I'm not suggesting collaboration is new - I'm suggesting we need more of it. Here are some examples of collaboration from which we can draw inspiration and fuel new ideas.
This group has existed for a long time, quietly gathering a membership in the hundreds. Like many small non-profits, it has suffered from diffusion of its mission. Recently, with a dynamic new board in place, the group has focused on its role in the larger universe of social justice, social responsibility, and environmental protection groups as one of collaboration. Rather than trying to be and do all the things that much larger (and better funded) organizations have tackled, the Ethical Metalsmiths group has decided on a collaborative approach.
Working as an advocate for its own membership, Ethical Metalsmiths will provide a framework to support its members on a journey of better practices. EM will reach out to organizations like Association for Responsible Mining and the Responsible Jewellery Council, and bring back practices and knowledge from them for the EM community. EM members sit on committees for the Jewelry Industry Summit, creating cross-pollination with other groups concerned about the same issues.
This approach will facilitate the growth of EM, and also helps promote the overall goal of sustainability and responsibility by spreading the love around through collaboration.
The MJSA (Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America) is always looking for ways to build collaborations among its members to better all the members. Their BEaJEWELER program* is a great example of this. BEaJEWELER seeks to entice new people to the profession of jewelry. It provides a website with extensive resources to direct interested visitors to schools, training programs, and information to help them make a good decision and set out on their path. BEaJEWELER also invites its jeweler members to share their own stories and insights, because it’s that human element that makes a career choice come alive. Of course, this benefits all of the participants, because we all know the struggle of finding qualified help in the jewelry production studio!
Now, MJSA is introducing a new initiative – the Studio Jeweler outreach program. Again, collaborating with members, MJSA will reach out directly to consumers to connect them with the satisfying experience of buying jewelry made locally and traditionally. Both MJSA initiatives are funded in part by a JCK Industry Grant – itself another form of collaboration.
Monica Stephenson, known by many in the jewelry industry for the long-running iDazzle blog, offers another example of powerful collaboration. After traveling to Africa as part of the team that participated in the making of the gem documentary Sharing the Rough, Monica became very committed to helping making a difference on the ground in artisanal mining communities. She started ANZA Gem. ANZA Gem takes gem rough from artisanal miners, collaborates with designers and consumers to make and sell finished jewelry, and returns a significant portion of that value back to the original mining community. This effort recognizes in practice what Sharing the Rough demonstrated in film: that the materials we take from the ground form a chain from the person who digs in the dirt for it to the person who ultimately wears it. Monica’s goal is to make sure every piece of that chain also benefits from it, and she chose collaboration as the way to do her part.
Endorsements and Influence
Before the term influencer came to mean a previously anonymous person with 50,000 social media followers, influencer marketing was also a form of collaboration (OK, in truth, it still is). When people with a following endorse specific products, theoretically the sales go up. This works best when it is apparent that the endorser clearly believes in the product and the exchange is not purely financial. So, athletes endorsing shoes they’ve been wearing all along (prior to the endorsement) have more influence than Cindy Lauper being paid to endorse a pharmaceutical.
Are there ways to create stronger collaboration of the influence sort? Sure there are – that’s exactly what social proof is. If you’re not using product reviews and testimonials from customers to persuade prospects, you’re not taking advantage of this potent source of marketing collaboration. And the collaboration isn’t just about you and your customers – it’s also peer collaboration, as consumers rely on friends, acquaintances, or just people who seem like them to give them advice regarding the products they are considering.
Many retail jewelers have dabbled in collaborations with other local businesses. Most of the time, it doesn’t go beyond basic co-branding for a promotion or event. But what if it did? What if several businesses banded together to create an omnichannel experience for customers that went way beyond one store?
Big corporations can achieve the benefits of collaboration (more minds to tackle tricky problems) just by virtue of their employment pool. And even then, smart corporate leaders often look to collaborate with other corporations to gain competitive advantage. We are all self-limiting to some extent (if not inherently, at least practically), and the way to combat that is by inviting in the wisdom and experience of others. Small business owners need collaborations to compete.
The future of retail hasn’t been invented yet – it’s still being conceived of. The questions are: are you part of that conceptualization, or are you waiting for others to do it? Are you going it alone, or are you looking for the advantages that come from smart people putting their heads together? My money is on the outcomes of strong collaborations, and the smart people who decide to engage in them.