3 min read

How 'ecosystem brands' are changing the rules of marketing

Smart homes, collecting data from everything from fridges to heating, offer a glimpse of a future where almost everything we use and do is connected.

Privacy issues aside, this poses new challenges for brands. When brands are connected to other brands in an ecosystem — such as the Internet of Things (IoT) — they no longer exist independently, but are part of a complex environment.

For example, when fashion brand Levi’s partnered with upcycling brand The R Collective to produce a fully traceable denim collection, both brands lost individual control of the customer experience; it became a shared responsibility. This responsibility extended to other partners in the ecosystem, such as label maker Avery Dennison and IoT platform Evrythng. For better or for worse, the individual actions of each brand now impact the business outcomes for all of them.

Due to the complexity of ecosystems, marketers can’t rely on instinct alone to determine whether connections in an ecosystem create value or destroy it.

As brands become increasingly interdependent, marketers need a new way to manage them. To that end, we recently partnered with market research firm Kantar to devise methods for managing such ‘ecosystem brands’. 

When managing an ecosystem brand, marketers face a number of tough questions: How do you control something that is widely distributed? How do you get a brand to cooperate with other brands to unlock value? How do you determine whether other brands enhance or diminish the customer experience?

To better understand these dynamics, we applied statistical methods to measure what happens when a brand and its functionality are distributed in an ecosystem. These calculations informed the creation of theoretical models that quantify every component of a brand ecosystem and enable marketers to organise and capture the value creation of brands.

Key insights for marketers

Our work led to a number of important findings:

  • Marketers need to rely more on quantitative information. Due to the complexity of ecosystems, marketers cannot rely on instinct alone to determine whether connections in an ecosystem create value or destroy it. They need a quantitative-based model, like the one we have developed. This model should work like a partnership identification tool, helping marketers pinpoint brands that contribute to or harm the customer experience.
  • It is not just the partners that matter, but how they are arranged. In an ecosystem, different arrangements of brands generate different business outcomes. Marketers should consider the organisation of an ecosystem to optimise results for brands.
  • Ecosystems may offer brands a competitive advantage. The value of a brand is equal to what a brand does independently, plus the value it gains from belonging to an ecosystem, so when a brand joins an ecosystem, its value is enhanced (or potentially diminished) by the partnerships in that ecosystem. This is true in both consumer and B2B contexts.
  • Some ecosystems are created by companies, and others are created by consumers. Ecosystems are born in different ways. They can emerge from brands that offer unbounded products and services, brands that provide customised and integrated solutions, or even brands devoted to creating value in society. They can also emerge organically through customers, who may use brands in a coordinated fashion. This can create unintentional partnerships that give rise to a new ecosystem.

That last point is an important one, as it suggests marketers can’t always predict or dictate whether their brands will get absorbed by an IoT ecosystem. That’s a challenge that, like an ecosystem brand itself, cannot be solved — only managed.

Chinese translation of the article






例如,当时尚品牌Levi’s与创意再生服装品牌The R Collective合作生产完全可追溯的牛仔系列时,两个品牌都失去了对客户体验的单独控制,而将共同分担责任。这项责任还扩展到生态系统中的其他合作伙伴,例如标签制造商Avery Dennison和物联网平台Evrythng。无论好坏,如今每个品牌的行为都会影响所有品牌的业绩表现。















  • 市场营销人员需要更多地依赖定量信息。由于生态系统的复杂性,市场营销人员不能仅仅依靠直觉来判断生态系统中的联系是创造价值还是破坏价值。他们需要借助一些定量模型,比如我们开发的物联网生态品牌评估模型。该模型类似合作伙伴识别工具,可以帮助市场营销人员鉴别那些能够提升或可能减损客户体验的品牌。


  • 重要的不仅是合作伙伴,还有合作伙伴之间的合作方式。在生态系统中,品牌间不同的合作关系会产生不同的商业结果。市场营销人员应当考虑整个生态系统内部的组织结构,以实现生态内品牌价值的最大化。


  • 生态系统可以为品牌提供竞争优势。生态系统中品牌的价值等于品牌独立运作的价值,以及它从所属生态系统中获得的价值;因此,当一个品牌加入生态系统后,其价值会受到该生态系统中各类伙伴关系的影响。无论是2C还是2B的环境都遵循这一规则。


  • 有些生态系统是由公司创建的,而另一些生态系统则是由消费者创造的。生态系统诞生的方式多种多样,既可以来自于提供无界的产品/服务的品牌,也可以来自于提供定制化和一体化解决方案的品牌,甚至还可以来自于立志为社会创造更多价值的品牌。它们也可以由于消费者的选择而自然地显现。消费者可能想要搭配使用多个品牌,这在无意间将创造品牌间的伙伴关系,从而产生新的生态系统。