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It is fairly common to spot a Herschel backpack hanging off the shoulders of a preppy teenager that’s riding his bike to school.
Herschel Supply Co. was founded by Canadian brothers Lyndon and Jamie Cormack in 2009 and saw enormous growth in its founding years.
In its first year, Herschel sold a remarkable 8,000 backpacks. 8 years later, Herschel has become a globally recognized brand, selling millions of backpacks and other merchandise to an international audience.
Today, Herschel Supply merchandise is sold in more than 5,000 stores worldwide.
Shelves of Herschel merchandise can be spotted in chic and alternative concept stores such as Colette in Paris, Urban Outfitters in the U.S., and even high-end stores like Selfridges and Barneys.
What sort of marketing strategy did Herschel use to achieve such phenomenal success in such a short time?
1. A good and consistent product that's worth talking about
Herschel brands itself as a “design-driven global accessories brand that produces quality products with a fine regard for detail.”
Herschel focuses on producing functional bags and accessories for the ‘everyday traveler’, and its designs are grounded in “timeless silhouettes inspired by the world around us” with thoughtful details to enhance customer utility.
Herschel's designs are vintage-inspired but with a modern twist. The classic diamond-shaped leather tab known as the ‘pig’s snout’ is a common feature on several designs.
The brand has a few distinctly Herschel designs such as the classic Little America Backpack, the Heritage Backpack, and the Town Backpack, with seasonal variations on color, fabric, texture, and print.
Word-of-mouth tip: Creating a range of classic product designs synonymous with the brand makes the brand uniquely identifiable. Subsequent variations and innovation on material and fabric of a design that is already well-loved cater to the varying tastes and preferences of an even wider audience.
2. Avoiding mass marketing to maintain a sense of elusiveness
The Cormack brothers agreed that to create a brand that people covet, the air of elusiveness surrounding the brand must be maintained.
To that end, they have completely avoided mass marketing, opting instead for strategic advertising on social media and in trade shows and magazines.
As Herschel Global Marketing Director Mikey Scott says, “We focus on doing more with less.”
Word-of-mouth tip: With thousands of brand options to choose from when selecting a new backpack, what drives customers to choose a particular brand often has to do with how cool that brand is perceived to be. By employing a targeted marketing strategy that is consistent with that allure, customers are sure to be drawn in.
3. Effective social media marketing, particularly on Instagram
#WellPacked for adventures in Capetown. Photo: @barkinozdemir #Luggage #HerschelSupply
A photo posted by Herschel Supply Co (@herschelsupply) on May 10, 2016 at 5:14pm PDT
Herschel is clearly doing great at the social media game, with a highly curated Instagram feed filled with immaculate flat lays, picturesque scenery, and product advertorials that have drawn more than 783,000 followers.
Allison Butula, Herschel’s Social Media Manager expounds on Herschel’s marketing strategy, noting that the company “[doesn’t] buy traditional media advertisements, so when we are releasing a new product line or partnership it’s all done online through our social networks and media partners.”
Butula elaborates that the approach Herschel uses is to share stories from real individuals as its main tactic in spreading brand awareness rather than using calls-to-action such as ‘shop’ and ‘buy’.
Herschel also successfully anchored the hashtag #WellTravelled in Instagram fame, with the hashtag garnering more than a million posts.
The effective use of hashtags has helped to bring forward brand testimonials from satisfied customers who talk about their love for and satisfaction with the brand, accompanying their comments with beautiful shots of Herschel products.
Word-of-mouth tip: Herschel’s successful approach towards social media — a focus on storytelling rather than on selling a product — is one that brands can strive to emulate. With a myriad of brands to choose from when purchasing a product, customers today are more interested in brand stories and brand experience. Making these stories easily accessible to the brand-conscious consumer goes a long way in spreading brand awareness via WOM.
4. Unique and meaningful brand partnerships with relevant brands like Disney, HYPEBEAST, and Coca-Cola
Herschel is receptive to brand collaborations but makes sure to partner only with brands that have a brand vision that they too believe in, and an aesthetic that complements the Herschel heritage story.
Examples of past collaborations include the Disney Collection: Mickey Mouse with Disney Consumer Products, Herschel Supply Co. for HYPEBEAST, and Herschel Supply for Coca Cola.
Scott reveals that Herschel has, “said ‘no’ a lot more than we’ve said ‘yes’ to a partnership.”
Word-of-mouth tips: Brand partnerships and collaborations have become a mainstay of the retail industry. When two brands that people love to collaborate to launch new product offerings, it keeps customers excited and eager for more - but the key point is to make sure the brands are in sync with each other.
Such a marketing strategy also allows one brand to leverage the loyal customer base of another brand, expanding its customer outreach in an organic fashion.
5. Regional customization and personalization to appeal more strongly to niches
Herschel recognizes that even though it is important to stay afloat of shifts in global trends, it is equally important to stay attuned to regional differences in tastes and preferences of customers.
Founder Lyndon Cormack said, “We certainly have eyes and ears all over the world, not only our own but others, to help guide us on micro-trends per region and how we can adapt the line to them.”
One successful way Herschel has adapted to local markets has been to launch brand collaborations with established local retailers.
The Herschel Supply for Beauty & Youth and Herschel Supply for Liberty of London product launches are examples of such a marketing strategy.
Beauty & Youth is a label by established Japanese retailer United Arrows, which has a huge following amongst the Japanese domestic market.
Similarly, Liberty of London is an English department store specializing in luxury offerings.
Word-of-mouth tip: By partnering with established local retailers, Herschel benefitted from these brands’ extensive customer bases, giving them a leg up for their venture into a foreign market, and the added bonus of a great introduction by a brand people trust and already love.
So just in case, you forget, here's a quick sum-up of why Herschel took over the backpack market:
- Consistency in the quality of their products with flagship designs
- Keeping the elusive factor by avoiding tacky mass-marketing
- Leveraging on social media to continue up-ing their elusiveness and exclusivity
- Carefully selected partnerships that made sure to bring attention to their brand
- Working together with local brands to create products for the local market
Read next: 4 Ways The North Face Dominates Outdoor Sports Apparel With Word-of-Mouth Marketing