The future of brand and communications planning

In nature, mutualistic relationships are based on mutually beneficial exchanges between interdependent species:  Like the Clown Fish and Sea Anemone, who live side-by-side and protect each other from their predators.  It’s a ‘win-win’ form of symbiosis that’s been defined as ‘a state of reciprocity or sharing’.  Mutualistic relationships like this are balanced, equitable and sustainable.

I believe that brands and their agencies need to tap into the concept of mutuality, by forging more mutually beneficial and open relationships with people.  This idea came out of my response to an Admap competition called ‘Planning 3.0: the planning landscape in 2020′.  It got me thinking about the future.  I noticed how the concept of mutuality addresses so many of the big challenges facing brands and their agencies today.

Mutuality means brands giving more value to people:  higher performing products, more entertainingusefulsocially conscious brand experiences and better rewards for loyalty.  In returnpeople will reward brands with their loyalty, advocacy, data-openness and feedback.

Mutuality is also about closer collaboration within client organisations and between their agencies:  sharing the IP and revenue on new technologies, involving employees in innovation processes and replacing inter-agency competitiveness with cooperation.

Mutuality Planning

I’m interested in how Conversations strategy can encourage more mutualistic business decisions.  This means observing what people say and do (on and offline) and inspiring engaging discussions that both deepen insight and strengthen relationships.

Conversations Strategy sits at the intersection of market research, social media, brand and comms. planning, psychology and technology….(it’s a busy intersection but I like it there)….

I’d love to hear about any examples of mutualistic brand and communications or indeed any theories, technologies or ideas that might help inspire them…


  1. Chris Arning 
    Hi Tom, interesting idea and very topical. I am actually trying to put together a semiotic paper on the link between advertising and online tropes privileging group behaviour networked activity and the dominant discourses among marketing professionals – and how these can both been seen as isotopies of human collective intelligence and as an example of cultural auto-communication.


  2. Nick Kenway 
    Hi Tom,Great stuff. The insight about the nature of exchange, that it is (or should be) mutual, feels very apposite right now. And, as a researcher, it’s also something that I’ve long believed is important in interactions not only with research users or but also with respondents – they need to get something out of it, and ideally not just £50 in cash.Where does the Conversations Strategist sit in relation to the mutual relationship between brand and user? Conduit? Facilitator? Observer?



    • tommywoodnutt 
      Hi Nick….totally agree. When it’s just about cash it feels more like a bribe than an open exchange…I see ‘Conversations Strategy’ as all of the above. It’s about conversations made by the brand as much as conversations made by neutral third-parties like researchers.I think the act of conversation can build mutualistic relationships as well as the recommendations and insights that come from them…

  3. Peter Dann 
    Nice blog Tom! And well done identifying/naming mutuality as the busiest intersection on the block, great thought and one that brands underestimate to their likely cost. ‘What’s in it for me’ always sounds so greedy but it’s the first question people ask in response to a brand’s offer to open a dialogue beyond simple purchase. If you can plan a convincing answer to that question (and frankly a simple question deserves a simple answer) then your brands will be happy. Not as sophisticated as ‘mutuality’ sounds but let’s start with the little things…


    • tommywoodnutt 
      Thanks Peter…I’m with you on that….If more brands asked ‘what’s in it for us’ I’m sure the world of brands (and beyond) would be a much better place…!
    • Tom Woodnutt 
      Hi Kevin, love your post. The symbiosis analogy goes even further as you’ve shown.…I’m actually writing a post that pulls together thinking from other ‘mutualists’ like yourself – the more I look, the more I find! Which is encouraging…Keen to discuss further for sure…