“You are the company you keep.” Though that old adage is really meant for people, it’s applicable to retail brands, too. We’re no strangers to brand partnerships.
Target launched its series of designer collaborations in 2009 when it announced its exclusive Alexander McQueen line. Amazon has followed suit eight years later with its Calvin Klein partnership. But brand collaborations happen outside of the fashion apparel industry too — look at Verizon and the National Football League, CoverGirl and its long list of celebrity partners, and Lipton and Food Network star Bobby Flay.
There are many reasons we see so many brands join forces. It helps you amplify your message and reach new audiences, break into a new niche, and create a bigger impression than you would on your own.
Take a look at these seven brand collaborations to find out how the matches were made and what you can learn from their experiences.
Shahla Karimi and Kenneth Cole
Fine jewelry brand Shahla Karimi found success through a brand collaboration with fashion brand Kenneth Cole. The two brands teamed up to create a “fine jewelry capsule collection” inspired by one of Shahla Karimi’s existing jewelry collections.
In all aspects, it has been a dream collaboration.” — Shahla Karimi
The partnership between the New York City-based jewelry brand and the global fashion house was possible thanks to a chance meeting in 2016.
“Shahla Karimi was part of a retail pop-up at The Oculus,” Shahla Karimi, CEO and founder of the company, says. “I crossed paths with the Kenneth Cole team when they stopped by my booth. After the meeting, they approached me for a collaboration.”
What You Can Learn
Plan ahead: The timing for the in-store product launch and launch party didn’t align as seamlessly as Karimi would have liked.
“One thing I may have done differently is to begin the PR planning strategy sooner to coincide with the product launch,” she says. “Although we had a very successful launch party just last week, the product has been in stores for a month.”
Even in the early stages of the partnership, get your various teams on board so everyone is on the same page and timeline.
Go global: Many global companies have partnered with smaller-sized retailers, likely because the benefits go both ways. For them, it allows them to penetrate a more intimate community of customers. For Shahla Karimi, it enabled them to reach a huge new audience.
“Aligning with a globally recognized and respected fashion veteran has been invaluable,” says Karimi. “The social media cross-promotion and press recognition has given my customers validation and broadened my market greatly.”
Communicate and collaborate: Brand collaborations introduce a lot of new players and potential stakeholders. While the extra manpower is great, it also makes communication a bit trickier.
“Communication is key from start to finish,” Karimi says. “Having learned from past collaborations with fashion bloggers and influencers, I knew that communication would be a key element to success.”
“Creatively, we all approach the world from different angles. Comparatively, your peers may have a more effective way of doing business. There is never a shortage of new things to learn.”
Privé Revaux and Various Celebrities
Image: Privé Revaux
Founder and CEO of Privé Revaux David Schottenstein originally set out to achieve one goal: “To disrupt an overpriced eyewear market.” He and his VP of celebrity relations, Dave Osokow, wanted to find partners with high visibility and a shared passion to deliver affordable, yet stylish fashions to a broader market.
The New York City-based designer sunglass brand has since partnered with a number of celebrities and celebrity stylists on designing and promoting different product lines. Some of their current collaborators? Singer Jamie Foxx, actresses Hailee Steinfeld, and Ashley Benson, and stylists Rob Zangardi and Mariel Haenn. “It helped create tremendous awareness that we certainly would not have had otherwise,” Schottenstein says.
What You Can Learn
Prepare for new challenges: Adding someone else to the mix can make you more successful, but it also introduces a litany of potential obstacles. “Things in Hollywood don’t move as fast as I’m used to,” Schottenstein says. “Learning to adapt to that has been a challenge but a great learning experience.”
Find the right “big name”: Just because a potential partner is widely recognizable doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for your brand. “Never take someone just because they have a big name,” Schottenstein says. “My advice is to always choose amazing partners who are truly passionate about what you are doing.”
The in-store meet-and-greets with the celebrity partners have generated lots of buzz, and Jamie Foxx appeared at the New York City flagship store opening in December 2017 — which had many other unaffiliated celebrity appearances as well.
Build a team: Schottenstein had a team from the beginning, working closely with Osokow to secure strong celebrity business relationships. But these celebrities aren’t just faces with big audiences, they’ve become a part of the team. “They each all truly play an active role in the brand,” Schottenstein says.
Denisa Piatti Jewellery and Pico Vela
Pico Vela, a women’s knitwear ecommerce retailer, found a partner in Washington, D.C.-based Denisa Piatti Jewellery. The partnership began when Pico Vela was shooting its fall/winter 2017 collection. To add extra flair to the photos, the shots were styled by Denisa Piatti Jewellery.
The partnership grew bigger than a one-time collaboration. Pico Vela’s Defying Expectations campaign celebrates women “who are defying expectations in their own ways — in beauty, in life, and in their careers.” Pico Vela didn’t have to look far to find someone to feature, as they asked Denisa Piatti herself.
Hi 👋🏻 If you're following for the first time, I'm Denisa. I'm so grateful to have you come along on this journey. Ever since I can remember, I loved art. I watched my father work with his hands, transforming ordinary things like branches and found objects into works of art. My passion for detail and process was influenced by my mother, a Pharmacist. As a child, I was mesmerized by my mom mixing chemicals, measuring, and packaging capsules. Their influences are reflected in the pieces, and I'm thrilled to share them with you 💋(📷 by @leahbeilhart of @_behold.her for @picovela 's #defyingexpectations campaign)
What You Can Learn
Turn partnerships into lasting relationships: Stephanie David, founder of marketing agency POPNOD, worked with Pico Vela and Denisa Piatti Jewellery on the partnership.
“It’s important to treat a brand collaboration as a long-term relationship rather than a transactional one,” she says. This was very much the case here. After the successful initial two partnerships, the brands have worked together on social media giveaways and other initiatives.
Building relationships with other brands will help you uncover even more creative ways to grow together,” David says.
Know your similarities: These brands had different products, but similar audiences — bold, unique, and expressive women.
“Even more importantly, the brand philosophies and values aligned very well: All of the pieces are handcrafted in the USA, designed artfully and with, and unafraid to push boundaries,” David says.
Set goals: Measurable goals give you and your partner something specific to work towards, and they can help you stay on the same page. “Whether it’s increasing social media followers, your mailing list, or conversions, having a clear, agreed-upon goal will help you better measure outcomes and make informed decisions for your next campaign together,” David says.
Remember other campaigns and external factors: You and your brand partner might both have marketing campaigns, product launches, or other initiatives underway, not to mention external factors such as market trends or news headlines. If your customers have too many things to keep track of, you risk diluting your message and the effectiveness of your partnership.
“Timing a campaign around a related newsworthy store or holiday can help build momentum for campaign,” David says. “However, there is a fine line of not drowning in the noise of other campaigns, so carefullying planning out the timing is important.”
Club Tattoo and Multiple Partnerships
Club Tattoo has six retail locations across Nevada and Arizona and has earned its reputation as an upscale leader in the tattoo and piercing industry. A look at the company’s beginnings might have indicated success early on, especially considering the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park helped start the business. Today, CEO and founder Sean Dowdell is motivated to continue to grow their global presence.
One way in which Club Tattoo has become widely renowned is through strategic brand partnerships. Another serial collaborator, the retailer has worked on several projects including:
- etnies: In 2007, Club Tattoo worked with the shoe retailer to create custom designs featuring tattoo art for a line of men’s and women’s shoes — a partnership that kicked off with a press-worthy launch party in New York City
- Bicycle Playing Cards: A partnership that began in 2014, Club Tattoo and the card company have created card decks with tattoo-inspired artwork — a line that has sold more than 300,000 decks and been picked up by big-box retailers like Target, Walmart, and Walgreens
- Boldface Gear: Club Tattoo designed six styles with tattoo art for the customizable backpack company, a newer collaboration that launched in September 2017 and is sold at Club Tattoo’s own stores, plus Tilly’s, Hot Topic, and other stores
What You Can Learn
Stand out: Club Tattoo has mastered the art of differentiation in their niche.
“Generally, the global brands that have reached out to use want to partner with a world-renowned tattoo and piercing brand,” Dowdell says. “We are one of the few in that category.” The tattoo and piercing industry isn’t exactly synonymous with upscale, but Club Tattoo has worked hard to elevate its brand, services, and products.
Keep it simple: Club Tattoo is typically commissioned to create designs to feature on other retailers’ products. It’s great, because they’ve created demand for their high level of creativity and finished product. But they’ve also learned a few lessons on how to best work in this type of relationship.
“Don’t give them too many options,” says Dowdell. “It can be confusing for the partner. Our first global collaboration, we over delivered and gave them over 30 designs to choose from. We should have funneled them down to the best 8–10 designs.”
Think bigger and longer-term: A recurring theme among these retailers is to think big picture and down the road. “Always push for more, bigger, better, and longer-lasting collaborations,” Dowdell says. “It gave Club Tattoo an instant global presence without having a brick-and-mortar location in every market around the world. Our brand awareness grew exponentially with each deal.”
jamstik, Woodchuck, and Identity Custom Imaging
jamstik partnered with two local companies, Identity Custom Imaging and Woodchuck USA, to release a special edition jamstik+ Smart Guitar. The partnerships made sense — ICI providing custom graphics for the jamstik+s, Woodchuck providing custom wood designs. “Banking on the idea that Black Friday shoppers would appreciate the chance to own a unique version of our product, we launched two special edition jamstiks and offered a free gift for each Black Friday order,” says Matt Cannon, chief growth officer of parent company Zivix.
“We wanted to do something special beyond the standard discounts and coupon codes,” says Cannon. “Each partner was helpful in sharing our story for the special edition launches with their audiences and increasing our sales for the holidays. In turn, we gave each of them exposure through email newsletters, social posts, and website banner promotions.”
What You Can Learn
Give back: Woodchuck was a great partner because of their “Buy One. Plant One.” mission, which means they plant a tree for every product sold. There are many brands that have found success in their commitment to corporate social responsibility, like TOMS, Patagonia, and Pura Vida Bracelets. Having a mission like this makes it easier for customers to rally support and identify with your brand.
Partner with your customers, too: jamstik kicked off the collaboration by polling their customers and digital audience to choose their favorite from a selection of designs for the new product. Once the winners were selected, Identity Custom Imaging and Woodchuck each got to work bringing the designs to life, and jamstik made captured behind-the-scenes videos to share. “This gave us a chance to show our fans that each special edition truly did get the handmade touch,” says Cannon.
Enhance existing product lines: If you don’t have enough time, the right idea, room in your budget, or some other limitation that prohibits you from launching a new product in partnership, consider upgrades to your existing SKUs. That’s exactly what jamstik did.
“Due to product development cycles, we didn’t have a new version of our smart guitar this year, so it was even more important that we do something unique,” Cannon says. “In the end, we ended up having an even bigger Black Friday sales day than last year — without even launching a new version of our product!”
Look for new partnerships: Share your successful brand collaboration with other potential partners. “After seeing the limited edition products, many of our retail partners have requested that we create special editions exclusively for their retail locations,” Cannon says. “We’re very likely to pursue this strategy with our brick-and-mortar retailers to sell exclusive editions of our products next year.”
Walmart and Buzzfeed
The not-so-traditional partnership between Walmart and media company BuzzFeed was announced recently, and it seems to be another avenue through which Walmart is making its comeback. The partnership is with BuzzFeed’s Tasty, which has gained virality for its handy recipe videos. Tasty’s recipe videos are now shoppable, allowing users to purchase products from Walmart directly through the video.
What You Can Learn
Think outside the box: Walmart and BuzzFeed is an unlikely partnership on paper, but if you take a step back, it makes perfect sense. The retail giant is making major strides to make its online presence match its brick-and-mortar success. The acquisition of Jet.com was one step, and now Walmart’s gotten even more creative by getting involved in videos that are already widely popular and shared on social media.
Identify opportunities created by other brands: Though BuzzFeed’s current reign on the Internet is arguably on the decline, we’re willing to bet you’ve caught a glimpse of at least one of their well-known Tasty recipe videos. These videos have amplified because of their shareability.
Walmart could have very easily created its own recipe videos. Instead, it saw the opportunity of the already-viral Tasty videos and figured out a way to get involved.
United By Blue and Multiple Partnerships
“Durable goods” United By Blue was once an apparel retailer, but has since expanded into outdoor gear, home goods, and accessories. The brand is built on a mission to preserve the world’s oceans. To help them build awareness and get more customers behind the mission, United By Blue leverages several partnerships with a number of brands. You could say they’re a serial collaborator.
Some of the partnerships that United By Blue has had in the past include:
- Chacos, footwear retailer: Created a limited-edition sandal, hat, boardshorts, and T-shirts
- Oru Kayak, kayak retailer: Designed and manufactured 30 custom kayaks, plus a backpack, T-shirt, and hat
- Lonely Whale, ocean conservation organization: Co-hosted Blue Friday, a nationwide initiative to clean up the oceans on Black Friday; also launched a candle and bandana
- Conservation Northwest, environmental conservation organization: Featured the stories of wildlife researchers in United By Blue print catalogs
What You Can Learn
Make it meaningful: United By Blue is very selective about the partners it chooses to work with. Their brand mission is so important to their success, that they only consider brands that share a commitment to conservation, sustainability — as well as delivering a high-quality product. Even if corporate social responsibility isn’t a dominant part of your brand identity, you can partner with another brand that does place an emphasis on it.
Remember the community: Becoming involved with your local community, or even creating a community of your own, is a great way to make brand partnerships even more effective and far-reaching. Through the Blue Friday events and other cleanups, United By Blue has been able to strengthen relationships not only with their partners’ staff members, but also the local communities in which they serve. United By Blue looks to partner with brands that are already in touch with their community and have established relationships, such as REI, Oru, and Chaco.
Use partnerships as a testing ground: Your product design team can also benefit greatly from brand partnerships. “In a collaboration, we’re able to apply our design strategy to different applications that we typically wouldn’t do and test,” says Brianna Nieman, head of design at United By Blue. “The collaborations are a great experiment, in a way — like finding out our customer base really likes printed backpacks or a brighter color palette.”
Analyze the performance of your partnership: A post-mortem is part of United By Blue’s process in analyzing the effect of their brand partnerships. “After we wrap a collaboration, collecting and working through feedback is nearly as important as concepting a new collaboration,” says Joanna Linton, head of product. They don’t view partnerships as success or failures, instead, they’re considered learning experiences. From the results, the United By Blue team is able to learn how to pivot and adapt in future collaborations.
FURTHER READING: Learn how to perform post-mortems to improve sales.
Retail Partnerships: How to Move Forward
Every brand partnership is unique, but there are some major themes to take away for your next collaboration:
- Don’t be scared to think big
- Choose your partner strategically, and build long-lasting relationships with them
- Set goals
- Analyze the campaign, identify opportunities, and work them into your next campaign
How have your past partnerships gone over? Which other successful brand collaborations have you seen?