Six Things Marketing Professionals Can Learn From Urban Outfitters

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Upon inception, every company hopes to one day be the “go-to source” for their target demographic’s every want and need. That’s the point of business, right? The dream goes something like this: you start out selling this product or offering that service, and before you know it, BAM. You open your eyes one morning to find that your company is growing so fast you can’t keep up. Online sales are ticking up, you’re opening numerous locations around the world, and it seems like the sky really is the limit.

There are companies who are lucky enough to experience this kind of success almost organically. There are companies who just can’t seem to get anything right, no matter how hard they try. And somewhere in this mix, there are those companies who ride the wave of success for just long enough before ultimately leading to their own demise.

Urban Outfitters is a brand that many millennials grew up with. We looked up to UO and everything it stood for. It was cool. It was hip. It was fresh and different. It didn’t try too hard. It was environmentally conscious. It reminded us of love, peace and freedom our parents preached about from “back in their day.” Urban Outfitters represented everything we wanted to be when we grew up.

Then over the course of a few big missteps, the brand experienced a shift in public perception that they still haven’t been able to overcome. The truth about who Urban Outfitters really is has been revealed, and it is the furthest from what they have been preaching to their customers for all these years.

Through Urban Outfitters successes and failures, there are things that any business owner or marketing executive can learn. Below I’ve outlined a few of the good and a few of the bad, showing just how fine the line is that we have to walk when operating and marketing a business.

The Good:

  1. Get really good at email marketing, and use it to constantly reinforce your brand.

Upon first visiting the Urban Outfitters website, guests are prompted to sign up for their e-newsletter. Guests are promised “exclusive deals” and that they’ll always be the “first to know” about new trends or site-wide offers. Urban Outfitters has done a great job of positioning itself as the go-to resource for seasonal trends, and in their e-newsletter content, they deliver. Their retail stores feature a bohemian, funky vibe, while the website features a clean look, promoting their biggest new sellers or hot styles of the season. The e-newsletter does a great job of merging the two, truly reflecting their brand image. The consistent look and feel of the e-newsletter serves as a reminder to drop by the website or pop into a store to see what’s new and exciting there. Want a smidgen of goodness delivered to your inbox every week? Sign up for their newsletter.

2. Find your place in the market and own it.

As briefly mentioned before, Urban Outfitters established itself as a thought-leader in the retail marketplace for millennial shoppers. The company recognized that the millennial generation is most concerned with sustainability, equality, freedom of expression and open-mindedness, among a host of other ideals. The company made sure this was reflected in the way they sourced their clothing and materials, how they marketed their products and even how they reflected their company culture on their website. As a brand, Urban Outfitters lived and breathed in the way its consumers did.

3. Incentivize guests with good deals, then increase sales through suggestive selling.

The biggest appeals of Urban Outfitters to any shopper (especially a bargain shopper like myself) are their impressive sale and clearance sections in their stores and online – plus they do a GREAT job of marketing them. There are tons of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered, and with big red and white overhead CLEARANCE signs, how can you not dig around to see what you’ll find?  After shopping the sale sections, shoppers ultimately have to go to the register or to their shopping bag online to complete their purchase. By suggesting items that would match well with what the shoppers have already selected, UO increases ticket prices and ultimately increases revenue.

The Not-So-Good:

  1. Do your research before launching a new product or service.

Urban Outfitters has come under A LOT of pressure over the last few years for marketing and selling some select items. One of the biggest rules in business is to be sure any new service or product offering aligns with your core audience and their wants, needs and desires. Over the last couple of years, UO has sold items on its website enraging some customers and stirring up lots of bad press. One infamous shirt read “Eat Less” while another vintage sweatshirt boasting the Kent State logo appeared tattered and blood stained – all too reminiscent of the Kent State shooting that occurred in 1970. Most recently UO has received more criticism for selling a tapestry that looks “eerily similar” to the clothing Nazis forced homosexual prisoners to wear in concentration camps. Not exactly aligned with their core audience here…

2. Take care of your people. They are your brand culture and your identity.

Urban Outfitters has also received a lot of negative publicity surrounding the conditions under which their factory employees are forced to work. Back in 2012, reports came out stating that many Urban Outfitters factory workers were found to be making less than minimum wage and not receiving overtime pay. There were also reports of missing or falsified records, meaning we have no way of even knowing the extent of the labor regulations this company was failing to follow. Can’t take care of your employees? You won’t get a penny more from me.

3. Live your brand.

Over the years, it has become public knowledge that the CEO of Urban Outfitters is an ultra conservative billionaire. One who donates lots and lots of money to conservative politicians who publicly preach against equality topics like gay marriage. From the brand who preaches “Peace, Love and Equality”? Sounds pretty ridiculous to me.

The Takeaway:

Know who you are and own it. Be sure everything you say and every move you make aligns with who you are as a business, and be transparent about it. Selling great products and marketing yourself really well will get you quite far, but it’s who you are that really counts.