In the two decades or so that I have been executing partnerships between brands, I can tell you that the key ingredients to success are:
- Don’t rule out the impossible.
- Be disruptive and bold while being incredibly respectful of heritage.
- Make it mutually beneficial for both parties
Let’s break down each one of these individually.
Don’t rule out the impossible.
I’m going to tell you a story about a branded partnership we did back in 2010 that, to anyone on the outside of our idea-circle, was a little too disruptive, and questioned whether the brand alignment was really there.
In 2003, my firm Axcess Worldwide was fortunate to represent Graff Diamonds as a client—and we have since worked with them for over a decade. For those that don’t know, Graff Diamonds was founded by Lawrence Graff in 1960 in a single London store, and today is recognized as the home of the most fabulous jewels in the world. To have a Graff diamond is to possess one of the highest items of luxury. Their treasures range from century-old stones rich in myth, magic and intrigue, to newly discovered gems that have been sourced, polished, and brought to life in the modern era.
Needless to say, we had our work cut out for ourselves (pun intended).
The aim of our working together was simple: come up with partnerships that would accomplish two seemingly contradictory goals: emphasize the elegance and stature of the Graff brand, while simultaneously being disruptive and bold enough to differentiate the company from any and all “lesser” jewelers, and to measurably sell product.
So what did we do?
We partnered with Beats by Dr. Dre to create a diamond encrusted pair of headphones valued at $1M, which was accidentally unveiled during Madonna’s halftime show at Super Bowl XLVI.
When we originally came up with the idea for the diamond encrusted headphones, just about everyone said we were crazy. In fact, the whole thing started by accident—almost as a joke—when I introduced Omar Johnson, the CMO of Beats and one of the world’s great creative marketers, to Henri Barguirdjian, one of the world’s authorities on jewels and then-president of Graff North America. We were in a limousine on the way to the SAG red carpet. I said, “Henri, meet Omar, we’re going to do a Graff-Beats headset,” and they laughed. But later that night, Omar and Henri formed a special friendship that inspired (and actually created) the headset less than a year later.
Be disruptive and bold (while knowing the boundaries of context).
People misconstrue being disruptive with being creative, and vice versa.
Brands can be very disruptive without being creative. There’s not a whole lot of benefit there. Disruption for disruption’s sake tends to just be unnecessary noise. Conversely, brands can be extremely creative without being disruptive, which is the same problem just reversed. They are too quiet, and their brilliant work goes unnoticed.
The key is to be both creative and disruptive. Not only loud, but impactful.
Part of being bold, however, means taking chances on unconventional ideas. A diamond-studded pair of headphones, for example.
This is what you have to remember about business partnerships, and most especially being bold.
Context is everything.
Make it mutually beneficial for both parties.
The flip-side of every creative partnership is the business element, and ensuring that the collaboration is mutually beneficial for both parties.
On the surface, these two brands appeared to have little in common. Beats was a lifestyle brand mostly for mass consumers, and Graff was a product for the few with a market niche that catered to ultra-high net worth individuals.
The reason we felt this made sense was because both Graff and Beats had credibility in growth markets for the other. For Graff, Beats represented a partner that could help provide access to potential customers in the sports, entertainment, and urban markets. For Beats, the partnership with Graff was the foundation for entry into the ultra-luxury market.
Today, years after the Beats by Dr. Dre Graff headphones were first introduced, the partnership has succeeded in opening new markets for each company and measurably growing their business.
It was, to put it bluntly, once again a partnership that garnered millions of dollars in exposure and measurable sales.