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Product Placement's Future: The 'Gossip Girl,' Birchbox Mashup?

The 'Gossip Girl,' Birchbox MashupWhether it's Oprah Winfrey or Gwyneth Paltrow, when a celeb sings your small company's praises it can mean instant success. So what does it mean if Gossip Girl starts talking about you? In this social-media crazed age, absolutely everything.

Just last week, the founders of the New York-based subscription-cosmetics service and online retail shop Birchbox announced that it would team up with The CW's wildly popular TV series Gossip Girl -- giving new and existing subscribers a branded Gossip Girl box as their monthly delivery in May. The show's fashion and makeup department heads were consulted in the creation of the special edition Birchbox, which will be filled with items inspired by Gossip Girl's glamorous characters.

So what is this, a brand partnership? Product placement, startup style? Whatever it is, it'll be happening a lot more, says Katia Beauchamp, the 20-something co-founder of the less than two-year-old startup. "It’s the first foray with Birchbox partnering with a large brand," says Beauchamp. "Companies are seeing Birchbox as a way to have a tangible representation of their brand and a way to interact with customers."

Birchbox is billing the hookup as an example of what's next for brand partnerships and product placement. Gone are the days of slyly slipping a Coke into the refrigerator in movies and expecting consumers to instantly crave the bubbly beverage. Today, brands not only want you to buy that Coke they also want you to follow Coca-Cola on Facebook, tweet about the company and pin it on Pinterest.

So how can you join the next generation of product placement? Here are four tips:

Breed loyalty.
Make your brand the kind that your customers want to tell their friends about. Perhaps it's really exclusive or just plain novel, either way get them excited and talking. At Birchbox, the company's other co-founder Hayley Barna describes the "mail-room effect" that often happens in New York City office buildings: "When one woman gets a Birchbox delivery at work, other people see it that pink box and sign up," she says.

Related: Building Brand Loyalty: Getting Your Priorities Straight

Get engaged.
To attract attention from celebrities to tastemakers to giant brands, it helps to have a highly engaged user base. That means you'll need to amass a sizeable following on social-media sites. Larry Chiagouris, a professor of marketing at Pace University's Lubin School Business, calls this a well-developed social-media ecosystem. "The more developed it is, the more interesting the larger brand will find the opportunity and the more likely the bigger brand will engage in the smaller opportunity," he says. "Brands get hundreds of opportunities like this, so you have to come from a position of strength."

Related: Millennial Branding on How Gen-Y is Using Facebook

Attract attention.
That bigger brand will also want to have some kind of defacto guarantee that the deal will capture the media's attention, says Chiagouris. As far as Gossip Girl is concerned, "my guess is their interest is the publicity associated with it," he says. "For it to make sense for Gossip Girl, [a partner] has to be a small business that's able to leverage the deal in a way that gains a lot of attention." To assure brands that your small company can similarly perform, try to generate media attention well before you attempt a partnership like this, Chiagouris adds.

Know your customer.
As Birchbox puts it, its customers are "cutting edge trendsetters who easily navigate and populate the social media landscape, and are trendsetters in fashion and beauty." Find out who your customers are by keeping track of their product preferences and demographic information. Then, if you want to similarly present your brand as having an in with a certain type of customer, you'd better be able to prove it.

What big brand would your startup want to partner with? Leave a comment and let us know.

Diana Ransom is deputy editor of Entrepreneur.com.
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