Allbirds is one the classic, default examples of a modern challenger brand. They launched in 2016 into a crowded market dominated by well-established incumbents, yet still managed to drive $100M in revenue in the first two years and are now a public company with a market cap over $2B. So, how did they do it? How did they drive that hyper-growth? This case study from Gallantway helps break it down.
There’s a ton of good stuff in there. It covers the Allbirds marketing tech stack, how they set up their search, their content and automation strategy for email, and how they delivered a consistent in-store and on-site experience to reinforce their brand purpose.
One specific insight to call out that we think will be relevant to many of you is how they used Instagram.
Here’s a quote from the article:
“Combining their relentless focus on the shoes and the feet wearing them, Allbirds uses social platforms like Instagram for product improvement ideas and customer feedback.”
They used social media not just as a push channel for content and commerce, but also (and primarily) as a pull channel for feedback and insights from their audience and customers.
The role of marketing is to connect the product to the consumer. So much of what we focus on is bringing the product to the consumer (i.e. advertising), but there’s a huge opportunity, especially with social media, to bring the consumer to the product, which is something we see challenger brands do consistently well.
Do you think it’s weird that kids will spend hours watching someone play a video game on Twitch? What about adults watching grown men and women chase a ball around on a field of grass? There’s really no difference – we’ve just come to accept one as normal because it has been around for a while. There will be over 3B active gamers in the world by 2023, including 80% of Gen Z. Don’t let your personal biases get in the way of finding new, creative, and underpriced ways to reach your consumers.
It’s also worth remembering (or learning) that influencer marketing has been around for over a century. Check out this brief history (and fun infographic) of influencer marketing. We tend to associate ‘influencer’ with social media and think of it as a new-age marketing strategy. But it’s really just thinking about who already has the attention of the audience you’re trying to reach and finding ways to leverage their reach and equity to change perception and behaviour towards your brand.
The biggest factor in the growth of challenger brands isn’t the strategy or technology they use, it’s the talent and culture they have. A lot of the work we’re doing focuses on organisational design and capability development (even when we’re delivering strategy, this is our focus), and has its roots in Agile methodologies. Here’s a good overview and discussion on Agile and how its principles can be applied to marketing teams. It’s also worth re-reading the original Agile Manifesto every once in a while, just to reground yourself in the philosophy and what the movement set out to do.
If you’re taking a content/inbound marketing approach, the most important principle is to maintain editorial integrity.
Whoever is in charge of creating the content needs to be tasked with maximising value for your audience. That’s it. If you mix the objectives and ask them to drive leads or generate revenue directly, it will significantly limit the potential of the whole approach.
Content marketing is a long-term approach. It builds brand, community, and eventually customers by adding value consistently over time. This is why so few businesses do it well – it takes a long-term commitment and investment that by definition should not focus on driving short-term returns.
Maintain editorial integrity to add max value. Work separately on how you drive your short-term marketing and sales KPIs.