Six short years ago, Andy and Rich sat freezing their butts off on a rickety chairlift on the backside of Squaw Valley, California when they finally decided to go for it. After personal investments of $10,000 each and several sleepless nights later, Huckberry is a rising star in the outdoor retail industry — equal parts store, magazine, and inspiration.
Today, Huckberry has grown to more than 80 employees; sells well over 750,000 products per year; and has gone from $10,000 to $1,000,000 in one year.
The article (linked at the end) tells the whole story how they did it.
The authors had the rare opportunity to sit down with Micah McKay (the person responsible for Huckberry’s fantastic growth) to learn how they can turn a profit year after year, and in the process, gain loyal customers who stay with them for life.
You will see exactly how Huckberry fuels their multimillion-dollar outdoor retail business with a simple, yet undeniably effective approach to marketing.
It’s a very detailed case study. I will only show you the main areas discussed, some of the interesting facts, and important findings.
I’m familiar with the company for quite some time now, so I will add my own experience with them, where applicable.
For all the goodies, check out the article. And be prepared, come with a cup of tea or good coffee (AeroPress is nice!) My Instapaper showed me it’s a 20-minute read.
Here’s their 9-part approach:
1. Create An Incredibly Unique Product And Brand Story
“We’re focused on telling an authentic brand story. A story that people can relate to. And when you pair that with great products, it’s a win-win.”
When Huckberry was first founded, of course there were men’s retail stores. There were also a ton of outdoor magazines. But no company seemed to speak to the young, 25-year-old adventure seekers. The ones that lived in the city and spent their weekends in the wilderness.
What the founders of Huckberry realized was that every great business starts with an incredibly unique story. The Huckberry story is carefully crafted and weaved into the DNA of their company– starting from the moment a user lands on their website:
“We always try to focus on the story, I mean, we’re storytellers at heart. We want to get people’s ‘mindshare’ instead of wallet share. The entire company feels the same way. Crafting unique imagery and copy for every single touchpoint is crucial to our business.”
Their storytelling approach to marketing can be found organically across all the channels. Their Instagram account, for example, is a mix of high-quality product photos and outdoor inspiration.
Everything from the photo to the caption is a strategic move to tell the Huckberry story.
Takeaway: Take time to carefully consider every single little detail of the moment when a customer comes across your company’s website for the first time. Whether someone discovers your business organically on Instagram or through a search engine like Google, your story needs to be so compelling and so unique that it hooks the person in to want to find out more.
Use product reviews, testimonials from customers, beautiful imagery or videos, and a simple, mobile-friendly website design to establish trust with potential customers immediately.
The story goes hand in hand with great imagery too. On all of their profiles, and on their website. The products are beautifully presented.
2. Invest In Affiliate Marketing And Ambassador Programs
For a small company like Huckberry that didn’t have a lot of funding or cash on hand when they started out in 2010, marketing channels were extremely limited.
“We didn’t have a lot of money for advertising, so we got creative. In the first year, we partnered with The Art of Manliness and Outside to slowly grow our brand name.”
The fruitful partnership resulted in two-way affiliate links, dedicated product pages, content, and a lot more – benefiting both parties along the way.
Also, it’s nearly impossible to understate just how important big-name ambassadors can be for your brand and/or your product.
Huckberry is right up there with one of the best ambassador programs in the world. The list of prominent photographers, travelers, bloggers, and fashion experts goes on and on.
There are several ways to structure ambassador programs, but in most cases, ambassadors are either paid a flat commission for mentioning the brand/product in their social media posts or they’re provided free gear in return for a certain amount of mentions per month. We’ve seen ambassador programs work in both cases, but the most common program is the commission structure.
3. Create Valuable Content (It’s Still As Important As Ever!)
You may be wondering why Huckberry chooses to focus so much energy and attention on creating a unique brand story and publishing content around that story.
The answer is: it works.
Micah explains, “Roundups, gift guides, gear guides, you name it, have all been a huge part of why people enjoy our brand. To take directly from our mantra, we’re not just selling products, we’re selling inspiration.”
“We consider keywords, search intentions, and create our content accordingly. Everything we create has an SEO element to it. It helps to ensure that our content reaches as far as possible,” says Micah.
And above all, their content is fantastic! Just go to the “Read” part of their website and browse for a few minutes. Practically every piece is outstanding.
4. Build A Killer Email Drip Campaign
One thing that’s worth noting here is that Huckberry is a members-only website. You can browse their site and read their articles, but if you want to make a purchase then you have to sign up (for free) — making email an important part of communication with their customers.
When users sign up to be a Huckberry member, it puts them further down the sales funnel than a casual website visitor. Email is also a way to communicate the Huckberry story with their audience on a regular basis.
Again, from the very first welcome email, you can feel Huckberry’s storytelling approach woven into the details along with a perfectly placed CTA to “Explore”:
Huckberry’s weekly email edition features stories of people who live and breathe the outdoors, inspirational blog posts, Spotify ‘Song of the Day,’ and a section called “Diversions” that links to interesting stories elsewhere on the web.
I can say from experience, their emails are fantastic. They are just plain interesting to read. You know it’s from a company that exists to sell stuff. But you still want to read it because it’s good.
That’s the level of copywriting and storytelling you want to achieve in your business.
5. Experiment With Facebook & Instagram Retargeting Ads
“Part of the reason we’ve seen such success with social media advertising is because we’ve moved away from static imagery to animated GIFs and videos to get people to our website. For example, we used a video to promote our portable keg product by GrowlerWerks, which was an instant hit.”
Storytelling is also an important part of the Huckberry advertising strategy. Micah explains, “Ad targeting is very focused on selling and upselling to our current audience on social media. A lot of the time that means we need to get creative. Instead of just showing our products over and over, we aim to inspire our audience with some of our most popular content. We’ve found that it drives a lot more engagement than a typical ad.”
6. Optimize Landing Pages For Conversion With A/B Testing
For an eCommerce retailer like Huckberry, a high-converting landing page can mean the difference between a purchase and a cart abandonment.
“We A/B test everything. Images, copy, layout, format, color… everything. It doesn’t matter if we’re designing a landing page for a product or a piece of content, we always ask: what grabs the user’s attention?”
“People are buying the Huckberry story. We need to be able to quickly articulate our differentiator in the marketplace, and landing pages are the best place to do that. They act as our sales pitch for people who may not have heard about us before.”
7. Understand Every Nuance Of The Customer Journey
“At Huckberry, we dig deep into our analytics to try and find the inflection points. For example, if someone hasn’t purchased a product after two months, they’re probably not going to buy from us again. So it’s our job to put together messaging to try and reactivate that customer.”
Micah and his team perform a cohort analysis on various segments of customers — where they are coming from, what pages they are visiting, and when they’re either purchasing or churning. With that data, his team then creates custom communication campaigns based on what part of the customer journey each cohort is in.
One major challenge for eCommerce brands is when customers abandon their cart — leaving on the final stage of the journey before purchase.
After clicking “Checkout Now” I’m directed to a simple, clean, and minimal checkout page allowing me to make my purchase and get on with my day:
8 Increase Repeat Buyers By Building Authentic Relationships
“At Huckberry,” Micah starts, “Our top priority is to build a relationship with folks over time through what we like to refer to as ‘real talk.’ Real talk is down-to-earth selling that feels very natural to the customer. It’s not invasive or intrusive at all. It’s real talk.”
“Our approach is this: We use content, specifically email and blog content, to keep people around even if they’ve never bought from us or are never going to buy from us. Chances are, those people will mention our newsletter to their friends. Or, they’ll recommend a product to a family member as a birthday or holiday gift. That focus on long-term customers is why I think we’ve been so successful over the years.
“We typically don’t offer discounts and promotions. Of course, we’ll do the one-off sale and promotion, but it’s not the main driver of our business. Our view is that if you bring someone in through your story, you have a much higher chance of keeping them around for a long time.”
9. Build A Loyal Community Through Grassroots Marketing
Huckberry has implemented a ton of amazing grassroots programs with the goal of increasing word-of-mouth. Each unique story is authentic and relatable to their target audience. It also provides Huckberry with endless social media and email content that people can easily share to their timeline or forward to a friend.
Growth starts with a story. Without a compelling story, Huckberry might just be another brand in the sea of retailers. But it’s their story that keeps people coming back for more. It’s what entices people to open their emails each week, to get outdoors in Huckberry gear, and most of all, to tell their friends about an amazing new business that they’ve discovered.
“Your favorite store, your grandpa’s favorite store and your favorite magazine all rolled into one.” – Huckberry Founders
Now it’s time to write your own story. With real talk.
PS. It was supposed to be a short piece. Didn’t work. Sorry about that. Here’s candy for your effort! 🍬
PPS. Just kidding. Candy is bad. It’s pure sugar. Don’t eat it. Here’s a good steak instead: 🥩