I bought my first Everlane t-shirt on December 17, 2012—The Ryan Pocket Tee. At the time, the online retailer exclusively sold t-shirts. I loved them for the simplicity and quality. In the years since, Everlane has brought to market outerwear, shoes, accessories, and leather goods. Most recently, they’ve opened pop ups and brick and mortar showrooms in places like Los Angeles and New York City. (Seattle is ready for you, Everlane.)
The company has grown exponentially since 2011, when Michael Preysman set out to reimagine a more affordable fashion brand. Of course the things that attracted me as an early customer contributed to their growth—their simple aesthetic, the quality of materials—but perhaps their most important, and a clear driver of their success, is their unwavering commitment to Radical Transparency.
Know your factories. Know your costs. Always ask why.
From very early on Everlane has operated out of their core conviction—a belief in openness and accountability. Radical Transparency is their tagline, but it is also their business strategy. It is the filter through which they make decisions, from supply chain and product development to social media and marketing.
We believe customers have the right to know what their products cost to make. At Everlane we reveal our true costs, and then we show you our markup.
Necessarily, that clarity of vision leads to a careful, intentional, and pointed brand strategy. Every piece of content Everlane creates, including Snapstories, Tweets, and Instagram posts, are manifestations of their belief. They are unambiguous and consistent in their messaging, and they don’t sway strategy to the demands of a fickle market. Put simply: Everlane tells the truth about who they are, what they do, and what their customer’s can expect. It’s uncomplicated and effective—and clear driver of success for the business.
But for most companies, online retailers in particular, brand isn’t the only driver of success. In comes customer data. When a business uses that data intelligently, they can drive more value from their marketing efforts. But there is a place for data, and a not-so-nuanced strategic approach between brand-first and data-first marketing.
Data, Analytics, and Brand Values
I work at a leading digital analytics consultancy in Seattle, Washington. We help clients like GoPro, ASICS, and Starbucks better understand the ways customers interact with their websites and mobile apps. Understanding the importance of data is my job — literally. I sell digital analytics consulting, essentially convincing people that data can indeed drive their business forward. But like any good consultant, if a client asked, “Will data help me reach my objectives?” My answer would be, “Yes, and…never at the expense of your brand values.”
I’ve written about this before. If you allow data to dictate your message, you’re susceptible to the fleeting fancies of the market. You’ll scramble to stay relevant, “optimizing” your copy for the highest CTR. These aren’t inherently bad aims, but they should never be done at the expense of your brand values. In doing so, you risk losing your credibility and consistency—two things consumers demand.
Everlane undoubtedly leverages data to do things like increase revenue and create a cost savings. It’s likely they’ve optimized their ad spend, made changes to the check out flow to decrease friction for the end user, and A/B tested landing page content for the highest conversion rate. But, it’s never done at the expense of telling the truth about their brand.
Is It True?
Customers aren’t the only ones who care about the truth either. Case in point: the Federal Trade Commission’s recent action against Shinola and their made-in-America claims. Despite earlier guidance from the FTC on how to right their advertising wrongs, Shinola continued to use deceptive marketing practices with the marks “Built in Detroit” and “Where American is Made.” The FTC wasn’t as kind the second time around, as Shinola’s blatant disregard put them in violation of The Federal Trade Commission Act.
The FTC asks brands to answer two important questions when they proclaim USA-made goods: Is it true? Can we substantiate it? These policies aren’t new, and the myriad companies who fail to adhere to truth-in-advertising requirements demands its own post entirely (for another time). But it is worth thinking about the future of marketing in light of increasing oversight—both from the government and the consumer.
Technology, and our access to information, has risen in kind with consumer consciousness. Despite who leads the charge in uncovering supply chain mismanagement (horse meat, anyone?), consumers make quick, lasting, and often fatal judgements against dishonest brands. They are changing their purchasing behavior and demanding transparency from retailers and manufacturers alike.
The Future of Marketing
I risk repeating myself here, but you can probably guess what I’m going to suggest: Telling the truth is the future of marketing. There is still time for Shinola to decide their fate, but the FTC ruling and potential consumer response represents an ongoing shift in the balance of power—from the corporation to the consumer. Everlane has yielded to this in profound and strategic ways. Shinola has not. And their refusal to be transparent will have implications for their bottom line.