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Collaborative Advantage: What every CMO needs to know


EMR was pleased to sponsor the launch of Paul Skinner’s book Collaborative Advantage: How collaboration beats competition as a strategy for success, at the Museum of Brands. The book has been described as ‘both revolutionary and inevitable’  and develops an approach to strategy that encourages marketers to be more ambitious in their leadership. 

The event was hosted by Chris Griffin, CEO of the Museum of Brands and Ben Stevenson, Commercial Director of EMR. 

Paul presented his revolutionary concept and was joined for a panel discussion on its application to leading businesses by: Mark Evans, CMO of Direct Line Insurance Group and the Marketing Society’s Marketing Leader of the Year for 2018; Celia Pronto, Chief Customer Officer of the Casual Dining Group; and Steve Walker, ex-CMO of Sony Mobile and CEO of the leadership and brand transformation consultancy Two Sides. 

After the event, we caught up with Paul to explore the relevance of Collaborative Advantage to marketers and marketing leaders. 

What is Collaborative Advantage and why does it matter?

“Collaborative Advantage is the multi-sided benefit that can be created by working with the eco-system in which you operate and by understanding your customers as active creators of their own value rather than just working against your competitors and for your customers as the passive recipients of value. 

Even more value is created in the use of most products and services than in their supply. If you meet a friend for coffee in Starbucks for example, the value of the conversation you have will almost certainly be greater than the value of the cappuccino served alongside it. Our customers are the people who do the most to improve their own lives and our role in creating Collaborative Advantage is to find the right ways, usually working with others in the process, to make it easier, or more complete or more magical for them to do so.
The ability to define value creation as a more significantly collective process than has previously been understood is a powerful basis on which to address the major macro-environmental challenges of today, including uncertainty, complexity, resource constraints, productivity and trust.”


What does it mean for marketing leaders?

“CMOs’ jobs today are too frequently hamstrung by short tenure and by ill-defined and poorly understood roles. The answer has to be for marketing leaders to make a greater, more visible and more widely understood contribution to the success of their business. Understanding value-creation as a more collective process puts marketing leaders in the driving seat, because they have precisely the capabilities to define and mobilise around common purpose. A CMOs leadership is not just of their marketing team, but extends across the business, partners, and even across society. Their greatest contribution therefore is not what they do – but what they enable the whole of the business and all its key stakeholders to accomplish together. 

Collaborative Advantage is a radical alternative to Competitive Advantage. Where Competitive Advantage as a concept was pioneered by financiers and brought control mechanisms to bear on aligning the value creation process within a business, Collaborative Advantage is an alternative approach to strategy led by marketing, which unlocks collective value with stakeholders across an external environment that we can influence but not control. 

Seen through the lens of creating Collaborative Advantage, the range of problems that marketing capabilities can be used to address becomes much greater than the set of problems most typically given to marketers to solve. Collaborative Advantage provides the conceptual basis and a methodology that marketers can use to lead and accelerate any process of strategic transformation.

One possible implication for example is that CMOs can best cultivate their team’s marketing talent not by keeping all their marketers within marketing roles but by seconding them to other parts of the business to better mobilise collective participation in important initiatives that may range from open innovation programmes to digital transformation, or diversity, wellbeing and employee engagement.”


How can I begin to establish collaborative advantage in my business?

“Reading the book will help any leader to grow their business more quickly, by understanding and defining their purpose differently, and by better mobilising stakeholder engagement around common purpose as a result, unlocking tremendous collective value creation. 

It is a practical guide to building Collaborative Advantage more rigorously to better engage customers, partners, staff and communities; to foster more valuable innovation; to build more resilient business models and to achieve more success with less resource. 

Marketing leaders will find in the book a way of increasing and better articulating the contribution they can make to their business. This will help them engage greater C-suite support, more buy-in across the business and other stakeholders and ultimately to build a more purposeful, prosperous organisation.”

At EMR we believe that to create Collaborative Advantage marketers need to foster a collaborative mind set; to enhance their peripheral vision to constantly seek the adjacent possible; and to diversify the ways in which they contribute to the success of their business. 

One way marketing leaders can foster these qualities in their teams is through our ‘Shaping the Future of Society’ partnership with the social enterprise Pimp My Cause. Pimp My Cause offers Challenge programmes that support client teams in enhancing their marketing capabilities by tackling live charity briefs – and create transformational solutions to cause-related social problems in the process.

The charity briefs require marketers to rapidly understand the needs of the complex stakeholder environments of beneficiaries, service users, customers, volunteers, donors and partners that even small charities face. The marketers are then tasked with developing multi-stakeholder solutions that align these needs, applying their creativity to the cause mission to unlock collaborative value-creation.  The result is better marketing for the charity and a team of marketers who have learned first-hand how much their skills can be used to achieve when they look beyond their day to day activities. 

Pimp My Cause also offers free matching for individual marketers seeking to offer pro-bono marketing support to a charity or social enterprise. We have seen this directly benefit marketers by allowing a diversification of skills that may not be available in their day-to-day job, or for those in between roles or returning to the workforce an opportunity to keep their marketing skills current and relevant. 


Paul Skinner's book, Collaborative Advantage: How collaboration beats competition as a strategy for success, is out now


Find out how EMR works with CMOs and marketing directors to place senior marketers here  


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