For a business reporter, the holiday season is all about retail and shopping. If you’re looking for a new angle this season, consider retailers that cater to niche audiences. They often employ marketing strategies that are dramatically different from those of their big-box competitors. Start by following their Twitter pages, which often reveal their business models, and which can lead to some interesting stories. After investigating the big picture, pursue a local angle by visiting brick-and-mortar venues in your region. You’ll get a look at how a company’s marketing strategy is playing out.
REI doesn’t market its products on Twitter. Instead, it markets the experience that REI products can provide. For example, the company will post a picture about drinking coffee next to a rushing river in a beautiful forest. The viewer is left to assume that idyllic scene is made possible by buying a backpacker’s coffee pot. The outdoor equipment co-op has coopted the traditional holiday shopping trend with its Opt Outside campaign: Stores are closed on Black Friday and employees and customers are encouraged to spend the day outdoors. REI’s Twitter feed focuses on the benefits of being outside, as well as expert panels featuring diverse views.
Similar: Patagonia (@patagonia), The North Face (@thenorthface)
H&M has grown a lot over the past several years, opening 427 new stores in 2016 alone. It’s one of the few retailers that young consumers actively visit, and the business model emphasizes quick product turnover with a mission to deliver cheap chic. While H&M markets its products on Twitter, the Swedish reteailer employs a subtle, experiential strategy. Instead of saying “Hey, buy this shirt,” it showcases the merchandise on cool-looking people.
Similar: Boohoo (@boohoo), UNIQLO (@uniqloUSA)
Barnes & Noble (@BNBuzz)
Facing competition from Amazon, Barnes & Noble has developed a new algorithm with a “human element” designed to make better book recommendations by utilizing what the company says is its most valuable asset: expert booksellers. The B&N Twitter feed features book releases, author appearances and interviews. It’s an attempt to re-create the serendipitous experience of browsing a bookstore, and to compete with independent bookstores that are nearly thriving: The number of independent bookstores grew 27 percent between 2009 and 2015.
Similar: Amazon Books (@amazonbooks), Barnes & Noble Nook (@nookBN)
Forever 21 (@Forever21)
Generation Z (those born between the mid 1990s and 2014) is heavily influenced by social media. Now that these consumers are starting to earn and spend their own money, businesses are beginning to cater to their digital obsessions. Fast-fashion retailer Forever 21 does a lot product advertising on its Twitter and Instagram pages, uniquely reaching its target demographic and giving consumers an easy call to action: Almost all of Forever 21’s Twitter posts link to the company’s online shopping website.
Similar: American Apparel (@americanapparel), Urban Outfitters (@urbanoutfitters)
Cards Against Humanity (@CAH)
This card game, known for its political incorrectness, makes headlines for its counterintuitive Black Friday antics. For example, it released a pink-branded “Cards Against Humanity For Her” version, which cost $5 more than the regular version. The goal was to satirize the “pink tax” often levied on women’s products. This type of strategy creates a lot of word-of-mouth buzz among their targeted consumers, usually young, socially progressive types. Look for the 2017 campaign to kick off sometime in late November.
Halo Top Ice Cream (@HaloTopCreamery)
The success of Halo Top is a perfect example of successful audience engagement: It became the most popular pint of ice cream in the United States by utilizing Twitter and Instagram, as well as word-of-mouth. The company’s posts appeal to the millennial love of food and social engagement, particularly effective when served up together. Follow how the company’s holiday flavor lineup is released, and the subsequent reaction locally.