Call it the Virgil Abloh effect.

Brands are increasingly looking to collaborations to reach new audiences, create buzz and drive immediate sales. Despite rumblings that the popular tactic will eventually result in consumer fatigue, the trend is set to continue throughout 2019.

In a recent survey of 149 fashion and beauty brand executives from Glossy+’s proprietary research panel of industry insiders, 38 percent said the brands they work for (59 percent identified as being from a beauty or wellness brand, and 41 percent were from a fashion brand) see collaborations as their greatest marketing opportunity this year. Coming in at a distant second was pop-ups, chosen by 19 percent of respondents, followed by events, chosen by 14 percent.

Though buzzy, collaborations are not always successful; attempts to get in front of new shoppers can turn off core customers, warned Vic Drabicky, founder and CEO of marketing agency and brand consultancy January Digital. “The risk is everyone doing collaborations with everyone, regardless of it being a good fit or not, just so the brand can check the box to say they did one,” he said. “Consumers don’t want to see a brand do a collaboration with [a brand] that doesn’t have the proper clout or doesn’t align with the overall brand image or purpose. When that happens, consumers can sniff it out immediately, and the chance of success is very low.”

For a strong collaboration, the secret is authenticity, he said, by opting for partners that add value both for the core customer base and to the brand story.

Karen Walker, designer and founder of her 30-year-old namesake fashion brand, agreed. Walker has made a habit out of doing four collaborations a year. This year, she’s upping that number to five, and she’s already planning a collab set to launch in 2020. “We work collaboratively because it allows us to extend the fields in which we’re able to work and the stories that we’re able to tell,” she said.

She added that, for any collaboration, the included brands should bring something unique to the table, and the resulting collection should be fresh, surprising and fun for the consumer.  

While “brand x brand” typically comes to mind at the mention of a collaboration, brands are more often looking to influencers as creative partners, in a range of capacities, when concepting collections: In 2018, Nordstrom private label Halogen teamed with influencer Blair Eadie, makeup brand Morphe released a collection with YouTuber James Charles, Bloomingdale’s tapped Happily Grey blogger Mary Lawless Lee for an Aqua brand capsule collection, and the list goes on. 

It’s a common belief that influencer marketing is another bubble set to burst, but influencer-brand relations are set to ramp up this year, according to Glossy research. Fifty-five percent of fashion and beauty executives surveyed said their affiliated brands’ influencer budgets will increase this year; only 3 percent said their companies will pull back on influencer spend.

Mirroring Drabicky’s and Walker’s takes on brand collaborations, Reshma Chamberlin, co-founder and chief brand and digital officer of swimwear brand Summersalt, launched in 2017, called brand and audience alignment crucial to influencer partnerships. “The best influencer partnerships work when the relationship feels organic, even if it is a paid partnership,” she said. “The best-paid partnerships are when the influencer would have used the product anyway or genuinely loves the brand, and she really thinks about what her audience wants from her content.”

Chamberlin said that, while Summersalt’s quantitative use of influencer marketing has remained relatively unchanged, it’s actively updated its interactions with influencers, based on everything from influencer and technology trends to social and political ecosystems. “The concepts we innovate on with [influencers], the platforms we use, the messaging, the ideas — they’re constantly evolving.”

Drabicky said, moving forward, fashion and beauty brands across the board will be forced to fine-tune their influencer strategies to make them worthwhile. “We will see a bit of a correction, with the dying out of influencers who tend to be based more on follower count than on adding authority, authenticity or creativity to their partnerships,” he said. “And brands that aren’t putting in the effort to make the most of their influencer relationships will begin to see their results diminish.”

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