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Marketing SXSW Creative

How Kate Spade is building an entertainment-driven content strategy


By Minda Smiley | Reporter

March 12, 2018 | 8 min read

About five years ago, Kate Spade found itself facing many of the same issues as other fashion brands. With glossy two-page magazine ads continuing to lose their luster, the handbag maker was struggling to shed its more traditional, print-oriented ways and create a digital strategy that worked.

Speaking at SXSW, Kate Spade’s chief marketing officer Mary Beech explained that at the time, the brand was employing a hollow one-size-fits-all approach to social by posting the same content on each platform. Additionally, the company was struggling to glean any real insights from the data it had on hand.

“We created content for all of the various mediums in which we were on, but we created one piece of content and just pushed it across all the mediums, not taking into any account what was specific about those distribution techniques,” said Beech. “We had lots of data, but we didn't have insights, and so we weren’t using those insights to leverage them against the content we created and deployed.”

Fast forward to 2018, and the brand - which was acquired by Coach last year for $2.4bn - is doing things a bit differently. Through creating content that’s both platform-specific and entertainment-driven, the New York-based company has managed to create a digital strategy that it says is helping it connect and engage with fans.

Finding a story to tell

Getting into a “video-first” mindset is something that Kristen Naiman, senior vice president of brand creative at Kate Spade’s in-house agency, wanted to prioritize when she joined the company four years ago. At the time, Naiman said her team was “very stuck in thinking about the photograph” as the main form of communication.

To move away from that, her team began looking at what sorts of shows and series were popular to see if the brand could take any cues from the entertainment world.

“A lot of what was happening out there that felt really exciting was this renaissance of serialized narrative storytelling content,” she said, pointing to shows like HBO’s High Maintenance and the rising popularly of Netflix. It was around that same time that female comedians like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer were beginning to see their careers skyrocket, something she said the brand also took note of since she believed they were helping to usher in a new era of comedy.

“We thought both of those things were amazing and really interesting,” said Naiman.

Those two insights led to the birth of Kate Spade’s #MissAdventure, a short-form YouTube show starring actress and singer Anna Kendrick that kicked off in 2014. In the series, Kendrick plays a slightly ditzy, quirky woman who spends her days exploring New York.

“Our principles were twofold: we were going to make something that behaved in a way that was digital-first, and we were going to make something that while it was meant to be a piece of marketing to a certain degree, was interesting first,” said Naiman.

Kate Spade’s products were tied into the series via a concept Naiman calls “product as character,” which essentially involves making a product an integral part of the story rather than something a character is simply wearing or using.

For instance, in an episode of #MissAdventure called ‘The Waiting Game,’ Kendrick realizes she’s lost her apartment keys once she arrives at her doorstep. To get in, she decides to create a makeshift rope using the Kate Spade clothes and shoes she’s just bought so she can climb in via the fire escape.

Naiman said making the brand’s products a “distinct element” in the stories it tells helps the brand become part of the narrative, a strategy she believes is more effective than simply sticking a logo at the end of a video.

“We are a materialist culture. We all live with a lot of stuff in our lives, and those elements in our lives are part of our story,” she said.

Choosing a platform

While some brands strive to be early adopters and try out every new platform, Kate Spade has taken a more cautious approach to social.

Krista Neuhaus, Kate Spade’s senior director of digital brand marketing, said the brand was on every single social channel when she joined a few years back. Upon joining, she made it her job to figure out not only which channels the brand should be on and which ones it shouldn’t, but also how it should approach each individual platform.

“When I came onto the brand, Kate Spade existed on every single social channel, which was amazing, but I wanted to take that step back to figure out the why, what and how of what we were trying to do there,” said Neuhaus. “Obviously content is key and you have to produce a lot of it, but it’s really important to figure out where you want to win, because you can’t be effective everywhere.”

For instance, she said that brand has chosen to avoid investing in Twitter since the real-time, current events-driven nature of it doesn’t align with the company’s broader goals.

“It just didn’t feel like the right place to invest,” Neuhaus said of Twitter. “However, YouTube has been a huge place for us. I really like that you can build an organic subscriber base. It’s hard and it takes some time, but once you get them, you can really leverage the power of Google and do a lot of iterative, advanced marketing against that audience.”

Kate Spade has heavily prioritized YouTube in recent years, creating content that mimics the beauty vlogs and Tasty-esque how-to videos that have taken the platform by storm in recent years.

The brand’s ‘Make Yourself a Home’ series - which shows viewers things like ‘how to dress up one desk, three ways’ and ‘how to decorate your holiday dining table’ - has done exceptionally well for the brand. According to Neuhaus, the series, which debuted last year, resulted in “the highest amount of subscribers from the entire year from any group of content.”

This year, the brand is promoting its new fragrance In Full Bloom via a black-and-white YouTube series featuring actress Laura Dern, comedian Sasheer Zamata and writer Tavi Gevinson. The series features the women dishing out advice on topics like success, friendship, true love and self-respect.

Kate Spade worked with YouTube on this series to figure out which search terms people are likely to use when looking for content about beauty and related topics. It then created the content around those terms in the hopes that people will find it while they’re “actively searching” for videos related to these topics, a strategy that Neuhaus describes as “push to pull.”

As Kate Spade continues to work on its YouTube strategy and build its subscriber base, it does so knowing that not all platforms are worth the same amount of time and investment for the brand. For example, Snapchat is a platform the brand hasn’t spent much time with, despite the app’s popularity among millennials and Gen Z.

“I felt strongly that Snapchat wasn’t going to be a platform that we could really shine on,” said Naiman. “I felt like the best content on Snapchat was super raw and very on the fly.”

However, Instagram Stories - basically Facebook’s answer to Snapchat - is something that Kate Spade thinks could work for the brand since content on Instagram tends to be more polished and fashion-oriented. The brand has recently been testing a campaign on Instagram Stories called ‘365 Days of Joy,’ which every day features a small gesture that someone can do for themselves or someone else, like ‘buy coffee for the person behind you.’

While both Neuhaus and Naiman agree that brands are under immense pressure to create more and more content with limited time and resources, they said it’s crucial for brands to take time to figure out which platforms will best serve them and how.

“It’s really important that you’re just not creating content and then figuring out where it goes,” said Neuhaus, “but actually figuring out, ‘what is this piece of content going to do on the channel that’s going to help us win?’”

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