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Collaboration and Unexpected Matchups 2 of Panel
Retail Trends

Finding the Perfect Fit in Creative Brand Partnerships

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This article was published in the 2016 edition of STORES Magazine’s Show Dailies.

In a Retails BIG Show session replete with references to love, marriage and open-ended possibility, representatives from HSN Inc. and Gap Inc. shared their secrets to mutually beneficial brand relationships.

“Collaboration and Unexpected Matchups,” moderated by Bob Thacker, executive director of, featured Sean Bunner, VP of new business development with HSN, and Tricia Nichols, global lead of consumer engagements and partnerships for Gap.

The panelists spoke of fresh and creative partnerships, reaching customers in new ways while still achieving a return on investment.

HSN recently partnered with Ford, helping extend the trust it had already established with its largely female customer base to the automaker. In speaking with customers, Bunner said, women regularly say that buying a car is one of the life experiences they hate the most. But since those customers often consider HSN hosts to be like friends or extended family, the hosts could guide them through the process as trusted advisors.

The initiative included multiple touchpoints for consumers, including original content, product placement, dedicated experiences, games and digital integration, all culminating with three hours of dedicated programming. Of course, there was a preferred price for HSN customers to sweeten the deal.

“We were able, first of all, to get them to the party,” Bunner said. Two-thirds of HSN customers were aware of the Ford event and 70 percent of those tuned in. Beyond that, “inspiring” and “innovative” were two words they used to describe it afterwards. Seven in 10 indicated an intent to purchase a car in the future.

Nichols, meanwhile, told of a partnership between Gap and Virgin Hotels. Leveraging Gap’s reserve in-store technology, visitors to the Chicago Virgin hotel can now shop the retailer’s catalog online and have items brought to their rooms within hours, with purchases added to their hotel bills.

Tricia Nichols, global lead of consumer engagements and partnerships for Gap

Tricia Nichols, Gap’s global lead of consumer engagements and partnerships, on stage at Retail’s BIG Show.

Gap and Virgin, Nichols said, were like-minded brands to begin with, each taking cues from music, art and culture. Gap provided denim for Virgin employees, and the shared “brand love” inspired new ways to connect.

“We do as you do,” she said. “We got brand married. We exchanged assets.”

Gap, which provides product to influencers for “” promotions, did the same with Virgin for another shared connection; for the first time, Nichols said, the influencer was a brand rather than an individual.

“For us, it’s been a really interesting partnership. We’re testing things that hadn’t been done,” she said. “Another great thing about these partnerships is that you don’t know where they will go. The consumers will tell you. … Then you can be somewhat nimble and react to consumer behavior and adapt to it.”

It would be easy to learn about examples like Ford and HSN or Virgin and Gap, and believe such partnerships would only be possible between large brands and/or retailers. Nichols, however, notes that big/little “reverse mentorship” can also be highly beneficial. Regardless of size, there should be a point where the collaboration is able to delight customers in unexpected ways. The value proposition should be clear for all sides, as should the roles each party will play.

And one more thing on the road to happily ever after: Seeking brand partnerships is a lot like finding true love. Sometimes, Nichols said, you’ve got to look outside your own category, keep an open mind and remember some things are meant to be long-term — and others aren’t.



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