Digital Marketing Redux   //   March 4, 2024

Why Explorer Cold Brew is building partnerships with LGBTQ artists

Halfway through Troye Sivan’s “Got Me Started” music video, the singer is seen clinking a glass of Explorer Cold Brew. 

Sivan is one of five artists that cold brew concentrate brand Explorer has partnerships with, who feature Explorer’s products on social media and in their music videos. Other partners of the brand include singer Fletcher and comedian Matt Rogers. About nine months ago, Explorer began developing these partnerships with LGBTQ artists as a way to build a community around the brand, but it has also allowed the company to gain strategic retail partnerships.

Thanks to these partnerships, Explorer said it was able to win more retail shelf space even as a relatively young brand. Retailers typically want some sort of evidence that a brand can pull in traffic. Explorer has entered 500 retail doors across the country, including Albertsons, Save Mart and Pop Up Grocer.   

“It might not be in our name, but we are proudly LGBT-owned and operated,” said Cason Crane, founder of Explorer Cold Brew. “It was sort of a no-brainer for me to make sure that was something that people recognized about our brand.”

Explorer was founded in 2020 as a specialty coffee company that allows people to choose from a variety of caffeine levels. The brand currently has 12 products, including its classic cold brew, chai concentrate and elixirs. Apart from its retail presence, the company is also sold on its website and on Amazon. Explorer has generated over $5 million in sales to date and has a growth rate of 81% year-over-year.

With so many beverage brands in the market, the shelf space at wholesale stores has become much more competitive. As a result, buyers at these retailers are drawn to brands that have celebrity partners or a strong brand presence that would drive sales to the store. Crane said that these promotional materials showcase Explorer’s branding.

“I’m trying to, in a relatively scrappy way, make sure that we are getting the brand out there,” Crane said. “It’s also, though, being able to go to… buyers for retail stores or chains and showcase how we have this stunning new branding.”

The company’s product placement strategy has proven to attract eyeballs. On YouTube, Troye Sivan’s “Got Me Started” music video has 13 million views and Fletcher’s “Eras of Us” music video has over 700,000 views. In addition to product placement, these artists also post Explorer products on social media. The company’s products were also featured in Matt Rogers’ comedic video “Also it’s Christmas.”

Crane, who is also an endurance athlete and a competitor in the TV show Race to Survive: Alaska, said that he met his artist partners through another brand owner, who has also partnered with some of these artists, less than a year ago. While Explorer’s appearance in music videos and artists’ social media helps spread the brands’ name, teaming up with these LGBTQ+ artists also allows the company to tap into their fanbase.

Crane declined to share specific figures on how Explorer’s music video appearance impacts conversion. “My goal going in was never to get direct conversions,” he said. “If that had been the goal, I probably wouldn’t still be doing this. But I continue to dedicate my small brands’ finite resources to this, because I believe the results are there.”

Explorer measures the effectiveness of partnerships through its growing retail presence. The company said it has been entering 100 locations every quarter. In addition to local grocery stores, the company can also be found in several independent stores or small chains. “They have, in my view, played a critical role in sealing the deal on some of our awesome new retail partnerships,” Crane said.

Kimberley Ring Allen, founder of Ring Communications and adjunct professor at Suffolk University, said that it can be difficult for startups to convince retailers to put their products in their store. She said younger brands that have a significant amount of followers or investment in marketing are more attractive to retailers. 

“They only have so much shelf space, and a bulk of that is dedicated to those big brands,” Allen said. “They’re not just going to take a chance on a product nobody’s ever heard of. They are more willing to concede to a product that people are already talking about.”

Partnerships with artists can be an effective way to tap into niche communities. However, exposure doesn’t always mean that people will absorb the brand’s message, Allen said. A big challenge for brands is to break the short attention span of shoppers. 

For Explorer’s Crane, the company wants its partnerships with artists to run deeper. He said he sees the potential for limited-edition product collaborations. The company also plans to drive more in-person trial through sampling and demos. 

“For three years, we’ve been connecting with consumers on the internet,” he said. “Now we’re connecting with consumers in person which requires a different skill set.”