The Cambridge Satchel Company on keeping its ‘cool’ factor as it eyes £100m in global sales

Exclusivity and scarcity are key to retaining The Cambridge Satchel Company’s ‘cool factor’ but the business knows they could also ruin sales and so is fashioning a strategy to try and successfully balance the two.

Once the darling of the internet thanks to founder Julie Deane’s story of setting the brand up out of necessity from her kitchen table – remember the Google Chrome ad? – in just eight short years The Cambridge Satchel Company has grown to become a fashion giant. From those humble beginnings, the handbag brand is now trying to navigate the tricky terrain of being – at least to consumers – the quaint family-run business from Cambridge as it simultaneously operates out of three continents and eyes sales of £100m.

With this apparent conflict of personalities as it tries to be both David and Goliath, its first chief marketing officer (CMO) – poached from Mr Porter two years ago – is currently focused on trying to keep the brand personal through its social efforts whilst also mulling when – not if – it shifts ad budgets to previously unconsidered broadcast channels, such as TV and out of home.

“We want to get to £100m turnover and at some point we will have to go and do more than what we do now,” CMO Mario Muttenthaler told The Drum, adding OOH was of particular interest.

“But it all comes down to how you execute it […] It’s not that different [to what we're doing now] but it’s a different place.”

The brand was famously built by being one of the first to embrace the power of ‘the social influencer’, before bloggers or vloggers knew that brands would pay them exorbitant sums for a slither of attention from their audience.

While it still works with 'influencers' on a case by case basis – it recently sent a bag to Taylor Swift who was photographed in it (she wasn’t paid) leading to unprecedented sales according to Muttenthaler - the soaring fees these blogger command is seeing the business turn other channels in a bid to stay cool as it becomes more mainstream.

Segmenting its customers

One of the first things Muttenthaler did on his arrival at The Cambridge Satchel Company was to try and understand its customer base in greater depth than it had before. After surveying over 2,000 people coming through the doors of its stores – which are heavily frequented by tourists on account of their locations thus giving Muttenthaler a more global view than a survey on its UK website could - four ‘motivations’ for customers were unearthed.

The profiles include; ‘The Men’ (The Cambridge Satchel Company launched a men’s range in 2013), the Fashionistas, the Pheobephiles, and the Pragmatists. It continues to use these insights today as a guide for its marketing activities.

Of late, the fashion brand has focused heavily on engaging with the Pheobephiles, a group it has categorised as the girl in her late 20s, who is “obsessed” with the slick style of designer Celine but can’t afford the luxury price tag. She’s also an avid Instagram user.

“That really helped us define our social strategy. We’ve put a lot of effort into Instagram,” said Muttenthaler

A lesson likely learned from his time at Mr Porter – recently named the most socially engaged premium UK fashion retailer – attention has been paid to the quality and originality of images it posts on the platform. But perhaps more importantly is the balance it’s struck between posts with products and those without. A scan of its most recent images shows that at least a quarter have no obvious link to The Cambridge Satchel Company.

“We understand it’s not just about the product, but also about the lifestyle,” said Muttenthaler.

China

Marketing a lifestyle rather than a product is especially true in China, one of The Cambridge Satchel Company's biggest growth markets. In the UK, the brand invests the bulk of its budget on email and display (retargeting is “really effective,” claims Muttenthaler) but these tactics simply don’t cut it in Asia where the customer is simply “too far ahead”.

Tapping into the love of messaging apps, the company was one of the first brands on WeChat . Despite its average monthly growth rate on the channel hitting 30 per cent, Muttenthaler is finding it increasingly difficult to cut through as more and more brands hop on board.

Weibo – akin to Twitter – is now the platform with the most potential for growth but the principles for success remain the same as in the UK.

“The importance is on understanding which content is interesting to the Chinese consumer. You need very engaging content – the Britishness of the brand is helping us but the challenge is that they don’t react to posts about the product and so it has to be about British life and bringing products into style," he said.

Secondly, the Chinese customer loves games: “Asking for opinions, voting or contests all makes a difference."

The next step in its strategy to making the experience more seamless on Weibo is to integrate a payment option whereby people can click to buy within the post, although Muttenthaler said it’s still working on this function.

The final element in its marketing mix is brand collaborations. With a niche product in a limited number of variations, keeping those who have already bought from the brand interested is a challenge. Its biggest collaboration came in the form of British icon Vivienne Westwood back in 2013 while more recently it’s tied with Peanuts and The Rolling Stones on the special collection ranges. The brand has another in the pipeline for the coming year, although declined to reveal any details.

“It really allows us to have a bit of fun and emphasise our brand values […] our product is like a blank canvas for other designers to put their stamp on it,” said Muttenthaler

So then, it seems that while other high street brands remain cautious on their futures, they could do worse than looking to The Cambridge Satchel Company on what it takes to be both global and local, mainstream and ‘cool’.

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