For a number of savvy brands, developing collaborations with artists has become a vital way to ensure consumers see their products with fresh eyes. Art collaborations are often seen as a way of building relationships with audiences that may be hard to connect with. Yet for that to happen, brands of all kinds need to start seeing their target audiences no longer as consumers, but as their partners. Anna Sinofzik, the editor and co-author of Taken by Surprise: Cutting Edge Collaborations Between Designers, Artists and Brands, makes the following argument about the impact of art collaborations when done right: “Target audiences become brand ambassadors, customers become collaborators and consumption becomes an experience.”
Not surprisingly, such multi-faceted relationships can only blossom under specific circumstances. As audiences pick out their brands of choice, and likewise, brands pick out their audiences, both must engage in each other’s vision with the mutual respect required to develop authentic and desirable products that are relevant and beneficial to both. (We can’t help but think of the New York-based street brand Supreme, whose products are a win-win thanks to their collaborations solely with artists revered by its devotees.)
While art collaborations are about building broader and deeper kinds of relationships with customers, the same can be said about partnerships with artists. Ultimately, brands must cultivate trust with their collaborators—the designers, artists, photographers, creative directors, stylists, writers and all other essential creative professionals—so they may contribute to the common goal of any artist/brand collaboration: to create unique products that generate positive talk-value, benefit both the artist and brand and positively contribute to society.
Deliberately or not, most brands are prone to classify their audiences a bit too broadly, assuming they have to appeal to the masses to achieve explosive growth. While expanding a target audience has the potential to increase profits, it also runs the risk of diluting or weakening the products, and with them, the bottom line. But we believe there’s a way to avoid this catch 22 of brand stewardship and accomplish the growth every business owner dreams of – by doing just the opposite.
Canada Goose. The company started as a family-run business in the late 1950’s manufacturing heavy-duty utilitarian winter outwear for the Canadian Rangers and those working in and around the Arctic Circle. Forty years later, Canada Goose emerged onto the global fashion scene and became renowned for its high-end duck down-filled parkas, recognizable for their Coyote fur-lined hoods and distinctive “Made in Canada” logo patches displayed proudly on every sleeve.
It took the founder’s grandson Dani Reiss, an aspiring writer, to step in and slightly re-write the brand’s original narrative. The parkas were already liked for their functional, utilitarian and northern characteristics among those on arctic expeditions and in Nordic communities. Promoting the parkas to film crews working in cold environments was an out-of-the-box, yet natural idea. Canada Goose became known in those tight-knit, trend-setting circles as the “the” coat to have on set. Dani, however, wanted the parkas in the front of the cameras as well as behind them.
Fast forward to the early 2000’s. The Scandinavian fashion scene had now been taken by storm by Canada Goose, while Hollywood and other international celebrities had begun to follow the lead of the crews behind the cameras. Canada Goose parkas were now being seen on and off screen, and on the streets north and south. Worn by Daniel Craig in the James Bond movie “Spectre” and by Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea” the parkas were now, officially, a global sensation. To add fuel to the fire, Canada Goose began to engage in numerous art and brand collaborations. Whether joining forces on highly-stylized collections with the prestigious, French avant-garde fashion house Vetements, or working in collaboration with the digital artist Eepmon, Canada Goose was becoming the parka of choice, or perhaps more importantly, of status.
All of a sudden, the parka’s lofty price tag was no longer seen as barrier, but as a mark of craftsmanship and class. By narrowing its focus on a small but influential group, Canada Goose ultimately became desirable by the widespread many.
“Want to expand your business? You should narrow your focus,” are the wise words of Al Ries, author of the business classic “Positioning”. Perhaps it’s time more brands begin taking note and in turn, taking this proven wisdom to heart.