4 Valuable Lessons I Learned from Urban Outfitters about Content Marketing + Social Media

Retail was never a career that I intended to fall into, (although, I did intentionally fall into the Gap at the tender age of 16 because I thought it would be cool to fold jeans all Summer).  However, by the time I was 20, my college courses were no longer keeping me interested + so that's actually what happened.  

I started working for a local boutique + found that I was really good at people, merchandising + BEING THE BOSS.  

After years of going through the motions, bouncing from retailer to retailer, I landed my dream job working for my favorite brand.  

As a Store Merchandising Manager for Urban Outfitters, I spent my days styling forms, deciding where all of the new merchandise would live, creating seasonal environments for each new floor set with my display artist + oversaw the entire visual team.  As glamorous as a visual position sounds within a company as edgy as UO, it was crazy-hard work.  However, I spent my days creating, alongside some of the most amazingly talented people in the industry... what could be better??  

Want to know what big companies like Urban Outfitters do to market with online content + social media?  You can implement these same strategies into your own business!!

After I got married, I transferred with UO to Los Angeles + a year later we moved further south to San Diego.  It was at that time that I was given the opportunity to manage one of the larger social media accounts for the brand.

Yep, in addition to my insane, laundry-list of daily responsibilities, I actually volunteered to create visual content, curate User Generated Content + post twice daily to the Instagram account for UO San Diego. I already loved using the platform + knew that this would give me a chance to learn more about content creation + managing social media, something I had become very interested in.

Each week I got to choose new products to feature, connect with local influencers, + create content that was often reposted on the national UO account, + sometimes other brand accounts as well. When a brand like MinkPink or Cheap Monday would re-gram one of MY photos on their feed, you would have thought I had just won the lottery.  #winning

Social media + content creation became my main focus.  I set my store team on autopilot + poured everything I had into managing my area's account.  I wanted to create THE BEST content + grow the account's following.  I connected with people in the community who became brand ambassadors, I created an in-store team + handed out weekly content assignments.  I tracked our stats + reported the findings to the entire district.  And the account grew, quickly. 


Everything that I was learning really started to click after I was asked to go on the first ever UO Road trip, which was basically a week long marketing campaign for Urban + Converse.  The home office creative team decided that involving actual employees would also tie in nicely to their very popular "US@UO" concept - which is a rotating blog feature showcasing UO employees in their store roles or in their own outside creative endeavors. (It's really awesome when a company recognizes + celebrates the uniqueness + creativity of it's people, another reason why working there was so positive + inspiring). 

This campaign was EPIC.  Along with 5 co-workers, I spent a week traveling from San Francisco, through the Avenue of the Giants, down to Yosemite + ending in Malibu.  We tore around in our Chuck Taylors, while a professional photographer captured us exploring every stop, documenting the process of breaking in our shoes. Additionally, each traveller brought their own cameras, so we were each creating separate content to take back to post on our district + personal Instagram accounts.  


This trip was literally content marketing on steroids.  When we returned from our adventure, there wasn't just a completed lifestyle marketing campaign for Converse + UO, but there were also 3 different blog features, a video, a week's worth of social media content being posted simultaneously from about 12 different Instagram accounts, as well as marketing images used for the website, the UO app + printed collateral for in-store displays.  Whew! 




Well it's not just to cool brag about an awesome trip I got to take this one time, although I will not hesitate to tell anyone about how amazing that experience was from a totally free vacation/getting paid to see the West Coast while I'm hanging with my friends point-of-view.  

However, I gained a lot of perspective from the journey.  I learned what EPIC + innovative content marketing can look like.  Honestly, it was probably one of the most valuable takeaways from the entire 4 years that I spent with the company.  Seeing how incredibly successful this collaboration was, which only further grew the brand's reach + massively increased its already large presence on social media, was INSANE.  

And at this point, you might be thinking that while all of this DOES SOUND COMPLETELY AWESOME, Urban Outfitters is a multi-million dollar, publicly traded company, that has money to throw at a crazy campaign like that. This doesn't help you at all with your own content marketing + social media strategy, because YOU'RE SO SMALL, right?

This is the part where I virtually shake you, (semi-violently) + TYPE IN ALL CAPS TO TELL YOU... 




Soon after that campaign, I was asked to sign a few photography releases for Instagram content that I had created. Not only was the company going to use images from the #UORoadtrip campaign in it's new floorset, it was going to start bringing other social media imagery from all over the country into the 4-wall store environments.  

Photos that I had taken, along with imagery from influencers + various other accounts were soon incorporated into the physical displays in the store. Pretty smart, right?  And it makes sense.  One of the most valuable resources the company has is it's UGC feed on the website.  At the bottom of the home page is an enormous gallery of User Generated Content, all collected + curated under a few brand specific hashtags on Instagram. What's more is that you can shop directly from those photos.  You know what's better than spending lots of time + money creating content?

Having loyal fans willingly do it for you... 


The thing I really applaud Urban Outfitters for is it's ability to weave the brand's culture into every single facet of the business.  From each unique store location, to the website, to the blog content + every social media platform.  It's always familiar, because there is a focus on brand recognition.  Each piece of content is fresh, valuable + thoughtful, meant to inspire one to want to be a part of the UO lifestyle.  It's not pushy or sales-y.  It's aspirational.  It celebrates the people who make it up as well as the movers + shakers in the communities that it resides within. It has literally motivated an entire army of very willing amatuer content creators to produce hundreds of thousands of brilliant images for them to SELL products from.  And it does all of this, through a creative strategy built around the lifestyle of the brand + understanding the PEOPLE it employs + markets to. 

Honestly, as BIG + AWESOME as everything that Urban has done is, the brand's social + content strategy can be applied to any business, if you're willing to think outside of the box.  

Shall I break down this novel that I seemed to have written for ya into easy bite-sized pieces? 





No one is saying that you have to plan a crazy expensive West Coast adventure to make great content, (although, if you do, can I come?!). You just need to think about what you're trying to sell + then come up with creative ways to create a relatable, valuable story around it. Content marketing can't be a sales page- people are OVER being sold to.  Think: how does this THING I'm trying to sell fit into someone's life, how can it fill a need, then create a story around that.

If they desire that LIFE, if they ASPIRE to that life, they will need that THING.  


UOxConverse.  The entire UO Roadtrip trip was created around the storyline of 6 crazy UO employees embarking on an epic adventure, wearing their "Chucks" over all sorts of terrain, captured from their point of view.  We weren't SELLING Converse outright, we were LIVING + EXPLORING + HAVING EPIC ADVENTURES WITH OUR FRIENDS in Converse.  When these photos surfaced on Instagram, no one yelled STOP SELLING ME SHOES, instead they commented things like #SQUAD + #GOALS... That's what you want, people. You want your brand to be #goals. 



Do you really know the people who work for you? Do they possess special talents + skills that perhaps aren't limited to filing your paperwork or high-dusting your hard to reach places?  Try having a brainstorming session with the people who you already trust about your content + social strategies. They might offer valuable insight, some might already have a large following that you could expand your reach to, or perhaps might be able to assist you with actually managing your social media.  Allow people to tell you what they are really passionate about or show you what they are good at.  Showcasing the amazing people that work for you through blog content + social media posts can serve multiple benefits. It can allow others to see a unique side of your business that a lot of companies don't share, it makes the employee feel awesome, most likely resulting in even more productivity + it can also help you to attract more of that type of employee to your business. #winwin



US@UO.  Understanding that they essentially hire their target market, Urban regularly features it's employees on it's blog, doing really cool stuff, stuff that doesn't always directly relate to Urban product. Many employees make their OWN cool products + Urban even invites them to sell it at in-store events. In doing so, they are showcasing the value they place on their employees + their employee's creative endeavors.  And this just attracts more of the same.  Additionally the Instagram accounts are ran in each area by actual employees within the districts.  This means that the account holders are already immersed in the brand culture, have a first-hand look at everything new that arrives, AND they understand the specific customer of the particular area they are marketing to.  



If you're spending valuable time + resources creating really great content, MAKE IT FREAKIN' COUNT. Photos taken for Instagram don't have to be posted once, then get pushed to the bottom of your feed by month's end, never to be heard from again.  Print them! Make a lookbook or a mailer, use them as display in your brick + mortar. There are a lot of ways you can combine the efforts of a single strategy to spread the content out to multiple areas of your business.  Think about that when you're planning your next big campaign (or first BIG campaign). You're getting your product ready, maybe hiring a photographer, maybe models, hair/makeup, spending some time + money, the whole deal.  So why would you just post those photos once on your feed or in a single blog post + then move on?  A 'scope can become a youtube video can become a blog post can become a downloadable E-book, ya hear what I'm saying? If the content is amazing, please don't waste it by posting once + walking away. 



#UORoadTrip. As I explained before, this campaign was content marketing times one billion.  The photos taken by the professional photographer became printed graphics in the stores, the UO app + the website featured a variety of these catalog images for an entire season, they were also used in email campaigns, an in-store Converse display was created with some of the photos + an entire Instagram campaign was planned spanning multiple accounts, using the same branded hashtag simultaneously. This plan added a virality to the campaign, growing each account that was posting in the process. There were multiple blogs posted throughout the week, each linking back to the previous + all leading back to the social media frenzy.  I saw the photos on Pinterest, they showed up in my Twitter feed, they were literally everywhere, both virtually + IRL. #epic

Oh yea, + because we went full multi-media, there was also this video... #memories 




Much like the idea of capitalizing on the talents + skills of your amazing employees, your customers should be looked to as a HUGE asset when it comes to content creation.  By coming up with a few branded hashtags, (that you encourage your patrons to use when posting images of your products or brand), you can start to curate the best images to use for your business.  As more + more people begin to use your hashtag, you will have to rely less on creating your own content + can start spending more time simply curating the images created by others.  Shouting out those that create great photos for you encourages others to want to create + tag you as well.  Everyone loves for their photos to be scooped up by a brand + re-posted.  



Shop Our Feed/ In Store Marketing.  Through the UOCommunity portion of the Urban Outfitters website, the company can capitalize on images that it didn't even have to create itself!  By capturing content that is posted on Instagram with their products, they can allow other shoppers to purchase from a UGC image tagged with one of their branded hashtags.  Since these images are taken by customers, they are simply reinforcing the lifestyle of the brand, without being even slightly sales-y.  It's sort of like the Converse "THING".  When a customer sees an Instagram in the community...they don't see an advertisement, they see a gallery of amazing images from other people just like them.  

They're all like ,"hey this pic is awesome, this girl looks awesome, I want her room, I NEED THESE STRING LIGHTS!!", resulting in one more string light purchase for UO.  This is social media content MAGIC.  

You can check out an actual Case Study about how UO does this HERE


So, obviously I'm no longer with Urban Outfitters, my retail days are finally behind me.  But, I did decide to take what I learned there + apply the same principles to help other businesses use creative content marketing + social media to grow in the same ways.    

And now you can see how it's TOTALLY possible to model some of these creative strategies on content + social media within your own business. What do you think?  Doable, right?  

Let me know in the comments if you're planning on incorporating some of these tactics into your own strategies, I'd love to hear your thoughts + ideas!