I’m shocked that more people don’t know about Threadless, but often when I mention them as a social media success story I usually just get puzzled looks.
Here’s what gets most people’s attention: Threadless is a Chicago, Ill.-based T-shirt company that has more than 1.5 million followers on Twitter and more than 133,000 fans on Facebook. Their T-shirts typically cost $18. In a 2008 Newsweek article, revenue was estimated at $30 million (for 2007).
Got your attention now?
And here’s the kicker: they don’t even design their own T-shirts. Designs are submitted by visitors, voted on by the user/designer community, and the top-ranked get sold online. Founded in 2000, Threadless was making millions from “crowdsourcing” before anyone knew what the term meant.
It’s no surprise, then, that a company based on user participation is so good at social media and web marketing. And make no mistake, they are very, very good. They have a few keys to success when it comes to marketing.
- Whenever possible, they use images of people modeling T-shirt designs
- They use male and female “models” whenever possible
- They emphasize images over copy to sell their products
- They love user input at every level and encourage it
I’m going to focus on just three web marketing efforts they do well: Facebook, Twitter and email.
Threadless on Facebook: Threadless makes its default landing page their “New Tees” tab. On this page (no doubt built with FBML) you see latest designs, their scores by the community, and to the right of these images comments from fans. You can even click “add to cart” for each design. The page is linked to their ecommerce/catalog engine. Now I know a lot of people will say “But my company can’t do that!” Of course it can. If you make your landing page a customized page about your product and services, then you’re doing the same thing Threadless does here. On the company’s wall, you’ll find designers and slogan writers actively asking Threadless fans to vote on their designs. How cool is that? There’s also a ton of info on Threadless promotions and events too.
Threadless on Twitter: I still can’t get over that follower number: 1,530,962. And it’s all from 2,784 tweets. That means for every tweet, they’ve been rewarded with (on average) 550 followers. So why do they have so many followers? Well, if you’ve bought a T-shirt or subscribed to their email, you’ll know every week there are new designs released. Twitter is a great way to keep track of tweets about new designs. But Threadless heavily uses their Twitter account to promote events. What kind of events? Threadless is in the middle of a summer tour, and they have “pop-up” instant booths and stores wherever they go. They also do a ton of cross promotion with companies they like (Blik, for instance, uses their designs for wall graphics). They post a ton of pictures on TweetPhoto.
Here’s what I really love: see the post for July 12th: they gave out 12 free T-shirts to people who tweeted their shirt size and used a certain hashtag. Is there an easier way to get rabid, loyal fans than by offering to give them something for free just for tweeting? I know not every company can do this, but this is down-and-dirty, simple-as-a-rock promotion — at least consider it.
Threadless on email: If you subscribe to the Threadless email (See snapshot below), then you’ll be able to see the latest designs when they come out, every week, and you’ll know when $10 T-shirt sales are happening. That’s the “content” portion. Everything else about their email campaign is very simple: Large images of real-looking people wearing the design of the week. The text is minimal — and when there is text it’s usually a link/call to action. All of these design links go back directly to that specific design page on their catalog.
This is something a lot of email marketers may be missing: Reward the email recipient if they express an interest in a specific product. Take them directly o the ordering/info page for that item, stop screwing around trying to get people to visit your site. Get them to love the product first … then your site. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but think how you yourself search for products. First you look for what you want, and if you find it you then investigate the source (who am I buying from?). I see too many email newsletters from marketers who are all about getting people to their home page … when they really want is just a sale.
So my advice is learn from Threadless — and go back and keep learning.
Here’s a great site with more info on Threadless.com’s marketing model
The 2008 Newsweek article: The Customer Is The Company