Keeping It Friendly With BFF Marketing
The voices are conversational, personal, inclusive and empathetic.
The photos have a soothing pastel palette and diverse women with flawless skin and thick eyebrows. The products they're selling are "masspirational" - promising a healthy glow, ethically-made clothes and stylish athleisure pieces at a more acccessible price than their luxury counterparts.
This is "BFF Marketing," a termed coined by fashion journalist Pandora Sykes in an October 2017 piece for Business of Fashion. The article identifies the rise of direct to consumer brands who sell to young women and use a certain style of marketing to grow their business and community.
If you're a woman between the ages of 18 - 34, who shops online & scrolls through Instagram, chances are that you're a customer (or at least have heard of) these direct to consumer brands: Everlane, Glossier, Outdoor Voices, Away, Reformation, Realisation Par and Thinx. These brands sprung up in the last decade, received millions in funding and have changed what young women expect of brands. They've identified what's missing in the market, and more importantly, they know how to talk to their potential customers and sell them products that make them feel connected to a greater purpose beyond materialism.
For Everlane, an online clothing brand that sells ethically-made luxurious basics, their philosophy is "radical transparency." They show consumers exactly what the product costs while promising fair treatment of workers. Instead of Black Friday sales, they took all the proceeds from that day to build an organic vegetable farm so that their factory workers in Vietnam could have two free healthy meals a day. For Glossier, a makeup and skincare brand, it's about being inclusive, embracing flaws and feeling beautiful in your own skin, a narrative that's been missing from an industry which traditionally has relied on insecurities to sell products.
These brands communicate their greater purpose through the BFF approach, which is baked into their core brand. Paired with photogenic products, the brands have built substantial social followings and armies of brand evangelists. Their customers willingly post photos of the brand on social media, growing the brand's awareness organically through word of mouth. These brands have created valuable social currency - consumers want to be associated with them.
So what's caused the rise of BFF marketing?
I think it's a combination of factors. One is the rise of direct to consumer brands. There's a general distrust and lack of connection with many traditional brands. Look at how Gap and J.Crew are faring in the market. I personally feel no emotional connection to those brands - I may browse if there's a sale, but I'm not going to talk to my friends about a new product launch the way I would about Everlane's Damn Good Denim. Luxury brands are still going strong but they're out of reach & extremely exclusive. Consumers want the experience of luxury - good design, personal service, products that feel made for them - but at more accessible prices and in a more inclusive way.
The other reason is social media. It's where we spend the majority of time, communicating, consuming media and creating their own platforms. The rise of the personal brand makes a person's consumption habits even more public, as it's a reflection of their own self, for better or for worse.
Besides the conversational tone & pretty imagery, here are a few more characteristics of BFF Marketing:
A female founder who's built into the brand, as seen with Outdoor Voices' Tyler Haney & Glossier's Emily Weiss. Having an inspiring and involved founder makes a realistic brand story of empowerment and thus plays into an element of fourth wave feminism where the brand story includes female empowerment and therefore you're encouraged to support both the brand and the message.
Strong social community, led by branded hashtags and an abundance of user generated content (Check out #doingthings )
Allowing consumers to influence the brand's products (Glossier crowd-sourced their community to create their bestselling Milky Jelly Cleanser).
The use of sans serif font in their logo (this design trait is pretty much a requirement for any direct to consumer brand).
So is combining the characteristics above the magic trick to winning over young women? Not always. The brand's success is dependent on positive word of mouth and a strong social community. So while the product has to be Instagrammable and look good on a marble flat lay, the brand has to connect the purchase & social media flaunting of their product to something more.
Something that makes the customer feel cooler, more in the know, and more "with it", even if it's just by friendly association.