Inside Vans’ social media strategy

Vans hired its first global executive creative director, Erwin Federizo, in January. The former agency executive is focused on improving Vans’ consistency on social media.

The streetwear brand is on a high, swept up in a flurry of celebrity endorsements, street-style sightings and high-end collaborators, but it’s trying to stay grounded. Federizo, for example, believes the brand’s “social voice needs to strengthen” if it is to venture into emerging markets.

A Brandwatch analysis of conversations across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram that used one or more of Vans’ handles — @vans_66, @vansskate @vanssurf, @vansbmx66, @vanssnow or @vansgirls — between Feb. 15, 2017 and Feb. 15, 2018 revealed that 74 percent of the mentions came from the U.S. The U.K. was the next biggest market, with 3 percent of shares in the period. Both Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is banned in China, but each of the other three emerging markets Brandwatch tracked — Brazil, Mexico and Indonesia — accounted for 1 percent of shares each.

Federizo said finding ways to grow Vans’ following in emerging markets is at the top of his to-do list.

Asia, specifically China, is the growth opportunity for Vans: Sales across its Asia-Pacfic region rose 23 percent year over year in its most recent quarter versus an 43 percent jump in EMEA over the same period. In a market like China, where members of the younger generation are more eager to portray themselves as global citizens, Vans understands its focus on subcultures over the mainstream could be an advantage.

WeChat is Vans’ biggest social network in China and has become a staple in Vans’ marketing for most of the decade Vans has been there. Vans has had great success with publishing content on the app, said Nick Street, vp of global integrated marketing for Vans, whose team has turned photos and editorial features from events in China into magazines within the app. The brand has also bought WeChat Moments ads, which appear in a user’s feed in the app, and experimented with QR codes in the app. Street, who spent three years as Vans’ marketing boss in China, said “it’s a little easier” to gain reach there than in the U.S. and Europe.

Vans sees higher engagement on its livestreamed videos on WeChat versus those posted to other other social networks in other markets, said Street, who was unable to disclose figures by the time this story was published. He did, however, share that around 70 percent of Vans’ content on WeChat comes from its global team and therefore isn’t as localized as the output coming directly from the brand’s marketers there. Maintaining global consistency in a market like China, which has vast cultural differences from Western markets, is key to getting across the core of the brand, said Street, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of local relevancy.

The important thing the global marketing team at Vans must remember, he said, is to keep the curated content linked to the overall themes and identity of the brand. “We’re actually hearing from more followers [in China], asking that they hear more from our local creators and fellow fans in WeChat,” he said.

Less than two months into the role, Federizo described his plans beyond cracking China as “conceptual” rather than concrete. He reports to Jamie Reilly, vp of global creative at Vans, but will oversee the brand’s creative directors, who act as the day-to-day managers in a multidisciplinary team of around 30 in-house creatives. Vans has always worked this way, preferring to come up with its own creative ideas and work with agencies on a project-by-project basis.

Eventually, Federizo wants to make the brand’s products and marketing more customizable, while also developing a retail strategy that pushes stores beyond their product-focused role. The stores have become the face of Vans for many of its customers, said Federizo, who plans to bring immersive experiences around music, art, street culture and sports into those environments.

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