The fact that teens and tweens spend their time on Instagram is hardly newsworthy, but tween-and-teen magnet Brandy Melville has managed to engage and monetize the youthful scrolling masses in order to build a thriving retail brand.
In fact, the beachswept, casual apparel brand has relied solely on informal Instagram marketing (the Financial Times calls it an “Instabrand”) and word of mouth in its target demo in order to develop a cult following, and they’re clearly doing something right.
Brandy Melville, which launched in the US in 2009 and also operates in the UK and Germany, has about 20 locations nationwide, and prides itself on selling basic, LA-inspired clothing for girls. Think cotton tank tops, slouchy sweaters and distressed denim shorts—and t-shirts. Tons of t-shirts.
So some fans may be surprised to learn that the brand actually originates in Italy. Brandy Melville may seem like an all-American brand—but its Italian founders know how to know their customers to a tee.
In fact, the California-style brand, known as @BrandyMelvilleUSA (also @BrandyMelvilleUK and @BrandyGermany) on Instagram, uses a group of “Brandy Girls” (Brandy Ambassadors, you might call them) across its Instagram feeds, showcasing images of young, carefree girls running on the beach or at a café, socializing with friends and drinking coffee in their photogenic Brandy Melville outfits. Followers seem to love the image of the typical “Brandy Girl” just as much as they love the brand itself.
You may be asking yourself, “What is this company really doing differently than other brands aside from actively posting on social media?” The answer to the Brandy marketing brilliance actually lies in the girls used in their photos. Although many of the “Brandy Girls” are professional models, some are members of the brand’s Product Research department, which is key to Brandy’s thriving business—they really know their teen (and tween) customers.
“Product research is made up of all teenage girls,” Kjerstin Skorge, a brand ambassador from Malibu, explained to Racked. “There’s about 20 of us.”
Brandy Melville has hired a group of teenage girls to give feedback and brainstorm new concepts for the brand, and many of these girls are featured on the company’s Instagram account as well. These girls are mostly in high school, and executives at the company value their input. After all, these girls are the brand’s exact target market, so their opinions matter, even if parents just see a sea of stripes and pale pastels—and a nautical red, white and blue for 4th of July.
“Let’s say there’s a cut of a T-shirt that’s doing really well, they’ll ask our opinion on it. Do we like it? Should we make more? If so, what colors? Should we do long-sleeve? Short-sleeve? Cropped? Not cropped? Would this T-shirt be better in this material? There’s all kinds of things that we get asked, and we give our honest opinion. We also come up with ideas and images that we think would sell well,” Kjerstin continued.
With the brand’s sales up 25 percent since 2014, when the company posted sales of about $125 million, it seems that Brandy Melville has been able to tap into their demographic in an immersive way that other companies have yet to figure out. Retail may be an age-old business, but the key to success in the industry’s new digital environment is anything but traditional.
The brand has gotten some flack in the past about their controversial “one size fits all” sizing model, but the 3.9 million Instagram followers just on its US feed alone don’t seem to mind.
As for its successful brick-and-mortar stores, known for their sticker- and patch-covered walls, as Racked has noted, “Inside, the store itself looks Instagram-filtered, all bleached wood and muted color palette.”
Add to that a workforce that looks they stepped out of their Instagram feel, and a breezy attitude that mixes made-to-look-vintage rock tees with preppy basics, and it’s a retail mix that manages to please middle schoolers and their moms alike, even if the occasion crop top raises the occasional eyebrow.