DIP 015: Scratch my back, I'll scratch yours

PLUS: Glossier's new campaign, LES-inspired sausage, and Bumble has a Fortnite team

👋 Hi. Fall is slowly creeping into the air, which means that indoor season is right around the corner. But while there’s still daylight to salvage, I made you a playlist with bops that feel right for right now. Here’s JAM 001. Give it a listen. And as always, reply with questions, comments, or thoughts about anything you read here.

The Chips ⛄


The Dip ⛱

Last week, Modern Retail ran a story about direct-to-consumer brands partnering with other brands to boost acquisition efforts. The article was pegged to Glossier’s partnership with Bark, in which the beauty brand created dog toys inspired by its best-selling products (Toy Brow and Balm Dogcom). While acquisition can be a benefit of collaboration, it shouldn’t be the only measure of success, and partnerships can often be more interesting when customer acquisition isn’t the primary goal.

Tell Me A Story

As with most of what Glossier does, the Glossier x Bark partnership stemmed from the brand listening to and observing customers. People were bringing their dogs to Glossier showrooms and posting pictures with dogs and Glossier products on Instagram. As a means of acknowledging and rewarding this behavior, Glossier created products that further encourage it.

Bark already had the infrastructure to produce custom dog toys, and it lends credibility to the endeavor. Glossier, for its part, is merely giving its customers what they want. Bark may gain new customers (though if product was exclusive to Glossier showrooms, those customers can be harder to track), but Glossier is the brand that benefits most from the partnership.

There are barriers to entry here: you need to own a dog, you need to be near one of the few stores stocking the toys, you need to be engaged enough to want to own a limited edition dog toy. None of these render the partnership any less effective, though. In fact, those limitations, and the story behind the products, make it even stronger.

Ease Into It

For larger, more complex brands, partnerships can serve as a testing ground for new products and price points. In 2018, CB2 partnered with Goop to create a series of elevated, modern-romantic furniture.

A white shearling swivel chair named after Gwyneth herself was the collection’s pièce de résistance, and sold out despite its $3,299.00 price tag. After the collaboration had sold through, CB2 continued to produce the Gwyneth silhouette in less precious and more affordable fabrics. For CB2, the partnership was a means of testing new designs (as well as price resistance); for Goop, it was a way to create products in a new category and claim space in people’s homes.

Credibility Is A Two-Way Street

In the last year or so, Madewell has ramped up its collaboration efforts in a really smart way. Its partnerships are driven by either exclusivity or discovery. In the realm of exclusivity, it’s teamed up with Veja, Vans, Outdoor Voices, and Lively to produce already-popular silhouettes in custom colorways, and somtimes to test new silhouettes altogether (like this Outdoor Voices scrunchie).

Regarding discovery, Madewell has used its platform as a mainstream brand with national reach to elevate smaller, local, lesser-known names. Its partnership with As Ever sold out within a matter of days, and it launched cobranded products with Los Angeles-based Christy Dawn.

What I find most exciting, though, is Madewell’s Hometown Heroes Collective, which brings product from small labels into its stores and onto its site. It positions Madewell as a platform for discovery and builds Madewell’s credibility as a tapped-in tastemaker.

Sweetgreen, too, has explored partnerships with smaller brands. It sold custom-label bottles of Brightland’s Alive olive oil and more recently created plant-based dog treats with Wild One. In both instances, Sweetgreen has been able to boost its credibility within the food space while also elevating likeminded brands whose platforms and audiences are smaller than Sweetgreen’s.

While those Sweetgreen collaborations may not have garnered a flood of press coverage, they were extremely effective in illustrating brand values. And for fans whose personal values align with those of the brand, these partnerships feel personal.

In the same way that brands with a specific audience can build vibrant and likeminded communities, partnerships can reinforce brand identity and bolster brand affinity. Working with a national brand can offer unmatched exposure, but it almost always dilutes exactly what it is that makes a brand special.

The most successful and additive partnerships, thus, are guided by stories. They’re small, seeking to reward a subset of an existing audience, rather than appeal to everyone or attract those outside of the brand’s existing sphere. And, if done well, they may even attract new customers.

Still Hungry?
  • Away has introduced collaborative products with big-name people and brands, like Dwayne Wade and Star Wars. While most co-branded products are little more than exclusive colorways, some, like the Dwayne Wade’s matte black aluminum luggage, appear to have been used to test interest in future products. Soon after the Wade partnership, for example, Away launched a rose gold aluminum case.


Real Dip ⛈

Inspired by Julia Sherman’s watercress romesco.

Put two giant handfuls of watercress (or basil or spinach or arugula), juice from half a lemon, a clove of garlic, two big pinches of salt, and a handful of almonds in a food processor. Get it going, and drizzle in a half-cup of olive oil followed by splashes of water, until everything comes together.

Plays well in grain bowls, with rotisserie chicken, and peak-season tomatoes (we’re still living it!).

Thanks for snacking,

— Emily ⛽