all this, it’s certainly one we’re looking forward to exploring further.

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