In today’s competitive environment, brands seem to have fewer friends than foes. Companies are constantly fighting for consumers’ attention and may find themselves pitted against organizations they didn’t consider direct competitors in the past.
But that doesn’t mean that brands can’t ever play on the same team. On the contrary, Ella Tay, director of brand marketing and partnerships for modern furniture and home décor brand West Elm, says brand partnerships can actually help marketers amplify their awareness and marketing efforts, as well as scale their reach.
“I think brand partnerships are a way to draw in a different crowd,” she said during a “Behind the Creative Curtain” session held by LMHQ, a nonprofit collaboration space for creatives in lower Manhattan.
Tay would know. West Elm has partnered with a slew of companies—both big and small. In 2013, it launched West Elm LOCAL—a program in which the brand works with local businesses to sell their products in its regional stores and online. It’s also partnered with large nonprofits and B2C brands, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Airbnb, Sherwin-Williams, and Whole Foods Market.
“The best of the best partnerships are complicated,” Tay said.
Authenticity also requires considering partners’ pain points. For example, Mullen said that many small businesses find it difficult to partner with large retailers because their brand stories aren’t told well. West Elm has tried to address this problem by telling stories about its local makers, such as through its signage, product pages, and video content.
“We really try to [tell their stories] across all channels,” Mullen said.
Of course, part of forming authentic partnerships is knowing when one isn’t a good fit. Tay said that West Elm had been trying to partner with J.Crew for a while. But when it became apparent that the fashion retailer was more interested in paper goods, they decided to not work together.
As in any relationship, the chemistry can’t be forced and marketers are better off waiting until the right one comes along.