• Kellen Anderson

Understand Your Audience's Lifestyle as a Fashion Brand (DC Shoes Case Study)

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

DC Shoes and how they use social media, digital advertisement, influencers, sponsorships, video content, blogs, fashion photography, promotions, lifestyle, audience research, SEO, and other fashion marketing tactics.

Learning about your target audience is essential to building an attractive clothing brand. Understanding their community, lifestyles, and key purchasing behaviors come from meeting your customers in their preferred medium, one-on-one interaction, and other methods to be discussed. This case study will teach you how to acquire knowledge about your audience by looking at DC Shoes as an example.

DC is a skate wear brand owned by a company called Boardriders—also the parent company of other outdoors and skate brands like Element, Roxy, and Quicksilver. DC's mission statement is distinctly different from other Boardriders brands, however, reading:

"DC Shoes is the lifestyle brand amplifying street and skate culture that promotes individuality through distinctive footwear and apparel stories. We exist to connect communities of creative individuals around the world."

This mission statement stresses two things you can take home to your own clothing brand:

  1. Connecting with your audience on a level as deep as lifestyle

  2. Building a community of like-minded consumers

This is why Volcom said in an SEC filing that their brand image is integrated with the "lifestyles and aspirations" of their consumers, and why Element says they've nailed down two customer personas for their brand, the "traditional skateboarder" and the "urban woodsman."

1. Identifying and Understanding an Audience

Before we go over how to connect with your audience, note that there are other things you can keep your pulse on that will help you understand your consumers. The most effective of these are key purchasing behaviors, interests, and other psychographics. But ultimately the most successful brands go a step further by having a deep understanding of their customers' lifestyles and goals.

Kellen Anderson, digital advertiser. Runs Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Google Ads, and other social media ads. Blogs on how to grow or start a clothing brand.

You can get this understanding of your audience in a number of ways. There are some free tools like Audience Insights by Facebook and Ubersuggest by Neil Patel (a search term tool). There are also paid tools like Hootsuite, Sprinkler, and Affinio that are effective.

You can also interact with your consumers one-on-one, as Sophia Amoruso mentions in her book #Girlboss. Amoruso used Snapchat to contact customers and understand exactly what they liked/disliked about their orders from Nasty Gal and what she could do to improve their experience.

Returning to the case study, how does DC Shoes connect with the "lifestyle and aspirations" of their customers?

2. Sponsorships and Influencers

DC Shoes took off in 1994 when they created a set of skate shoes that were designed specifically for performance. This hadn't been done before that time and stemmed from identifying the needs of consumers, who were searching for both style and functionality. The shoes were utilitarian and stylish enough that with only two flagship pro skater sponsors they sold $7 million of their inventory to retailers within a year.

Sponsoring skaters has been crucial to their marketing and audience outreach. An FAQ on their website reads "How do I get sponsored?" The answer: "If you want to get sponsored, get out there and rip. Win contests, get photos in the mags, get yourself in videos. If you're killing it, our team of talent scouts will find you." (This applies to surfing and snowboarding as well as skating.)

DC currently has a specific team they've gathered to represent them in the professional skating world, people like Danny Way, Colin McKay, and Wes Kramer. They continually work with and build this team rather than it being an occasional set of sponsorships they use when their sales are declining.

Finding influencers is simple enough if you follow the steps that a typical consumer would. (Ralph Lauren was quoted as saying "I know my consumer so well because I am a consumer.") There are also many talent and influencer agencies that exist, e.g. Style Coalition, Magic Links, Reward Style, and Viralnation.

Of course, sponsoring athletes only works for sports brands. The more general takeaway is that you need to find influencers that are aligned with your brand, or that are specific to your niche. Nike might benefit a lot from sponsoring Michael Jordan, but for women's beauty brand like BECCA Cosmetics, collaborating with celebrity Chrissy Teigen for a new makeup palette would work much better.

3. Meet Consumers Where They're At

In addition to seeing their team of pros out to the skateparks, DC also has also hosted numerous events of their own (*such as) (since the pandemic, their Events history on Facebook has run dry).

They also appeared in skate magazines like Transworld Skateboarding, Big Brother, and Thrasher in the 90s and 2000s.

I've never talked to a skater about how well they keep up on the magazines of that topic, but I have read Gwyneth Moore say in her 2021 book that fashion magazines are only for the highly invested stakeholders of the industry, whether those be enthusiasts or business executives. Magazines have to be purchased, whereas looking up the latest in fashion on Instagram and Twitter is free, hence magazines currently have a more narrow audience.

Like most brand these days, DC Shoes has ultimately pivoted to a more digital approach because it's quicker and easier to connect with customers. Rarely can brands get away with a non-digital approach, although they sometimes do. Balenciaga, for instance, decided in January of 2020 to go almost completely dark from digital (and they lived to tell the tale even through the pandemic).

Todd Snyder, a luxury men's designer in New York, says he's always had a large portion of customer who prefer to try on clothes in person before buying. The digital approach is imperative in most of modern fashion, but not suited to all.

Finding what media your customers prefer and what their buying habits are is the same kind of audience research mentioned earlier and is achieved in nearly the same way.

4. Collaboration

DC also collaborated with Supreme in 1999 to make a footwear collection. From all sources, this seems to have been an effective marketing tactic.

It works especially well when you consider that the key to a successful collaboration is finding another brand (or designer) that shares a lot of your brand image or shares what your brand is known for. This allows for two audiences who are similar to be exposed to another similar brand, and for both brands to benefit as a result.

Supreme has largely established itself as a luxury streetwear brand over the years with a sporty aesthetic. Because both Supreme and DC were founded as skate brands in 1994 they were fitting partners for collaboration when both were starting out.

5. Graphic Design

One of the founders, Ken Block, studied graphic design in college. He and the other owner, Damon Way, found they had a lot of natural talent for the visual creative elements. This is another must in fashion marketing (in all areas of marketing, really).

There is no substitute for quality visual content, whether clothing designs, Instagram photos, or videos (the most consumed form of content on the internet). The best brands have this mastered, whether you're looking on Instagram for Under Armour or Dior's Beauty account.

Creating visual content is another professional field entirely. Unless you're able to spend thousands of dollars on camera equipment and software, outsourcing to local photographers or people on Upwork or Fiverr is a better approach. There are also many free visual design tools like Canva or Adobe Spark.

Lessons From DC

DC Shoes has made itself a "lifestyle brand" by identifying and connecting with a community of consumers, and offering authentic collaborations. Here are some lessons you can learn from them to understand your own audience:

  • Understanding the lifestyles and aspirations of your consumers is a trait of almost every successful fashion brand. You can use online tools (mentioned above) and social media to get to know your audience.

  • Find influencers and collaborations that have a lot in common with your brand's image and lifestyle. You can find them by using the audience research tools mentioned above.

  • Use magazines, events, or anything else you know your audience enjoys to market to them.

  • Because visual content is so crucial to a brand's success, it's best to invest in the proper equipment, software, and talent. Otherwise, sites like Canva and Fiverr are good alternatives.

Kellen Anderson, digital advertiser. Runs Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Google Ads, and other social media ads. Blogs on how to grow or start a clothing brand.

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