From influencers and cartoon characters to cross-industry ventures, collaborations have reached a fever pitch in 2020, and for good reason. “Today, brands are not isolated, depersonalized entities. They are living, breathing, soulful organizations that interact with the world around them, which is why partnerships have become so natural in the marketing conversation,” Supergoop president Amanda Baldwin tells BeautyIndependent. “What better way to reach a new, like-minded audience and express who you are than by doing it through a new friend.” While 38% of beauty and fashion brand executives saw collaborations as their greatest marketing opportunity last year, it’s finding a friend that is new and exciting without being excluding that is the real challenge. Brands that have stretched the limits too far have been met with consumer criticism and static stock. There are several key factors that separate success from failure.
Firstly, choose your partner wisely. Find a collaborator that aligns with your own values, aesthetic, and target audience. “The most successful partnerships are the ones that make sense—genuinely thought-through collaborations, rather than mismatched campaigns,” explains writer Julia Cohen. “Ask your consumers what they want to see, and ask yourself whether the partnership you are considering makes sense for your brand goals and target audience.” Joint interests could include an emphasis on sustainability, a joint humanitarian cause, creative color concepts, and makeup artistry, or simply emotional resonation. Social media users are quick to whistleblow on ventures which feel like an easy cash grab rather than a working relationship.
“I feel like this makes nooooo sense for her brand,” writes one Instagram user underneath the Kylie x Grinch pairing, gathering 216 likes. “Cute packaging, decent palette, but I ain’t supporting such a problematic person,” notes another user of the Nikita Dragun x Morphe eyeshadow palette. While controversy surrounding personalities hasn’t halted the success of launches (the most prominent example being the Shane Dawson x Jeffree Star Conspiracy collection, which sold 1 million palettes in 30 minutes), in the age of cancel culture, the tides can shift rapidly and dramatically overnight. Makeup Geek brand owner Marlena Stell, whose joint eyeshadow palette with Manny MUA sold out within 20 minutes, stated that the return on influencer marketing ROI dipped significantly after 2016, citing oversaturation and decreasing credibility as the main culprits.
While fans may have turned a blind eye to their mishaps in the past, the rise of exposé-style documentaries and gossip channels on YouTube means the same people watching their favorite gurus may stumble upon an eye-opening critique of them thanks to the platform’s algorithm. For projects which are months, if not years, in the making, operating on such shaky ground is an undeniable risk. Nonetheless, with collaboration marketing being 30% cheaper than traditional advertising and a scenario where “brands can use their audiences, not their budgets, as cross-promotional currency, across multiple channels,” the gamble can pay off.
Outside of the influencer realm, celebrity status still holds power (MAC’s five bestselling collaborations of all time were A-lister fronted, the only exception being a Cinderella collection), but the industry has seen an onslaught of celebrities producing their own cosmetics lines to levels of success that indicate they may cut out the middleman altogether in the future.
Collaborations with inanimate characters, who offer the opportunity to tap into childhood nostalgia for older audiences and present-day fandom for younger audiences, have seen a significant increase. Ciaté London, which already saw impressive sales on their Jessica Rabbit collection, are now giving another character the spotlight: Miss Piggy. “We’re quite excited about how broad this demographic actually is,” Ciaté brand founder Charlotte Knight states, noting that the target age demographic ranges from millennials who grew up watching Sesame Street to “Gen X and baby boomers who are nostalgically remembering the Miss Piggy that hit the screen 40 years ago.” Nostalgia is a huge selling point—cue the Colourpop Hocus Pocus collection that sold out in three minutes, or their Sailor Moon collaboration that managed to shift all stock in less than an hour.
The most long-standing player in this field is Disney, which has teamed up with the likes of Colourpop, I Heart Revolution, Paul & Joe, MAC, OPI, Sephora, Essence, and Pür Minerals. While of course, the Disney catalog represents a vast mine of possible collaborators, there is a prominent risk of oversaturation and a resulting backlash from consumers who are wisening up to the idea of the easy “cash grab.” One safeguarding option is creating an original and well-formulated product that stands on its own outside of the imbued collaborator value.
Cross-category projects present the final arena of collaborations. Fenty Beauty x HEYTEA, Etude House x KitKat (which promptly sold out), Puma x Maybelline—the list goes on ad infinitum. The success of the Pat McGrath x Supreme lipstick, which was available exclusively on Supreme’s website and sold out in 8.6 seconds, makes a case for the importance of exclusivity. This means selecting appropriate, and often limited, distribution channels, as well as creating a limited-edition product.
Ultimately, a successful collaboration can be distilled down to three distinct keywords: congruity, authenticity, exclusivity.
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