Digital Essays 2020: In it together, by UM Worldwide’s James Dutton

UM Worldwide regional digital director James Dutton says marketers can learn from the software industry about the power of partnerships.

2020 is annus horribilis. Worldwide, economies have come to a pandemic-driven screeching halt, with some sectors so badly hit their entire future is in peril. Pandemic data suggests it’s here for the long-term, so we need to think creatively about how we grow in these conditions by looking for alternative pathways for success through partnership evolution.

To evolve, marketing needs to take agile insights from the software industry. There is increased technology usage in marketing, yet minimal technology thinking. Look how Microsoft has become the mammoth it is today: 95 per cent of its revenue comes from partnerships, and Forrester research shows 76 per cent of companies agree partnerships are imperative for revenue goals.

The idea of partnerships is paramount, given the uncertainty where consumer expectations and perceptions of brands have been altered. Let’s explore how partnerships have enormous potential for growth across both brand and commercial metrics for sustained success.

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An unexpected partnership earlier this year was formed between Xbox and Rough Guides. It was brokered by McCann London and promoted virtual sightseeing and unlocking a new perception of the console experience, through a travel book featuring worlds from games such as Halo 5 and Forza Horizon 4.

In transformative 2020, e-commerce grew with a reported five years’ change in as many months. This trend will continue, so the real challenge is to work together to share knowledge, assets and platforms. This summer we orchestrated Talabat and Shake Shack to partner in a market-first Facebook launch of collaborative ads for food delivery. Brands working together have the opportunity to build better customer relationships and move faster to build services and products. The time is ripe for brands to combine, with infinite possibilities.


Ten years ago, when Cisco and Ubisoft were brought together inside Splinter Cell on the Xbox, I saw a huge future. Today, the explosive growth in mobile casual gaming driven by lockdowns will open up amazing opportunities for brands to partner with game developers.

The music industry has had a tumultuous few decades, with music consumption transforming through the MP3 player to the global streaming phenomenon. Tiktok now paves the way for new artists to be discovered through engagement with TikTokers in what Rolling Stone magazine calls the industry’s new fame machine, with creative partnership opportunities for brands to work with creators to connect with consumers.

Earlier this year Mediabrands and Google created a consumer packaged goods marketing maturity white paper tapping into joint-research experience and client experience. The role of brands, agencies and publishers has evolved, with each enhancing the other. With the right alliances, we can build more targeted research and consumer insights.


More than 7,000 martech companies are vying for your budget, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially when this is added to the regular office software we use daily.

Technology partnerships can realise significant gains in operational efficiency. Working with UK based software start-up Goa, we have started working to improve the efficiency of search optimisation to make teams more efficient. We’ve also started looking at how we can work with software companies to extend the reach of media, such as exploring Google Assistant integrations for our app-focused clients.

Your technology partnership should cover implementation, end-user training and joint projects to craft custom solutions. With remote working, we’ve seen frictionless workflows develop, like shifting from Outlook to Teams or the move from network shares to collaboration software such as Trello, which can simplify campaign workflows while managing individual contributor tasks.


Some are predicting a 2021 data apocalypse, with cookies and device IDs disappearing and devastating performance media. So, we’re now at a tipping point where solutions we’ve relied on for years are losing steam. Solving this will need thorough evaluation protocols and new data partnerships, so working closely with partners including The Trade Desk and Lotame, we’re evaluating identity solutions and testing ways to integrate new audience solutions. We expect a growing demand for first-party-data capture projects and for solutions such as customer data platforms to onboard and extract data value.

Brands are seeking to develop data brokerages, partnering with publishers directly to create marketplaces or co-operatives, so there’s scope to partner and solve industry-wide challenges.

In positive signs, we’re seeing recovery with out-of-home (OOH) investments scaling up. As our targeting needs change, it’s important to work with data experts such as IQ Data who provide a deep understanding of location data to help capture audiences effectively. This is only going to grow as digital OOH solutions are scaling up across the region.

In summary

Now is the time to explore and deepen relationships, and to open-source thinking when it comes to driving growth. With the possibilities at hand, kickstart your creative processes and start discussions to build a better growth ecosystem in partnership.

After all, we’re better when we work together.