Express’ latest product design collaboration, with model and influencer Rocky Barnes and launching on May 3, is the latest in a string of partnerships the brand has been involved in. It comes in a few months after a collaboration with influencer Olivia Culpo.
But according to Patrice Croci, vp of brand and performance marketing at Express, each of these collaborations serves their own purpose: giving Express access to different segments of their core audience.
“Both influencer collections [with Culpo and Barnes] were announced to their follower base through Instagram first so that we could really lean into their personal audiences,” said Croci. “They each have strong digital followings [1.6 million on Instagram for Barnes, and 3.9 million for Culpo]. Our partnerships are constantly evolving. They need to keep up with how our customers are changing.”
The Olivia Culpo collaboration garnered more than 38 billion impressions online. Currently, Express is focused on balancing between frequent one-off collaborations of a single collection and long-term collaborations. The latter has included multiyear partnerships with Karlie Kloss and the NBA.
“It’s a balance for us because there are benefits to both [types],” Croci said, noting the consistency that comes with long-term collaborations and the novelty of short-term versions. “We kicked off [short-term collabs] with Olivia in January. We know, in this day and age, we can’t be the only people talking about our brand.”
A high frequency of collaborations is not always the best move, however. Experimenting with lots of different collaborators can bear fruit, but every partnership also carries risk for both parties involved.
“For example, if you are an indie artist and you partner with a huge brand, you could be seen as selling out and lose some of your credibility with your core audience,” said Vic Drabicky, January Digital founder and CEO. “But if you are the brand, the risk tends to be less about brand dilution and more about financial risk — the risk is more in line with a collection flopping or something of that nature.”
The Rocky Barnes collaboration is still in its early phase. Express promoted the collab with appearances from Barnes at Coachella, where she did meet-and-greets, took part in a fireside chat and offered previews of the collection ahead of its launch. Barnes had never designed her own collections before, which was part of the appeal Express’ partnership held for her, according to the brand.
Express’ intent on using partnerships to connect with its audience comes at a crucial time for the brand. In the fourth quarter of last year, Express’ sales fell by 10%, continuing a trend of diminished revenue and internal shake-ups, including the abrupt exit of CEO David Kornberg in January.
Croci said the newly revamped partnership strategy is part of its plan to create “multiple layers of influence,” from the big celebrity brand ambassadors and collaborators, all the way down to micro-influencers and customers-as-influencers. As Express faces significant challenges on a financial level, Croci said that partnerships provide a way to re-engage customers who have lapsed while bringing in new customers, as well.