I’m what people call a “millennial.” Like many other millennials, I spend much of my time on social media.
Recently, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, and a succession of photos from the outdoor gear and apparel retailer L.L. Bean caught my attention. Viewed one by one as they appeared in my feed, the photos appeared as oddly close-up segments, some with sections of large type on them, of what appear to be a larger image. When I went to L.L. Bean’s account to investigate, I was presented with this:
I was hooked. As I scrolled through their other images, I saw a pattern emerge. Their feed was full of photos that could easily fit in with my friends’ posts of their most recent vacations, kids, or dogs. People, animals, and the outdoors—not their products—are the stars of their images, creating an authentic and engaging feel.
As a communications and marketing professional, I couldn’t help but wonder: Why was this so effective for me? The answer is that L.L. Bean has defined their target audiences—from the looks of their images, that would be (primarily) men and women ages 25-44 that love adventure and the outdoors (check)—and has adopted an approach that meets them where they are—Instagram (double check). These are fundamentals for developing any communications and marketing strategy. But their approach also incorporates two more communications fundamentals that are increasingly important in today’s media landscape.
- Develop tactics that make people want to let your brand into their space. Meeting your audience where they are is only the first step. In order to break through the noise and earn your audience’s attention, it is key to establish both value and trust. You need to capture your audience’s attention by engaging them with a brand/message in a way that is familiar and accessible to them. If you do this successfully, it can also encourage people to share your content with their networks. In L.L. Bean’s case, they have captured the sentiments and aesthetics of their target audience. They have created a sense of community with consistent messaging and relatable content.
- Establish a long-term strategy for continued engagement. It can be difficult to convince people to let a brand into their space, and building trust each time you have a message you want to convey means extra work on the back end. The long-term strategy will vary by platform, requiring a thorough understanding of how your audience functions in that space. For example, if you want to reach millennials using Instagram, it is not going to have much impact if you only post content when you have a specific message, event, or product that you want to promote. You must continually engage your audience, building trust and value, with a steady flow of relatable content. Beyond regularly posting on-theme content, L.L. Bean’s campaign has a clever and accessible hashtag, #BeanOutsider. Importantly, when the campaign ends, this content will still make sense as part of L.L. Bean’s overall account and image.
These ideas are not new, but what is new in this case is how they are being applied. L.L. Bean’s approach is not one-size fits all—it was tailored very specifically to the company and its goal. For others, “new” could mean using channels that are new for that client, like Instagram or Snapchat, or adjusting existing approaches to leverage the new ways in which people are interacting with media and with each other.
At Hager Sharp we work in the cause sector—selling ideas and behavior change rather than products. That doesn’t mean that these same communications and marketing philosophies do not apply, but that we need to be creative in how we apply them. By continually combining time-tested fundamentals with creative and innovative solutions that consider the everchanging communications landscape, we are able to create and execute ideas that make a difference.