How does a brand or product become actually synonymous with culture, expression, a state of mind?
The Vans brand has aligned with skate culture since its inception in 1966. Initially, the Vans shoe had the thickest sole, the best grip and the most resilient stitching amongst its competitors. It therefore quickly became the go-to skating shoe for many of the skaters in the first wave of the scene.
From these beginnings, already so well entwined with a niche culture, Vans quickly spread to other sporting communities including surfing and snowboarding. This strong affiliation with these ultra-cool youth scenes were enhanced and driven home through organic and natural associations with the most desirable and established figures of the time.
Already we can see Vans became more than just a shoe through these methods, their brand actually became a signifier of this specific culture. People who wore Vans were automatically associated with the cool kids from the skating, surfing and snowboarding scene.
Currently, we can see Vans reach has broadened to represent youth culture as a whole. It has seamlessly and fundamentally encroached upon the youth of today, acting as a kind of rite-of-passage.
This deep cultural affiliation didn’t happen accidentally. Though their brand management is flawless, it is also extremely and intricately managed. Don’t be fooled by their easy going, carefree persona – every single piece of content that is produced by Vans has an exceptionally well-thought-out strategy behind it.
From it’s secure and well established position within the youth sporting culture, Vans expanded to partner with musicians and other creative artists growing their sphere of influence on culture as a whole. This is where their brand management becomes rather interesting.
Vans have been a major sponsor of the longest running North American touring music festival, Vans Warped Tour since 1996. This partnership really cemented the idea that Vans is far more than just a skate shoe. This idea was further established with the opening of House of Vans, described on the website as the “physical manifestation of the culture and creativity that have defined the Vans brand since 1966.” The space constantly hosts music, art and education events attracting local and worldwide talent in their respective fields. This once again proves that the Vans brand transcends shoes and is fundamentally involved with culture.
This exceptional brand management has been translated seamlessly into the digital realm through content marketing. Currently, Vans have 3.8 million follows on Instagram and 15.3 million likes on their Facebook page. The majority of the content shared through these avenues is not directly about their product. Instead, Vans share and produce content that represents their culture. These present themselves as videos and photos of skaters, surfers, events and charities that intrinsically represent the cool, youth culture that Vans sell along with rubber soled sneakers.
An especially interesting content marketing strategy came about through the #livingoffthewall project. On their website, Vans present this official slogan as a state of mind, “thinking differently. Embracing creative self-expression. Choosing your own line on your board and in your life.” For the #livingoffthewall project, Vans enlisted a group of story-tellers and documentary makers to create a growing list of short documentaries sharing “people, places and things that best illustrate such a commitment to originality” that best represents the Vans brand. These videos are simply collated in a Vans sponsored space, they do not inherently promote the Vans brand or product, and there is no clever script writing or false organic promotion. Vans simply support and sponsor the creation of authentic and creative content that is shareable and valuable to their target audience.
Vans draw from a long-standing understanding of their target audience and their product. They have always sold shoes, but they sold shoes that had significant meaning to an increasingly large group of people. With this cult following in mind, meaningful content production is extremely necessary. Content should be specific to each brand and each target audience. The Vans audience are curious about creativity, music, art, skating, surfing, and interesting people within these fields and so the #livingoffthewall project simply produced content about this.
These videos have been viewed thousands of times each and have been shared across various Facebook pages. By creating interesting and engaging content, target audiences are far more likely to engage and share with their own sphere of online influence.
Often companies fall into the trap of believing their products, treatments, services or offers must be directly presented to their potential buyers explicitly. However, from the ongoing example of the Vans content marketing strategy we can see that a thorough understanding of brand and culture and producing content that aligns with this is an interesting, engaging and useful method of promoting your product. Young people are spending more and more of their time online and they are increasingly aware of advertising strategies and ploys. Vans utilized this by creating content that is actually desired and longed for by their potential buyers rather than interrupting them with incessant advertisement pop ups. Creating organic, authentic and desirable content is the essence of content marketing.
Andrew Davis, the author of Brandscaping, describes the process of content marketing this way, “Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” We can truly see this at play through the Vans content marketing story.