Excerpts from this interview originally appeared in Glossy
In SMPL Q+A, we interview Siegel+Gale practitioners on all things relevant to branding, design, and simplicity. Here, we speak with New York-based Leesa Wytock, Group Director, Experience. In the wake of fashion designer Christian Siriano’s recent partnership with retailer J. Jill, Leesa explores the many dimensions of a thriving long-term brand partnership.
What do brands need to think about before aligning with someone on a partnership?
Consumers have arguably never been so engaged with how brands show up every day. Moreover, emerging generations have never been more critical of the role a brand assumes in our lives. They don’t want you to overstep, and they want a brand that aligns with their values. As a result, brands need to carefully select what partnerships can help them expand without contracting their current loyal members. A part of this is listening to customers, soliciting feedback to help understand their preferences and needs.
How can working with a big celebrity designer elevate the J Jill brand?
Working with celebrities to elevate a fashion brands exposure has become increasingly popular in recent years. H&M were among the first to experiment with this with their partnership with Karl Lagerfeld in 2004. The average, loyal J. Jill customer doesn’t go to their store for high fashion, so partnering with a celebrity designer enables them to offer something new, fresh and exciting to customers. A celebrity partnership for J. Jill will inevitably create a buzz and may help them generate awareness among a new customer base. But this all depends on the celebrity designer. Loyal J. Jill customers aren’t looking for flash and trend. They’re looking for solid, comfortable clothes that make them feel good and fit within their lifestyle. Depending on the designer, are they looking to shift perception to a younger audience, or are they looking to add a unique element to their current offering—a capsule collection, if you will.
What are the benefits of doing a one-time collection/partnership, versus something more long term?
Fashion brands at the top of their game are committed to evolving and in many cases, experimenting. A one-time collection enables fashion brands to test their market and also creates a buzz among customers and in an ideal scenario, boost sales for both brands involved. The best brand partnerships leverage each brands strengths to build a new fresh experience that didn’t exist before. This also follows the nature of the fashion beast. Fashion is fleeting and changes every season, so the short experimental approach is vital to learn, thrive and push trends.
What causes partnerships like these to not take off?
Simple—not knowing or listening to their customers and straying from their core promise. Let’s consider when Target and Neiman Marcus partnered in 2012 on a holiday collection. The collection flopped and led Target to slash prices by 50-70 percent in order to shed inventory. The reason being that many of their customers were not willing to spend premium prices on designers goods, even if they were marketed as “affordable.” This example shows that the average Target customer base is not looking to pay more for an upscale product. That feels like the equivalent of going to Victoria’s Secret for professional wear.
What tends to be the best way to promote brand partnerships, in your opinion, or does it depend on the brand?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach for the successful promotion of a brand partnership, and that’s the point. There are some general best practices to follow, such as generating a buzz in advance and ensuring your e-commerce/ stores can handle the increased demand. Having a clear, compelling story about what this brand partnership means and why it matters is an essential foundation. Then it’s about reaching your audience where they are in interesting and surprising ways—looking for ways where your current and new audiences overlap and bringing the partnership to life in surprising, yet relevant ways.