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WWD Milestones issue 09/26/2011


Its logo might be a horse and carriage, but when it comes to the digital world, Coach is on the fast track.

The brand has had a strong grip on digital since the social media boom started a few years back: Its Facebook page launched in September 2008 and now boasts more than 2.3 million fans, while its Twitter account @Coach launched a year later and has just under 300,000 followers. Localized Twitter handles also exist for both the men’s and women’s freestanding stores on Bleecker Street in New York. A mobile-commerce site launched in May, and a men’s Facebook page launched at the end of June — and currently has more than 8,000 “likes.”

This story first appeared in the September 26, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The first major social initiative, “Design a Coach Tote,” occurred in September 2009 and focused on viral marketing and user-generated content. The brand used crowdsourcing when it encouraged online consumers to design their own tote. The project received more than 3,200 entries and garnered more than 6.5 million impressions.

Coach was also one of the first to enlist bloggers to design, style, blog about new product and star in its ad campaigns. To date, the brand has launched nine blogger-centric programs — the first of which occurred in November and December 2009, when 30 bloggers participated in holiday-themed posts.

The most recent took place on Fashion’s Night Out on Sept. 8. The company partnered with seven bloggers — including Hanneli Mustaparta of Hanneli, Leandra Medine of The Man Repeller and Kelly Framel of The Glamourai — to celebrate the return of the Coach Duffle.

As one of the earliest to adopt social media practices into its business model, the brand credits its success to a synergistic approach that takes multiple digital platforms into account. It’s never a single initiative executed on a single channel that produces the greatest business result, according to David Duplantis, Coach’s senior vice president of global Web and digital media.

“It’s consistent messaging fine-tuned for each particular digital medium — executed across all channels — that results in the greatest outcome,” he said. This includes Facebook, Twitter, blogger projects and coach.com.

The Guest Blogger feature in particular, an ongoing monthly installment launched in October 2010 on coach.com, has been one of the most successful to date, said Duplantis. Participants have included Meaghan Mahoney Dusil of Purse Blog, Lindsey Calla of Saucy Glossie, Keiko Groves of Keiko Lynn and Christine Cameron of My Style Pill.

“Of all our blogger programs, the Guest Blogger initiative really shows how much we value this community. We feel it’s important to spotlight the established bloggers that support us. At the same time, we love to introduce new bloggers to the Coach audience at large. Bloggers bring our product to life and complete the story. It’s their compelling perspective that we love the most,” Duplantis said.

 Each post gets an average of 1,000 Facebook “likes” on Coach’s fan page, and 200,000 of the brand’s customers receive guest blogger e-mails each month.

Visitors to the guest blogger page on coach.com also have a higher conversion rate and have purchased a higher percentage of product (featured in the blogger post) than those who didn’t visit the blogger page, Duplantis pointed out.

The Poppy Project — which ran from August to September 2010 — included nearly 800 bloggers (eight times more than the brand’s original goal of 100). Coach wanted to organically build buzz around the launch of its Poppy collection, and partnered with digital innovation company Poke New York to grow a unique poppy-flower pattern across the Web. Fans were encouraged to share, Tweet, post to Facebook and blog about the initiative, and were able to customize poppy patterns using a personal hashtag. Bloggers were invited to “plant” a poppy on their sites that grew based on aggregated buzz.

The result: conversation and buzz earned 26,171,634 impressions across fashion, lifestyle and design demographics.

“I am so proud of where we are in our engagement with bloggers. It’s not at all forced. They are as interested in working with us as we are with them, and the benefit is reaching a qualified and targeted audience in an authentic and relevant way,” Duplantis said.

The Glamourai’s Framel agrees. She has worked with Coach three times: first, to create a limited edition bag for the brand; second, she modeled in a holiday campaign, and third, she participated in the Fashion’s Night Out classic Duffle launch.

“I believe they’ve [Coach] been successful in social media because they genuinely respect bloggers,” said Framel. “They understand how much work goes into producing compelling content, and they provide the appropriate support to execute collaborations in the best way possible. I think they’ve also been smart about uniting the right people with the right products, thus creating campaigns that feel sincere to all parties.”

Besides building buzz, Duplantis also cites blogger design collaborations as being quite lucrative from a business standpoint. In May 2010, four bloggers were asked to design bags — and all four styles sold out (Framel’s being one of them).

When asked how Coach “measures” return on investment on its digital strategies, Duplantis said the brand has been able to calculate direct traffic and sales from social media efforts. However, it has not been able to fully measure the impact social media has had at brick-and-mortar locations.

Anecdotally, doors across the country are reporting that customers who are engaging with social are going into stores and saying that they’ve seen specific products on Facebook or a blog.

Duplantis said his team is looking for the key to monetizing the social impact on stores and finding a way to fully comprehend the off-line impact of online behavior. Going forward, the intersection of social, mobile and local — and taking what’s happening online and driving traffic into its stores — will be a priority for the company.

Coach soft-launched its mobile-commerce platform in May, followed by an official launch in July, and Duplantis called results “phenomenal” thus far. He explained that in just over four months since becoming optimized for m-commerce, 15 percent of the brand’s traffic coming to its Web site is from a mobile device — and that’s only handhelds like phones, not tablets such as the iPad.

“What we’ve seen is the conversation rate on our mobile platform has doubled since we launched, and it’s running at a nice pace relative to our Web site conversion rate,” he said.

Another priority going forward is engaging the male consumer.

After concentrating much of its social media energies on the female shopper, Duplantis said Coach is targeting the guys —– but what he’s learned about reaching this audience, however, is that it’s all about creating a message that reinforces heritage and lifestyle.

“Our female customers want to be digitally engaged with more frequency and are more interested in new products, value, celebrity and blogger fashion trends,” he said. “Men, on the other hand, prefer their engagement with us to be more focused on increasing their knowledge of the product.”

The brand hopes to duplicate the success it’s had with women across the digital media in the men’s arena — starting with the Facebook page that launched three months ago. Posts such as “The Coach Guide to Grain” and “Did You Know?” have been featured on the page, which both showcased facts about Coach’s product quality and brand history, such as how the inspiration for the leathers came from a baseball glove.

Duplantis said the brand also likes to share photos of fashionable male celebrities at Coach Men’s events — including Sean Avery, Kellan Lutz and Penn Badgley — as well as involve them in in-store events (Seth Meyers played bartender at the brand’s FNO party at its 57th Street store).

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