From Online to Offline: Create an Identity that Sticks

From Online to Offline: Create an Identity that Sticks

By Allyson Rees

Allyson Rees is an LA-based journalist, trend forecaster and copywriter. She reports on retail, fashion and design for publications including WWD, WGSN, Fashionista and LA Confidential. Her career website, is dedicated to helping young women achieve success in the modern workplace. 


Over the past few years, I’ve written numerous articles on how online-only brands are disrupting the traditional retail model. From basics mecca Everlane to men’s footwear maker Jack Erwin to women’s workwear brand MM. Lafleur, startup labels are embracing the online-only model for its major perks—namely vertical integration of manufacturing, customer service and distribution, which means lower prices for customers. 


But what I’ve noticed in my research is that when it comes to brand identity, online-only brands can be at a disadvantage, as traditional brick-and-mortar and omni-channel retailers offer customers an immersive, 360-degree experience. 


Take for example a luxury retailer like Gucci. Upon entering, you smell the brand fragrances wafting throug the store and hear a curated music playlist. You browse, touch and try-on products before purchasing, all the while interacting with sales associates. With Gucci’s recent in-store technology upgrades, you can also explore the brand’s digital presence on social media and ecommerce. It is quite literally a shopping “experience” that appeals to all the senses. 


But for online brands operating in a solely virtual world, customers get only half the pageantry. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr tell rich visual stories, give top rate customer service and deliver real-time interactivity, but social media can only provide a flat, two-dimensional experience. 


Recently, I’ve noted several online-only brands that are taking their brand conversation offline—not down the obvious route of pop-up shops, but with three-dimensional, real-life experiences. These highly-social brands have cultivated a die-hard, super-connected, super-engaged social media following, and they’re galvanizing that following to create a consumer touchpoint in real life. 


Everlane’s “Transparent LA” series is a perfect example of a smart brand taking its brand identity offline. The week-long event took place in March and offered seminars with local influencers, bloggers and artists. Fans of Everlane could tour the studio of artist Tofer Chin, engage in a discussion about entrepreneurship with Sqirl chef Jessica Koslow and attend an “Insameet” with blogger Olivia Lopez. The events weren’t Everlane propaganda, but rather a gathering of like-minded people and brands, uniting around the idea of transparency and local commerce.




When Emily Weiss of Into the Gloss launched her Glossier beauty and skincare collection last November, she also took the opportunity to bring her “born-of-Instagram” brand offline, with intimate “get togethers” in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Glossier fans were encouraged to bring their “BFFs” to theevent and could even vote on where Weiss should visit next. For an online beauty brand that relies on testbefore-you-buy and product education, it was a smart move, because it gave Weiss precious one-on-one time with her most dedicated fans, all the while creating Glossier evangelists.


Consider these ideas before calling your community to action: 



You’ve got to know who you are and why your fans love you. Why is your brand interesting to your community? What is your narrative? What is the goal of having an event? 



Take stock of your community to see what events resonate with them? In what city do they live? Are they at festivals? Attending conferences? Gathering at coffee shops? What are their favorite restaurants? 



What type of event is feasible for your brand? What is your budget? Are there other like-minded brands you can partner with to cut costs and build the audience? As online-only brands become more commonplace in the market (and I hope they do), it’s important to remember the power of human-to-human interaction. Getting 1,000 people to double tap on an image is a feat, but getting 1,000 people to take time out of their day, gather in a room and talk about your brand is the sign of a passionate, dedicated following that should be cherished and rewarded. //