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Four content marketing lessons from Herschel Supply

Over the past seven years, The Globe and Mail has covered Herschel Supply Co. from various angles. Our reporters have pondered whether the fickle ‘cool kids’ would stay interested in the brand (they have), explored the number of impressive partnerships it’s brokered (think Apple, Coca Cola, Disney), and mapped the company’s worldwide expansion (it now sell in over 70 countries).

From 'Choose the Right Luggage' post, Sept. 2014, Herschel Supply Co.
   From ‘Choose the Right Luggage’ post,      Sept. 2014, Herschel Supply Co.

Driving its success are stylish yet affordable backpacks, duffle bags and messengers. But not to be overlooked is the role a strong content marketing has played in the company’s exponential growth. Here are four things that contribute to Herschel’s winning approach:

1. Product integration is subtle. Yes, its social media channels feature perfectly curated product shots. But this can be pardoned; Herschel is in the business of selling bags, after all. But delve into its blog and nary a wallet’s in sight. What gives? The purpose of the company’s blogging platform is to draw readers in through rich, relevant stories about travel, design and photography — not to slap them across the face with product pitches.

Source: Herschel Supply Co.
 City Limitless cover image, Herschel Supply Co.

2. Tapping into the right crowdculture. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review magazine, Douglas Holt argues that in order to brand effectively with social media, companies should target two groups: subcultures “which incubator new ideologies and practices” and art worlds “which break new ground in entertainment.” With its blog, Herschel has done just that. Launched in June 2015, City Limitless is described as “a community-driven and global content series.” Through enlisting the creative class to produce and share stories, the retailer becomes central to the community.

3. It follows the publisher’s playbook, but doesn’t abide by all the rules. Like most news sites, Herschel’s blog is organized by topic. For example, the photo-based Well Travelled section captures the essence of travel while The Journal, a bi-annual magazine available online and in print, covers a gamut of lifestyle topics. Herschel also leverages the contributor network model; that is, it enlists freelancers or ‘stringers’ across the globe to create content for its website. What distinguishes the bag company from publishers, however, is that they do not rely on traditional advertising revenue to fund its content marketing strategy. In other words, it has the freedom to tell the kinds of stories that isn’t tied to hard ad impression, page view or time spent targets.

4. The stories are diverse, but the messaging is aligned. By exploring a wide range of related topics like architecture, travel and food, Herschel widens its appeal beyond customers simply looking for the latest bag or accessory. At the same time, the company is careful not to open the aperture so wide as to alienate its core customers. Herschel understands that consumer tastes are multidimensional, and that if you’re a freelance photographer visiting the blog, there’s a good chance that you also enjoy reading about travel to Japan or the history of the Slow Food movement.

Katherine Scarrow is a digital strategist for Globe Edge, The Globe and Mail’s content studio. She can be reached @scarrowk.

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