How upscale retailer St. John played catch-up in social

Never has a midlife crisis looked as appealing on social media as couture brand St. John’s recent digital makeover.

The 53-year-old upscale retailer, known for its knitwear, tapped agency SelectNY in late 2013 to craft a new narrative for itself around its heritage, women’s achievements and American style. The strategy, unveiled this October, involved creating custom social content for a range of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and even LinkedIn. The brand also tapped influencers and events such as Elle’s “Women in Tech” event.

“Essentially, the brand had lost touch a little bit with its roots and heritage, and wasn’t telling its story in a relevant way,” Simona Gaudio, chief digital officer at SelectNY, told Digiday. “It was playing catch-up with its competitors and needed to refresh its story to not only attract its core demographic of women but also a younger consumer.”

SelectNY started with identifying the three key pillars that represented the brand, weaving them into its narrative: a nod to its Californian heritage, an acknowledgment of its dedication to craft and detail, and a desire to be an “accomplice in the accomplishments” of its high-achieving female customers.

Guided by these brand principles, SelectNY kicked off its efforts on Facebook, using the platform’s targeting capabilities to toss around a variety of content in order to understand what would drive users to click-through.

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Posted by St. John Knits on Friday, November 27, 2015

It set its sights on a younger audience on Instagram, posting everything from visual catalogs, to quotes, cinemagraphs and even influencer content. St. John also amped up its LinkedIn presence, sharing articles that celebrated women in leadership. On Pinterest, it dabbled with promoted pins. All these have collectively resulted in over 11 million impressions and a 512 percent increase in followers, according to SelectNY.

“We wanted to to show that it’s a brand that can you take you anywhere from the boardroom to an evening cocktail event,” said Gaudio. “So we settled for a mix of content that showcased the clothes in a new way and context, showed how they travel amazingly well and how it has a place in women’s everyday lives.”

The brand also invested in e-commerce for the first time. It relaunched its site in October to be e-commerce enabled, resulting in a traffic spike of 92 percent. Overall, while the broad luxury goods market grew only 1-2 percent in September, St. John by itself saw a “double-digit sales growth” for the first time in a decade.

“It is late but their demographic is older than average, so it’s not the same thing as, say, H&M being late to launching an e-commerce site,” said Forrester’s retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. “Digital follows; it doesn’t lead. They need to lead with products, marketing and strategy to appeal to the younger segment, not just digital.”

SelectNY hopes that this new digital strategy will boost St. John’s brand and put it in the league of some its competitors, including Ralph Lauren — which was ranked third in digital thinktank L2’s 2015 Fashion Digital report. The brand plans to continue to evolve its digital strategy into 2016, putting even more emphasis on its website.

“The next step is to implement codes on the website to track conversions from social and relaunch the blog,” Gaudio said. “Blogs — when done well — are a good way to drive traffic to your site.”

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