These are Allbirds. The unassuming sneaker made out of the finest New Zealand Merino Wool that has won over the feet of millions worldwide.
In this case study, we take a deeper look at how Allbirds acquire and convert their customers online. Let’s get started.
This simple sustainable sneaker is the brainchild of New Zealand born and ex-professional footballer Tim Brown.
After Brown called it quits on an eight-year professional soccer career – where he was sponsored by big-name sneaker manufacturers Adidas and Nike – he still had the same problem.
He wasn’t crazy about the sneaker options on the market. He thought the designs were overcoloured with too many corporate logos. So he decided to design his own.
The idea received a $200,000 development grant from government-owned Wool Industry Limited after approaching AgResearch.
Brown worked with a New Zealand Government group of Agricultural Scientists to come up with a patented wool design that was strong enough for a shoe yet still comfortable.
At the time, the New Zealand wool industry was fractured and continuing to decline, so this product provided the industry new commercial uses it had been desperately waiting for (find out more from How I Built This podcast).
The beginning of the wool revolution
A kickstarter campaign was launched.
Within five days they sold nearly $120,000 worth of shoes, reaching their maximum target. Brown had to stop the campaign because that was all the material they had. You could say their expectations were exceeded by a long shot.
At this point, Brown needed a partner who had the experience to help establish a supply chain – to actually start delivering on the promise of the world’s most comfortable shoe.
Joey Zwillinger, an industrial engineer and now Allbirds Co-founder and Co-CEO was the man for the job.
Allbirds Co-Founders Tim Brown (left) and Joey Zwillinger (right) Image credit: Fortune.com
Brown and Zwillinger set their sights on creating a world-first: a woollen sneaker. The same kind of wool used to make into fine suits for Tom Ford, Armani, and Gucci.
They officially launched in March 2016 with a direct-to-consumer model and it wasn’t long until they gained an online reputation for quality and an overwhelming amount of positive reviews.
Not surprising, as the shoes ticked a lot of boxes.
This online recognition and word of mouth turned into growth and investors were swooning.
Allbirds racked up $100 million in total revenue over its first two years and already employs nearly 150 full-time staffers. By 2018, they raised $50million led by T. Rowe Price, bringing its reported valuation to $1.4 billion.
So, how did they do it?
First, a quick look at their marketing tech stack
A fairly standard implementation of common marketing technology is present across all Allbirds domains.
This includes common marketing integrations with enterprise-level Google platforms like GA360 as well as standard integrations with Google Enhanced Ecommerce, Google Tag Manager (GTM), MailChimp and Facebook’s pixels.
Perhaps the most interesting findings are that Allbirds are still operating on Shopify Plus. You a view a more complete list of this technology below.
They use Instagram for customer feedback & product research
You might be thinking ‘they’d have to be spending a lot of money on social media’, but that’s not quite the whole story.
Brown himself admitted that only a small amount of sales come directly from social media advertising. He said any success the brand has had so far, has come from word of mouth.
Instead, Instagram and other social platforms have helped them serve a different purpose.
Combining their relentless focus on the shoes and the feet wearing them, Allbirds uses social platforms like Instagram for product improvement ideas and customer feedback.
Image credit: Allbirds Instagram
They cleverly weave their unique selling points into all advertising efforts
Allbirds’s unique selling points center around being the world’s most comfortable shoe; made with sustainable, natural materials.
This messaging is woven into all of their paid and non-paid advertising efforts.
Data from Similiarweb provides some interesting insights into Allbird’s traffic sources on desktop.
Considering Allbirds’s strong brand presence and online coverage, the large percentage for direct is not surprising.
However, the other number to call out here is 43% of traffic is from search. Similar to most successful direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, search marketing plays a core role in how they acquire customers.
So, what exactly is Allbirds doing with their search marketing strategy to acquire customers?
Similarly to how the brand favours natural materials, their search marketing success has favoured organic. Since they first launched in 2016, organic traffic has made some steep climbs with paid search being introduced towards the end of 2018.
Regardless, they bid hard on any ‘allbirds’ related search terms. Why? To block competitors from bidding on them. But as you can see, it doesn’t mean Allbirds won’t do it themselves. They’ve bid on the search term ‘Rothy’s flats.’
Given this strategy, the branded vs non-branded traffic split should also come as no surprise.
Let’s take a look at how they approach paid advertising in more detail.
Over time, Allbirds has started to bring more products and colours into the mix (including limited editions). With the new products launching to market we have seen the brand introduce more paid advertising to drive sales from both new and existing customers.
Their most recent one is their 2019 Savanna Collection. The text highlights the sustainable, natural materials used to make the shoes and the imagery reinforces their connection with nature.
When it comes to messaging on each of the ads they are consistent in their selling points and call to actions. Generally, the ads will include one or more of the following:
Google Text Ads
As you can see from the screenshots below, Allbirds keeps their messaging consistent across their Google advertising with slight variations.
Google Display Ads
Although it appears that Display only plays a small part in how they acquire traffic, Allbirds’ still plays in the space. Predominantly using the Google Display Network.
Their ads focus on a simple colour palette, a clear call to action and focus on one or more USPs. Generally, they are timed together with the launch of a new collection or a particular product.
In the past 12 months, Allbirds have released a shoe made out of trees – eucalyptus fibre to be exact – which you’ll find a few display ad examples below.
Whether it’s transactional or marketing, Allbird’s email marketing is nothing too over the top. It’s consistent, triggered to the right cues and includes a cute animated sheep (continued from the website) that’s either dancing or packing your shoes up ready for shipping.
The New-subscriber email
When you subscribe to their newsletter – you’re greeted with a ‘Welcome to the Flock’ message.
Then, it takes a few scrolls to get to the bottom of the email. There are a total of six sections to the Allbirds welcome email formula:
Allbirds has a great welcome series. For a first-time purchaser, the first email focuses on welcoming you to the flock, reinforcing the brand story with video content and reaffirming their 30-day returns policy.
Then, the sheep gets to work.
Each of these moving animations is featured in the order confirmation email and the shipping email. It’s a great way to bring some personality to the brand.
If you were browsing on the site and didn’t complete the purchase. This triggers an abandoned cart email with a one-click button taking them straight to the checkout again. They reaffirm the 30-day full refund policy again but the main call to action in this email is the ‘go to cart’.
Overall, Allbirds keeps their email marketing strategy approach hassle-free, straight to the point and consistent. Whether it’s marketing or transactional, their email content doesn’t stray too far from three things:
By going direct from the beginning, Allbirds was able to forgo any additional channel margins. This means they were able to maintain a reasonable gross margin and put that money back into producing a quality product.
Online User Experience
From discovery to checkout, customers are treated to a clean and simple online experience.
Users can select by material which, depending on where you shop, would normally be a range of synthetic materials. Allbirds highlights their USP of being all-natural and sustainable with the filter option below.
Further to this, each category page features a video in the first tile that shows users exactly how the wool or tree shoes are made.
Users are also able to skip the product page entirely by hovering over each shoe, clicking a size and going straight to checkout.
But for those that want more detail can click on the shoe and be taken to the product page.
Once you hit the product page, all eyes are on the shoe. Users can easily toggle through the colour palette to decide which one they like the most.
Their product descriptions are quite light at the top of the page, but more detail is provided as you scroll down – highlighting the components of the shoe itself and the benefits of wool.
Once they’ve chosen their size, they are taken to the checkout page which is used as an opportunity to upsell their socks which can be easily added to the cart with 1 click.
Within a minimum of three clicks, you can have a pair of Allbirds on their way to you
In-Store User Experience
Like several other successful direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands have done, Allbirds has also ventured into the brick and mortar space. Seems counterintuitive when we’re told there is a retail apocalypse.
However, the biggest difference between a traditional retail store and a DTC brand going brick and mortar is the in-store customer experience – and of course, Allbirds does this well.
Image credit: Business Insider
We’re all familiar with a traditional shoe store experience. Normally, there are empty boxes everywhere and store attendants dodging each other going back and forth between the floor and the stock out the back.
But not in Allbirds stores.
The new store designs take customer experience to another level, and they don’t look like traditional shoe stores. Offering only a small selection of shoes on display, they are organized by style and material.
Each store has customized furniture specifically made to make the shoe buying experience better. For example, the chairs have space under the seat so the shoe box can fit snuggly underneath and keep the space clutter-free. The chairs also tilt forward to make trying on shoes easier to manage.
Their focus on customer experience may sound simple, but it’s unique to the industry.
I guess when you’ve got comfy shoes, you can just keep moving. And that means growth in products and in locations.
In 2018 they introduced their first line of non-wool shoes called Tree – which are made from fiber derived from eucalyptus trees. This material was chosen for its cooling qualities – something that is ideal for when the weather gets a bit warmer.
Though Allbirds isn’t giving away any specifics, they do talk about the idea of developing a variety of products that use sustainable materials.
They say that “price is what you pay and value is what you get’.
Well… Allbirds have never discounted a shoe.
They are also able to control price and margin effectively because of their business model – selling directly to their customers.
From product to purchase, Allbirds have the business rooted in sustainability. They’ve used materials that are readily available and reincarnated things like recycled bottles and recycled cardboard to ensure everything gets a second chance.
They’ve committed to going carbon neutral in 2019 for their entire supply chain. In an industry that emits 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, they’ve made a bold and necessary move.
“As part of our commitment to carbon neutrality, we’re offsetting the emissions it took to make your shoes! Every time you place an order online or stop by one of our stores, we’ll be asking you to help us decide what projects we should invest in to take CO2 out of the atmosphere.”
And just recently, the brand announced their BCorp Certification. Talk about Mother Nature’s heroes!
We’re now also living in an era of the ‘woke customer.’ There’s a growing movement of consumers who care about buying more sustainably made and sourced products.
Allbirds launched a clever campaign over the holiday period in 2018 with the whole concept of ‘meeting your shoes.’
“We hear all the time how much our customers love that our materials come from nature, so the campaign celebrates this idea in a light-hearted way.”
– Julie Channing, Allbirds Chief Marketing Officer
They have an incredibly pared-down product line and like many successful direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, they launched and focussed solely on one product.
This success story is nothing short of inspiring and we think there is much that other brands can learn from how Allbirds acquire and convert customers. Both online and offline.
Brown and Zwillinger would have never believed in their wildest dreams how successful the company would get one day. But they kept their heads down and focused on delivering a quality product – a shoe that is sustainable, simple and comfortable.
In an industry ripe for innovation, Allbirds has made it their mission to disrupt it in every way possible.