The age of collaboration: why so many brands are joining forces
1 Oct 2019
For our September Underground Session,our panellists shared their experiences and advice on how brands can adopt a collaborative approach to retail and what should be considered when venturing into these alliances. Our expert panellists included: Stephen Mai, CMO of Boiler Room; Freja Budd, Content Curator; Henrietta Rix, Co-Founder of RIXO and William Rowe, Founder of Protein.
Back to basics: defining a collaboration
Starting the panel, the speakers shared their thoughts on why brands should embark on a collaboration in the first place: “It’s an opportunity to say something without having to do very much” says Stephen. He added his own example: “With Boiler Room apparel, by partnering up with Selfridges we set the standard of where we wanted the brand to appear.” In other words, aligning the business with a leader in another industry alerts the audience to what the brand is going to be about without telling a story.
“It’s the quickest way to land a narrative; you want to leverage their audience. It enables you to do something that you’re incapable of doing independently.” - Stephen Mai
For Henrietta, it has always been less strategic: “We go with our gut and always have since we began four years ago. If it doesn’t feel right, we don't do it.”
Get under the skin of your customer
“You can never know enough about your customer,” says Will. Mirroring this sentiment, Stephen advocates a deep dive into the psyche of a particular person rather than generalising a huge audience: “Trying to be everything to everyone is the worst.” Yes, the social platforms help to decipher characteristics, but in-person time is invaluable.
“We absorb it all. Try to understand who they are and what they want. Make sure your activation resonates with that.” - Henrietta Rix
For Rixo, Henrietta would rather a loyal few than disengaged masses: “It’s not about money, it’s about growing the audience. I don't want followers who aren’t interested in Rixo, that’s no use to me.” It all goes back to need: “People have to want the product. We won’t design something that we’re not completely in love with.” Of course, pop-ups are a fantastic way to get to know your customer and Will is a big believer in their impact: “To really experience the product, you need a retail space. Even the biggest brands in the world can’t survive without it.”
Align values with the right partner
What about when a collaboration goes wrong? Stephen reveals the common trope: “It’s when a brand tries to fulfil too many of their objectives in one swift piece of content.” He suggests avoiding this by incorporating a “nuanced 360° strategy at multiple touchpoints so you’re not relying on one thing. Authenticity disappears the second you try to pigeonhole too many things into one activity.” Finding the right brand to complement your efforts is difficult. However, there’s one thing that should take priority, according to Stephen: “Make sure their values align with yours. Enthusiasm from both sides is also very important. It doesn't work if one partner is not that into it.”
Influencers: remember conversation and kindness
Astonishing, Henrietta admits that Rixo (boasting 234k Instagram followers) have built their fandom organically: “We never put a penny into marketing - no influencers, Instagram or Google. Everything has been through word of mouth or pop-ups.” What’s the key to this success? Old fashioned conversation, as it turns out: “We built up a friendship on Instagram with an influencer just by sharing things we loved.” At the beginning Henrietta pulled out all the stops: “If an influencer wanted a dress for an event, we’d bend over backwards for them. If it was the right dress on the right person, I’d deliver it myself. People remember if you’re kind.” As a successful influencer, Freja offered some solid pieces of advice: “Be transparent. Say if you want something in return. Remember agents take 20% of anything you pay, so big name influencers are way more expensive.”
Recognise Instagram’s new wave realism
Another aspect of collaboration is influencer marketing, which is set to be worth $4.5 billion at the end of this year. Rixo has seen rapid growth thanks to influencers; they embarked on a recent influencer campaign with Sabina Socol to tap into a new audience in France. “We needed this new customer to trust us. Sabina is the ‘it girl’ out there and it felt right.” Seconding this, influencer Freja stressed the importance of the individual over the stats:
“A brand needs to find people who genuinely represent them. People want to see real things, whether that’s photos of soft tummies or someone admitting they’re having a bad day.” - Freja Budd
How small brands can maximise tight budgets
Collaborations don’t always require huge amounts of cash; according to Stephen, “We work with small brands if it fulfils a narrative that we’re trying to build. For example, right now we’re supporting local queer collectives.” This works across the board: “Think about what you can offer them that they don't already have.” He goes on to use e-commerce giant ASOS as an example: “As a small brand, you could educate ASOS on the underground fashion world.” It’s about knowing your worth, even if the big names have much more to offer you than you could offer them. What about if a brand wants to go to Stephen with an idea? “Definitely don't rock up at our office. I respond to Linkedin or emails with messages that get to point very quickly.”
What’s next for the future of marketing
Looking ahead, the panel offered their predictions for marketing trends. For Stephen, it all goes back to community: “According to GalDem magazine, they do events so they can have a party and invite all their mates. It’s these important moments that bring people together. That will never die.” Will offered some valuable insight on what he believes the future of collaborations will look like: “It will involve fewer celebrities or media brands. Instead, it will be more people that are having a real impact on society, such as scientists, architects, designers, etc.” As a topic at the forefront of everyone’s minds, he finishes by recognising environmental issues and advises businesses to approach this carefully:
“The focus on sustainability means we’re questioning the value of products. So if you're showing up, show up in the right way.” - Will Rowe
Stay tuned for all our upcoming events here