Daily Insights

The Influencer Experiment

By: Alizah Asif Farooqi | Apr 25, 2019

Express is challenging the traditional notion that influencer collaborations must always be “on brand”. The retailer is rolling out its latest influencer collab with Instagram idol Rocky Barnes in May, not long after its partnership with Miss Universe winner Olivia Culpo and NBA star Stephen Curry. Here’s how injecting such contrasting influencers could affect the brand.

Though it might seem like choosing so many different influencers could dice up the brand’s identity, Express VP of brand and performance marketing Patrice Croci says that each collaboration “serves its own purpose: giving Express access to different segments of their core audience.” How? Instead of breaking the news to fans on its own account (where confusion could come into play to those who don’t know the particular influencer), Express makes use of its chosen ambassadors’ diverse audiences is by having each influencer announce the respective collaborations on their own pages. For Barnes, this means broadcasting the news to her 1.6 million followers, while Olivia alerted her 3.9 million followers. In addition to dabbling with influencers of different sizes and backgrounds, Express experiments with both short and long partnerships regularly to get a clearer understanding of what or who consumers do and don’t want to see.

This isn’t the first time Express has tested out the appeal of variety. In addition to separating Express Men and Women as two different stores, the brand focuses search efforts on unbranded gender-specific apparel terms, serving a shopping ad against a quarter of women’s apparel terms and a fifth of men’s apparel terms online, according to Gartner L2’s Digital IQ Index: Specialty Retail. By presenting and playing with different kinds of influencers and partnerships, Express could actually save itself from the common downfalls of brands that only bet on big influencers, according to Gartner L2’s report on the topic.

Still, a high frequency of collaborations has several risks. Besides diluting brand image, managing several influencers of different styles at the same time could prove financially difficult for Express. Sales fell by 10% last quarter, creating a smaller budget for collabs.