From Coca-Cola collaborating with Highsnobiety, to Aries working on a collection with Tommy Jeans, to Brain Dead’s work with Oakley to revive classic 90’s shoe designs via their Factory Team, Summer 2023 has had plenty of examples of older established brands tapping into younger ones to capture a bit more energy and excitement. There’s been a full spectrum of how they’ve been received, and it mostly hinges on a cultural connection rather than names and reach.
Brain Dead’s head Kyle Ng has made it clear that the brand is only interested in working in culture that those at the brand love, so the Oakley Factory Team collaboration was a project built from love, that has happened to resonate with other fans of obscure shoe designs. This has scale many wouldn’t initially expect, firstly because that audience is quite big, but secondly because people recognise when a little love has gone into a design. It’s not always like this though.
Without naming offenders, lots of emerging brands have really sweated out collaborations with global names this year, seemingly announcing a new one every fortnight. And while this is netting them media mentions, awareness and probably not hurting revenue, they have become increasingly focused on announcing these collaborations instead of taking time to go deep on why they’re so special. This means that they frequently seem quite shallow and superficial.
Improved Visibility and Exposure:
One of the most significant advantages of partnering with a well-established brand is the immediate boost in visibility. For instance, consider the collaboration between the fitness start-up Peloton and luxury apparel brand Lululemon. This partnership not only expanded Peloton's reach but also brought Lululemon into the home fitness arena, resulting in increased exposure for both brands and Peloton Mum shirts showing up everywhere.
Access to Resources and Expertise:
Big brands often come with vast resources and expertise that smaller companies can tap into. Smaller brands often have a couple of staff who are each trying to do several fractional roles. While trying to get a listing with a retailer could seem near impossible for a start-up salesperson who is also spinning six other plates, the bigger brand will often have a team dedicated just to managing retailer accounts. Working with a friendly bigger brand will frequently create opportunities through their resources and expertise that the smaller brand would have no idea how to unlock.
Credibility and Trust:
A collaboration with a bigger brand immediately lends the smaller credibility and trustworthiness. This is incredibly powerful when it comes to raising investment or securing listings with retailers, as there’s a sea of slightly edgy lifestyle brands and those who can open a pitch deck with a slide of logos for massive partnerships they’ve had, immediately establish that they’re a real business and worthy of trust, attention and opportunity.
The smaller brand is always at risk of becoming overshadowed by partners, primarily because they will be the ones producing most of the promotional work, owning most of the media and getting most of the attention. If you do too many collaborations in a shorter time, you may find yourself cast as the sidekick rather than hero. And while the people you work with at the bigger brand may promise to keep your IP intact, they too will answer to the IP lawyers whose job is to ensure their brand isn’t diluted and put at risk from high street retailers getting away with knock offs.
Smaller brands may find it hard to assert themselves if the bigger brand decides to throw their weight around. That resource and expertise we listed as an opportunity earlier can also be a risk if the bigger brand decides it knows what’s best and lack the resource to challenge them or expertise to convince them they’re wrong.
Conflicts in values, missions, or target markets can arise between collaborating brands. There’s been a long list in recent years of collaboration announcements getting drowned out by comment sections filling with people trying to alert the smaller brand that the larger has a questionable track record. This becomes more tense as many emerging brands and creatives represent a broadly more diverse series of backgrounds than corporate brand leadership teams do.
Maintain Brand Integrity:
To avoid brand dilution, define clear boundaries and expectations in the collaboration agreement. Ensure that both brands retain their unique identities. Make sure that the space you share in the middle is collaborative and you are free to create something beautiful together without fear of stepping on one another’s toes.
Due Diligence and Communication:
Thoroughly research your potential partner and engage in open, transparent communication. Clearly define goals, roles, and expectations from the outset. Also make sure there’s a break clause for if something goes sour. If your partner does transpire to have taken actions that go directly against your values, you need to know you can walk.
Collaborating with big brands can be incredibly rewarding if approached with caution and the right strategies. The key is to leverage the opportunities while mitigating the risks. At Muuv, we love guiding start-ups and scale-ups through successful collaborations. Contact us today to explore how we can help you find and navigate these exciting brand partnerships. Remember, it's not just about the size of the brand but the shared culture between them that truly matters.