Paisley print patterns and quilted textures are the hallmark of the Vera Bradley brand, but the company is slowly trying to expand to reach women that aren’t college-bound or in the baby boomer set.
On the product side, that means more leather bags (although they still feature the splashy, cheeky prints on the inside) and a digital strategy that’s more about the consumer than the brand, according to Theresa Palermo, CMO at the company.
It’s a tough marketing act to balance. Vera Bradley began when Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and her friend Patricia Miller realized that luggage was boring and not “feminine” enough back in 1982. So the company, named after Bradley’s mother, sought to fill the gap in the market with flirty, splashy prints.
But the market today is different: Millennial tastes no longer skew so obviously feminine, so the brand wants to be able to create product that won’t look out of place in real life.
One way it’s doing that is by using customers on social media and online as focus groups. For example, the brand noticed that much of its target market was complaining about how often phones ran out of battery and how bulky battery cases were. So the company’s R&D department designed a bag that included a built-in charger.
“The magic is in being able to say here’s what the consumer needs. Here are the problems we can solve,” said Palermo.
It’s now a common tactic: Brands like Glossier and Wet N Wild are both using social media following to design how products get developed and marketed.
The new Vera Bradley rebrand includes a new logo by agency Redscout and a campaign called “It’s Good to Be a Girl,” which features videos about women around the world, subway and bus wraps in New York and an Instagram push. Those videos also play on interactive screens in the Vera Bradley stores, which also pull in Instagram photos from customers wearing Vera Bradley that Palermo says is an effort to bridge the gap between online and in-store. To that end, the New York store in SoHo, opened just a week ago, also acts as a community hub — it features a candy bar with Sugarfina candy, coffee, cookies and places to just hang out.
The brand is also finding about 15 percent growth in traffic to its sites on mobile. Palermo said that mobile still doesn’t convert, so the brand is focused on how to create content on mobile that is optimized. “We’re now mobile-first,” said Palermo, who has pushed content teams at Vera Bradley to create more video content like how-to videos for products like its luggage, showing how to pack it and use the pockets. “The things that gain traction are things helping her. When we show an animation of a briefcase that shows pockets, and the functionality and what she can fit inside, it does well,” said Palermo.
Stacie Brockman, co-founder of Metier, said that for Vera Bradley, the challenge is to remain an established brand and appeal to new people without losing its roots. “There’s a way to introduce new followers into the fold to reinvent yourself, but do it notch by notch,” she said. “ You need to live and breathe your roots.”