Brand Surgery with Dr Neri Karra

Collaborations - A Match Made in Heaven

“In the history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed” Charles Darwin 

With the recent changes in the economic environment, we have seen an increase in luxury collaboration. While the reason for some could be to seek cost-effective marketing solutions, there are also those brands that are driven by rarity, uniqueness, and excitement that such partnership may provide.

Whatever the reason, such collaborations may sometimes do more damage than good. What are the rules when it comes to the right partnership? Based on my own experience of consulting luxury brands and fashion designers, and my research for the last seven years, here are some of the do’s and don’ts of luxury brand collaborations, what makes them work and what doesn’t.

The Rules of Engagement

The Balance: One of the best collaborations I have seen are those that have balance of power. This does not mean that two large brands should collaborate in order to create a successful alliance. On the contrary, a successful collaboration may sometimes happen between two unexpected parties. In other words, a brand strong in one category or perhaps in a complete different industry could balance the other. One such collaboration we have seen very recently is between the great British scent guru Roja Dove who designed the first ever perfume for the V&A, to coincide with the exhibition 'Digahliev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes' (from 26 September).

The Story: In order for the partnership to work and be understood by the consumers, the collaboration and the story of how ‘the two’ got together has to be compelling. Not ever story is going to be moving and detailed, of course, but the more real and romantic it is, the more the consumer is likely to remember and be moved by that collaboration. One such example is the collaboration between Swarovski and young British designers. This sits well with the company’s heritage of being open and nurturing to young talent. The results have been both commercial and creative success for all parties involved.

Wants and Needs: In order for a successful collaboration to work, it is important for partners to agree on their objectives. In my research and experience, I have observed that it is essential that each party has thought what they want to achieve as a result of this alliance, and shared it with each other. Is the aim to achieve extra market share, gain new clientele, raise profile – or a combination? After the objectives are clear, then it is vital that each partner assesses the other well. What if the designer you collaborated with gets involved in a scandal? Of course, one cannot predict such things from the outset of the partnership, but can at least spend time gathering information from all sources possible. Therefore, this brings us to the next point, that it is always wise to test the waters first and take baby steps in the beginning of the partnership.

Have fun. So far, I have given a very structured and almost gloomy list of advice on what makes a true and successful partnership. In addition to commercial success, I believe the most successful luxury brand collaboration who remember to have fun, and to cultivate the element of fun and surprise into their offering. From Stella McCartney and Adidas to Jimmy Choo and Hunter, from Breitling and Bentley to Hussein Chalayan and Puma, it is all about delighting the customer in the end. I believe one cannot create wonders unless they have fun and enjoy the process.

Dr Neri Karra is Director for MA Luxury Brand Management.