Brand partnerships as strategic tools

This past year, especially this Spring, has seen a flourish of such collaborations. A trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic as brands need to navigate an increasingly complex landscape and be more innovative than ever to remain competitive.

Marks & Spencer is a good example of a business for which brand collaborations are at the heart of its strategy. A few years ago, the own brand heritage retailer embarked on a transformation programme to deliver long-term, sustainable, profitable growth. In early 2020, it launched the ‘never the same again’ programme to draw on learnings from the pandemic and drive the acceleration of its transformation plan in a changed consumer environment.

September 2021 marked the beginning of the transformational partnership between M&S and Ocado as M&S Food and a selection of clothing basics successfully launched on the Ocado platform. The partnership brought together a wealth of M&S products with Ocado’s award winning online service. Over 750 new M&S food products were created for the launch to offer customers a bigger, better range at the same or even better value.

As part of its ‘Brands at M&S’ initiative and its quest to become ‘more relevant, more often’ to its customers and to form deeper relationships with them, the retailer now sells over 35 ‘guest’ brands on its website, ranging from Nobody’s Child to Seasalt Cornwall and have been purchased by 1.2 million shoppers. M&S operates a range of models including exclusive collaborations and brands they own such as Jaeger. As Richard Price, M&S’ Managing Director for Clothing, Home & Beauty, explained: Our complementary brand partnerships vary from filling “gaps” in our product offer (such as Early Learning Centre and WatchShop) to price stretch products (such as Jigsaw) – it’s a mixture of brands our customers shop and something new – but all with the benefits of shopping with M&S”. In return, M&S offers third-party brands access to a broad customer base of 22m people.

In February, M&S announced the launch of its new collaboration with Clinique. 500 Clinique products are now available in 74 M&S stores and online. The tie-up is part of a strategic focus on skincare. Richard Price said: A compelling beauty offer is part of our plans to reshape M&S – innovating with our own brands and continuing to introduce complementary third-party products such as skincare experts Clinique.

After testing selling products online, the retailer also announced in March that it would open Early Learning Centre toy shops in 10 stores in a bid to become ‘more relevant’ to families as it ramped up its third-party brand strategy. According to Neil Harrison, Director of Brands, “by bringing the Early Learning Centre brand – with fun and interactive experiences – to our stores, we’re able to give our 22 million customers more reasons to shop with us.”

Collaborating with other brands is also a way to open new routes to market for the retailer. In January, it extended its convenience partnership with BP until 2030. This came as the convenience sector continues to grow further to changing consumer demands, with more customers 'topping up' at convenience stores. M&S Food is now available at almost 300 BP-operated retail sites across the country. And in March, the retailer joined forces with Costa Coffee to start offering 33 breakfast and lunch items in more than 2,500 shops belonging to the coffeehouse chain.

In addition, partnerships can substantiate M&S’s sustainability credentials whilst diversifying its offering and answering changing customer expectations. In April, it announced that it would continue its partnership with Hirestreet, the UK’s leading rental website, following an overwhelmingly positive reaction from customers. Since it launched that service in November 2021,

M&S has worked with Hirestreet to test and learn clothing rental behaviours. Underpinning the collaboration is M&S’ commitment to building a sustainable future. Customers’ growing sustainability concerns is a key factor in the rental market’s growth and according to ‘The M&S Family Matters Index Report’, over a third of consumers now consider the climate crisis when purchasing clothes.

In a similar vein, in April, Boohoo-owned Oasis also launched its first clothing rental collection with Hirestreet. As a brand, we are excited to broaden the opportunities for our customers to make more considered choices when shopping, said Oasis’ Managing Director Jane Eskriett. One month later, John Lewis announced the launch of its children's clothing rental platform in partnership with The Little Loop. A range of John Lewis's baby and childrenswear became available to rent online as part of The Little Loop's sustainable shared wardrobe for kids, aiming to help reduce clothing waste. The longer the rental life of a garment, the more revenue John Lewis will receive for it, making it a partnership which rewards brands based on durability. In June, a collaboration between Mulberry and rental platform Hurr made it possible for users to rent Mulberry products for up to 20 days, allowing the items to be reused for special occasions and everyday use, and offering customers another responsible and mindful way to experience Mulberry. The partnership builds on Mulberry’s sustainability commitments outlined in its ‘Made to Last manifesto’ published in April 2021, which includes the luxury brand’s pledge to become a fully regenerative and circular business by 2030.

Earlier this month, M&S appointed a new Managing Director for Food. Could this trigger future collaborations for the retailer in that sector too?

M&S is however far from being the only business entering into partnerships with other brands. Another trend we’ve seen developing is co-branded products within the retail industry.


Take Adidas. A series of collaborations and partnerships are setting the brand up to follow through on its digital and direct-to-consumer (D2C) growth ambitions, meeting consumers where they are instead of waiting for them to find it.

Earlier this month, adidas Original collaborated with global watchmaker Timex Group on a TIME FOR ME collection. adidas Originals Timepieces bring together Timex Groups’ watchmaking design expertise and adidas originals’ street culture inspiration and attention to sustainability. Last November, adidas partnered with Peloton and Beyonce’s IVY PARK brand to offer their first collaborative capsule collection of clothing and footwear, and declared that the collaboration was a celebration of the joining of music, sport and fashionand purposefully crafted to empower everyone in their fitness journey.” In October 2021, the sportswear giant unveiled a limited-edition sneaker in collaboration with Xbox to celebrate the gaming console’s twentieth anniversary. In March, it launched a limited-edition range together with Arsenal, in collaboration with Stella McCartney. In May, it revealed that it had collaborated with Balenciaga on a clothing and footwear collection. The brand has also launched co-branded products in collaboration with the likes of designer brands Gucci and Marimekko.

Also within that sector, NIKEs ‘Sneaker collaboration’ as a unique marketing tool has been a significant part of the sneaker brand heat strategy in recent years. This year alone, the multinational has so far collaborated with the likes of Hello Kitty, Supreme, Jacquemus, Off-White and ACRONYM to launch co-branded sneakers to create an emotional connection with its audience and increase brand awareness.


May was a busy month. Unilever’s Magnum collaborated with Nails.INC to launch a line of six chocolate-scented nail polishes inspired by the new Magnum ice cream Duet Bars. Amongst others, fans were invited at pop-ups in three major US cities to create their own #MagnumMoments.

Unilever is always looking to release innovative products and said: We’re excited to give chocolate lovers another way to express themselves, inspired by our iconic Belgian chocolate and designed with everyone in mind”.

Weetabix launched HFSS-compliant cereal in partnership with Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Gareth Turner, Head of Marketing at Weetabix, said: Brand partnerships are on the rise with shoppers seeking authentic flavours and new experiences. So, it’s the perfect time to bring two huge British kitchen cupboard staples together to launch this new cereal.”

Brewdog teamed up with confectionery brand Candy Kittens to bring to market a new beer with the fruity flavour of Candy Kitten’s Raspberry & Guava Gourmies sweets. Jamie Laing, Candy Kittens’s

Co-Founder, said: It was great to unite with a brand that shares our sustainability goals, and we can’t wait for everyone to try our new Candy Kittens BrewDog beer.”

And only last week, Harrods announced a partnership with Huda Beauty in its first-ever beauty collaboration, inviting shoppers to enjoy makeup-inspired sweet treats. The limited-edition patisseries collection will be called Huda Beauty x Harrods and marks the launch of Huda Beauty’s #FauxFilter Luminous Matte Concealer. With every purchase, customers will also receive a very special gift to redeem a full-sized WISHFUL Honey Whip Moisturiser from the Huda Beauty counter in the luxury department store.


Launched in April, the George X Netflix collaboration offers a range of fashion and lifestyle products based on the streaming service’s original series. This was part of ASDA’s strategy to continue to move into stocking more branded products to appeal to a wider audience. Scott Macrae, Senior Buying Manager at George, said: We know that George is an important destination for customers looking to buy licensed product and Netflix has a broad range of properties that appeal to all the family.

This spring, Hasbro teamed up with Creative Kids to launch a range of new Play-Doh products to offer new creative play experiences, which involved a close collaboration between both Creative Kids’ and Hasbro’s product development and marketing teams. In April, it sealed a worldwide partnership with BBC Studios for co-branded classic games and Play-Doh inspired by Ludo Studio’s Emmy award-winning animated sensation Bluey. Kim Boyd, Head of Global Brands & Consumer Innovation at Hasbro said: We feel that the Bluey team shares our mission of making the world a better place for all children, fans and families by helping them create memories that last a lifetime and inspire fans to dream big and imagine new possibilities.” Last year, the toy manufacturer also partnered with Regatta Great Outdoors to launch a new collection of Peppa Pig outerwear and leisure accessories to encourage kids to be ‘Adventure Ready’ and explore the great outdoors.

As all these examples illustrate, brand collaborations can present a wealth of opportunities. They can help address new challenges such as the rising cost of living or changing consumer needs, or even to reinvent themselves. Here are a few examples:

In May, Asda announced that it had signed a deal with digital credit card provider Jaja in conjunction with Visa to provide digital, reward-led credit cards to its customers, offering them good value credit alongside exceptional rewards at a time when households need it the most.” Also in May, The Post Office teamed up with British Gas to offer direct help to those struggling to pay energy bills amid the cost-of-living crisis. Jessica Taplin, Chief Executive at British Gas Energy Trust said: “Partnering with Post Office will help provide a lifeline to those communities we know are really struggling.” Earlier this month, Octopus Energy joined forces with housebuilder Ilke Homes to develop a renewable scheme that aims to guarantee home buyers no energy bills. Octopus Chief Executive Greg Jackson said that the renewable scheme could transform the UK energy market, just as families struggle with soaring energy costs.

In June, Muller’s doorstep delivery service Milk & More teamed up with zero-waste online supermarket Good Club to create a new partnership offering its customers a range of groceries in reusable boxes and pots. The move was said to be part of a push by Milk & More to “further expand” its zero-waste packaging grocery lines. Milk & More CEO Patrick Müller said: This is a complete zero-waste packaging solution – there is no supply chain waste, and stock is delivered in repurposed crates.

SPAR has just announced a new partnership with Deliveroo. According to the retailer, this will provide shoppers with more choice and access to essential items from SPAR stores nationwide, delivered to their door by Deliveroo in as little as 20 minutes’. This new collaboration gives SPAR the opportunity to meet rising consumer demand for on-demand delivery. In March, WHSmith also partnered with Deliveroo to deliver 600 of its products to customers in 20 minutes. Sean Toal, managing director at WHSmith High Street, said: We’re always exploring new ways to delight our customers both in-store and online by providing them with an exceptional shopping experience. This trial will complement our existing offer and enable our customers to receive the products that they want and need from us as fast as possible from their local store direct to their door.For Deliveroo, this marked the first significant step into delivering general merchandise. In May, Tesco announced that it had struck a deal with Uber to expand its grocery delivery service, also showing its keenness to cash in on the demand for rapid delivery which grew during the pandemic. Alex Troughton from Uber Eats UK said: "It's clear that the needs of businesses and consumers have been rapidly evolving in recent years and that trend is accelerating. This exciting new partnership will harness the best of Uber's technology to power superfast Tesco deliveries across the UK."

In March, Bestway struck a deal with Iceland to supply Co-op own label into its Swift convenience stores which resembles Bestway’s relationship with Costcutter, in which supply of the range is conducted through Nisa. The initiative came as Iceland looked to shift its focus from its core supermarket estate. A Bestway spokesperson said: “This is a strong, collaborative supply agreement and we are pleased to be offering our convenience expertise and guidance in respect of the range, layout, and location.” In March, Honda and Sony formed a company as part of a joint venture, combining their expertise to build electric cars and giving them a competitive advantage.

The companies hope the joint venture will put them at the forefront of “innovation, evolution and expansion of mobility around the world”.

 To others, partnerships can offer a lifeline. Taking collaboration to the next level, Next and GAP agreed in September to form a joint venture for the US retailer to sell clothes using Next's online platform and operate Gap-branded "shop-in-shops" at selected locations. Customers are also offered click-and-collect options. Gap said the deal would allow it to operate in a ‘more efficient partner model’ and benefit from the digital expertise of Next. Next had previously struck a similar joint venture deal with Victoria's Secret to run the US lingerie firm's UK business. This could be calculated moves from Next to make the most of the shift to online sales due to the pandemic.

Brands have got to navigate an increasingly competitive and unpredictable environment, and an effective way for them to adapt and to grow is to forge relationships between themselves by creating synergies based on each partner’s expertise. This is also a great way for them to gain competitive advantage and to quickly respond to changing customer behaviours and expectations. Brand collaborations are a highly versatile marketing and innovation tool; and are here to stay! In future, we might see a flourish of cross-border partnerships or collaborations as a mean for brands to have a presence in the metaverse. Brands will increasingly need skilled partners to advise them in forging innovative partnerships, to help promote these initiatives and to help them navigate an increasingly complex landscape.

By Adeline Bonnet, Head of Content - ALF

ALF helps you to:

  • Tailor your approach with news and insight
  • Understand a brand’s business and challenge
  • Reach out to all the decision-makers that will be involved
  • Act ALF shows you changes and these changes drive opportunities for you
  • Plan your ALF can build you a prospect list that will be best for you
  • Target your prospects across all Office numbers, email addresses, Twitter accounts, LinkedIn profiles and office address. ALF gives you direct links to all these channels

Do you need an ALF refresher? Call us on +44 (0) 208 102 0907 or get in touch with your Client Success Manager, Michael Kirkham, who will show you how to get the most out of ALF helping you with your prospecting.