Having spent about 10 years out of school and “in the workplace,” I gotta tell you I never thought I’d end up where I am, in a marketing department at a theater company.
When I started out from art school, where I studied printmaking and book arts, I landed a gig as a letterpress printer. A salaried letterpress printer! Could it get better than that? Well it could, but long story short, I eventually transitioned from printing at the shop to working as a graphic designer at the agency that owned the shop. It was like, “You know how to use InDesign, right?” And I mean, I know what looks good, right? So next thing I know, I’m up there at the office, googling how to add columns to a text box. I’m a quick learner.
I continued with design through a few more jobs, and, fast forward a few years, I ended up at the theater, where I’ve been for the past six years or so.
The position covers a lot of ground — I design the original show art for each production, I create our brochures, posters, flyers, direct mail pieces, and I also do some light interior design as needed. I coordinate all the printing of promotional materials, which includes promotional items like mugs, notepads, t-shirts, magnets, keychains — anything a patron or donor might enjoy. I’m paid to be creative. It’s a lot of fun.
But make no mistake, I’m in marketing. Several years ago in a performance review, my supervisor told me I should speak up more in weekly meetings. I admitted I felt like my opinion probably didn’t count for much because I wasn’t trained in marketing like many of my co-workers were. But with encouragement, I found that I did indeed have worthwhile things to contribute to our marketing plans. Like I taught myself how to use all the graphic design programs, I feel like I’ve learned quite a lot from being embedded on a marketing team.
Which brings me to Everlane. They’ve been killing it with their marketing lately, haven’t they! I’ve noticed several of their campaigns catching attention on Instagram and style blogs, so I thought I’d dissect a couple of them here in hopes of shedding some light on how brands get you to buy things you might not actually need.
Recently, I received a promotional email announcing the launch of the mini Form bag. It was marked as an exclusive invite to shop it first, just for top customers. And hurry, there were only 600 available!
Now, I’ve purchased quite a bit of Everlane in my life, but honestly only a couple things in the past year or so that I actually kept. What makes me a top customer?
At the theater, we segment our marketing lists to zero in on our patrons based on things like, have you bought one ticket ever, or have you bought multiple tickets? Have you bought in the past year, or in the past five? So I’m curious what metrics go into defining a “top customer.” I suspect the net is cast wider than we think.
In addition to the attempt at making me feel like I’m part of an exclusive club, the promotion also does a good job of creating a sense of urgency and scarcity. Only 600 bags, and they are going to go fast! Everlane wasn’t offering me a discount to entice me to buy; they were creating a panic scenario that would make me willing to pay full price for the opportunity to spend my money on this bag before anyone else did.
It’s a useful technique, and one that we use at the theater too because of how well it works. But remember, if you didn’t need a little bag like this to begin with, don’t be fooled into thinking you need one now because someone told you it might sell out.
Perhaps an even more ingenious marketing technique was one deployed last month. On August 29, you may have received an email from Everlane letting you know that a $20 credit had been applied to your account. But again, hurry, because it would disappear after September 3! It was ostensibly a “Thank You” for patience with shipping delays due to a warehouse move, which might be true, but I hadn’t bought anything recently that had been delayed. I promise you Everlane could have sent this to only people affected by the delays, but they instead sent it to a much larger list.
This is an incredibly smart marketing tactic for a few reasons.
Everlane doesn’t like to discount it’s goods. Even with surplus items, rather than putting them on sale, they move to a “Choose What You Pay” section. The $20 credit is essentially like saying, “Here’s a promo code for $20 off your purchase.” But by instead making it a credit on your account, it accomplishes the same thing as a discount while retaining the perceived value of their goods.
When you sign into your Everlane account, you see a little marker and the $20 sitting there neatly, taunting you. It’s your money! It’s just sitting there waiting to be spent! I have a feeling we could all resist a promo code pretty well if there wasn’t already something we wanted to buy because we’d have to spend money to get the discount, but when it appears that the money is already yours, it fuels a need to make use of it before…
It disappears. Sure a promo code can expire, but now that Everlane has made you feel like you have $20 in your pocket, you don’t want to have that $20 taken away. So even if you DIDN’T have anything you were planning on purchasing, now you feel as though you have to find something to buy, or else it’s like you wasted $20.
and This tactic works.
I read many accounts of folks scrambling to spend the credit even when they hadn’t planned on it. And I will admit — I bought something!
But mixed up in all of this is are some truly negative feelings. Renée at Goblin Shark wrote:
Last week, the online clothing retailer Everlane dropped a random $20 of store credit into my account. Exciting! I shared the info with friends who learned that they, too, were the recipients of the mysterious $20. At that point, I felt like it was my duty to share the tip more broadly with my Instagram following, and it blew up. Lot’s of people had the credit. Some people didn’t. Some cited an email from Everlane that included a deadline after which the credit would disappear. As the DMs rolled in and the frenzied browsing intensified, that initial excitement turned to anxiety, and then quickly, to dread.
Anxiety. Dread. Not what we want to feel when we go shopping. I struggle with my own over-active guilt complex as well as general anxiety, and it’s not a thing that mixes well with making decisions over purchases when you are trying to be mindful about spending and consuming.
I don’t think Everlane is an evil corporation preying on their susceptible fanbase in an effort to make us feel inadequate or spend unwisely. They aren’t doing anything that any brand wouldn’t do to market themselves, they are just doing it really well. But as consumers of their goods, it would be wise to take any marketing push — not just from Everlane — with a grain of salt and a healthy dose of realism.
Do you need something that they can provide? Are you able and willing to pay the price they are asking? Great! But remember that you are the one who is in control of your own narrative, not Everlane, not anyone else. Be wary of any brand that tries to tell you that you are special, or that you could be better if only you buy ____, and keep a clear head in the face of marketing.
What other marketing tricks have you spotted in the wild?