J.Crew’s Data-Driven Approach To Fashion (And Marketing)

In an industry dedicated to the exultation of the ineffable — beauty, style, and all that’s en vogue — talking about data can feel a bit like pulling the curtain back on the Wizard of Oz. But the fact remains that the fashion business is just that — a business.

Every trend and every seasonal success can be tracked, measured, and even proactively predicted by those who treat every customer interaction as part of a larger data opportunity.

As the world of fashion becomes more and more digital, retail marketers have a major opportunity to measure their competitive positioning and digital content strategies.

Under the leadership of Mickey Drexler, J.Crew has done just that, proving that you can be both fashion-forward and analytically proactive.

Here we chart the brand’s transition from a print-only catalog to a robust suite of digital marketing and social media tactics.

DREXLER, DATA, AND DIGITAL MARKETING

As chronicled in The Business of Fashion, Drexler’s data-driven approach to fashion borders on infamous.

Image via J. Crew

Image via J. Crew

Drexler earned the nickname “Stubs” early in his career at Bloomingdale’s due to his habit of collecting sales tags from the store’s merchandise to keep track of daily turnover

By manually tracking sales trends, Drexler was able to negotiate what was then the largest unit-buy in Bloomingdale’s history, successfully predicting massive springtimes sales of a t-shirt — all based on leading data indicating promising sales a season ahead, in brisk February weather.

This data-driven approach to fashion has remained a mainstay of Drexler’s approach, a point the At Work With Mickey Drexler authors describe beautifully:

“A big part of what makes J.Crew the most compelling American retail — and dare we say it,  fashion — success story of the past 10 years is Drexler’s uncanny ability to pick up on market trends and patterns incredibly quickly, consult data to back up his observations, then bring those trends to the masses. It’s perhaps the core reason he was able to transform a once-promising, long-struggling catalogue business into a powerful arbiter of taste.”

Under the stewardship of Mickey Drexler, J.Crew has implemented this same dedication to qualitative trend-assessment in its digital marketing strategy.

SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT AND PURCHASING POWER

According to J. Crew’s annual S.E.C. filing, which was made available online earlier this year, J.Crew’s marketing and advertising strategy is summarized as follows:

“We communicate our brand message to customers through all channels, including our websites, our catalogs, email marketing, online advertising, and our social media presence. Our core marketing objectives are structured to drive awareness and differentiation of our brands, increase new customer acquisition, maintain and build customer retention and loyalty, and build brand awareness internationally.

Digital marketing and social media have played an important part of our strategy in our recent history and are among our most effective marketing tools. We have found that J.Crew customers who engage with us via our social media outlets (facebook, twitter, Pinterest or Instagram) generally spend approximately 2x more than the average J.Crew customer. Facebook is the current leading player in terms of size and time spent on site, but there are significant growth opportunities in our new visual platforms, such as Pinterest and Instagram.”

Yes, you read that right. By driving meaningful engagement across a variety of social media channels, J.Crew’s data-driven marketing has succeeded in cultivating an online audience that spends twice as much as the average customer.

What’s more impressive about this statistic is that it stands in stark comparison to the description of J.Crew’s marketing and advertising efforts in their 2013 filling, which focused largely on their print catalog, with barely a whisper about digital marketing:

“The J.Crew catalog is the primary branding and advertising vehicle for the J.Crew brand. We believe our catalog reinforces the J.Crew mission and brand image, while driving sales in all of our channels. We believe we have distinguished ourselves from other catalog retailers by utilizing high quality photography and art direction. We have also expanded our marketing strategy to include online, print and outdoor advertising.”

So how does J.Crew plan to continue to leverage this connection between digital marketing and customer spend?

In their report, J.Crew went on to explain their competitive strategy as follows:

“We believe our success depends in substantial part on our ability to originate and define product and fashion trends as well as to timely anticipate, gauge and react to changing consumer demands. Some of our competitors are larger and may have greater financial, marketing, and other resources than us. Accordingly, there can be no assurance that we will be able to compete successfully with them in the future.”

When it comes to competitive positioning, J.Crew is right to identify Pinterest and Instagram as “significant growth opportunities.”

According to a study from Vision Critical featured in the Harvard Business Review, 21% of the Pinterest users reported buying an item in-store after “pinning, repinning, or liking it.” The percentage was even higher among Pinterest users under the age of 35, with 36% reporting doing so.

Pinterest is just one of many social channels they are employing to build an engaged fan based. To take a look at the content strategies driving J.Crew’s newfound success on social media, we analyzed J.Crew’s most-engaging content using our marketing analytics platform.

Here are some examples from J.Crew’s digital content strategies on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest from the past year.

FACEBOOK

Facebook is by far the most dominant social channel for J.Crew. With 1.2 million Facebook fans and counting, J.Crew has found success on the network with content that serves as a digital counterpart to their print catalog (which is referred to not as a catalog, but as a style guide).

Over the past year, the vast majority of J.Crew’s most engaging Facebook posts featured a stylized photo with short, relatable copy, and — most importantly — a link to where you can buy the featured items on their website.

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INSTAGRAM

With 480,000 followers and counting, J.Crew’s Instagram account is their second most popular social channel. Unlike the catalog-esque content on Facebook, J.Crew approaches content creation on this more image-focused network as an opportunity to cultivate a J.Crew culture.

Notice that among their most engaging posts from the past year, few are peppered with links to the online store. Rather, the images are supported with branded hashtags — and a few links to the J.Crew blog.

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PINTEREST

J.Crew has amassed nearly 143,000 Pinterest followers to date. Comparable to their strategy on Instagram, J.Crew’s most popular Pinterest pins speak to a larger J.Crew-related lifestyle. Five of the top ten most re-pinned, liked, and commented on pins featured travel images from exotic locales.

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TWITTER

Twitter is J.Crew’s third-largest social media audience with upwards of 257,000 followers. In contrast to the image-focused presence on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, J.Crew’s tweets with the most social interaction from the past year were all sans photos or links.

All of J.Crew’s top 10 tweets had simple, relatable statements and a relevant hashtag. J. Crew saw the most brand relevance on Twitter with their #jcrewtruths series, as 7 out of their 10 ten tweets featured the hashtag.

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LINKEDIN

With only 73,722 LinkedIn followers, the professionally-minded network is a developing channel for the brand. In keeping with the network’s more business-minded audience, J.Crew has found its greatest interaction on the channel with store opening announcements and for re-circulating earned media.

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Over the past few years, J.Crew has expanded its initial print catalog into a robust suite of digital marketing initiatives and diversified its brand voice across social networks to maximize engagement – and ultimately revenue – from its audience.

And with Mickey Drexler at the helm, this data-driven approach to marketing could be just getting started.

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Kara Burney is the Content Marketing Maven at TrackMaven, the Competitive Intelligence platform for Digital Marketers. Have content marketing questions or topics you'd like covered on the TrackMaven blog? Tweet her your ideas! See more of Kara's posts