How Crocs and Claire's Became Cool Again
Anyone in retail knows that brands sometimes have to reinvent themselves in order to remain relevant and — for lack of a better word — "cool" to consumers. At the National Retail Federation's Big Show last week, executives from two well-known brands, Claire's and Crocs, shared how their companies overcame setbacks and charted a new course to win back the hearts and wallets of customers.
"We still pinch ourselves at Crocs that we’re here talking about coolness," said Heidi Cooley, chief marketing officer and executive vice president at Crocs. She added that for Crocs, "cool" is about listening to fans and showing up in unique and innovative ways for them.
"We believe our fans will keep us at the forefront of culture, and that's proven really beneficial in our strategy," Cooley added.
Crocs' brand transformation started in 2016, according to Cooley, when the No. 3 Google search trend for Crocs was Crocs memes. "We were by all means a joke," she said. Now, search results for Crocs show people wearing them around the house, at weddings, at graduations ... basically everywhere.
"For us, that's a sign of cool," said Cooley.
At 60-year-old Claire's, Kristin Patrick, the retailer's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, said the company has been on a transformational journey the last couple of years. That transformation, Patrick said, was about "redefining for the generation that we stood for." She noted that Claire's was very calculated throughout its transformation, doing a series of "precision cultural strikes," "head-snapping events" and product innovations — all with a timely element to it.
"When you googled Claire's, the only thing that came up was a bankruptcy [filing]," Patrick said. Two-and-a-half years later, Claire's was named one of Fast Company's most innovative companies.
"We're just doing things differently," Patrick said. "[Coolness is] reliant on your consumers and it depends also on what TikTok is saying."
How Claire's and Crocs Are Thinking About Customers Generationally
Patrick said Claire's customers are a combination of Gen Z and Gen Alpha, lovingly referred to by the company as "the Zalphas." She said this group is highly creative, highly entrepreneurial, highly opinionated, tech-savvy, and "part of the coolest generation." They also have a lot of hardship — after going through two years of COVID-19, they're talking a lot about mental health issues and fluidity.
"They have to lead the way," Patrick said. "Marketing today is very much about letting them lead ... it's about setting a platform for them and letting them come in and infuse meaning into your brand."
Cooley refers to Crocs as a "delightfully democratic brand. We're really comfortable with Crocs being your first and your last pair of shoes and living throughout your lifespan." she said.
Echoing Patrick's thoughts, Cooley noted that younger generations are exhibiting self-expression and creativity, purpose and community, as well as "digital nativeness."
"For us, it's a consumer-centric approach," Cooley told the audience. "It's listening to their conversations, helping to understand how we actively and authentically become part of their lives. It's celebrating the things they care about, creating communities they want to connect to. And it's about showing up where they're spending their time."
How Claire's and Crocs Are Creating Unique and Authentic Customer Experiences
Through regular feedback from its loyalty members and chatter on social media, Claire's learned where its customer was shopping and sought out to expand its brand footprint, Patrick said. You can now find Claire's products in more distribution channels, such as Paris' Galleries Lafayette, Walmart, and the metaverse. Patrick said more content from the brand is forthcoming.
Cooley said a digital-first mentality helps Crocs show up where customers are and create unique experiences for them.
"We believe that our brand can be a canvas for self-expression," said Cooley, pointing to Jibbitz as a form of that self-expression. "You'll see a lot of the ways that our brand shows up in those experiences is enabling that kind of engagement with our customers."