Albin Johansson

According to Albin Johansson, the cofounder and chief executive officer of Axel Arigato, when a viewer sees a notification or a new post on Instagram, the brain produces a shot of dopamine, a chemical tied to addiction. And when the viewers’ brains are filled with the happy feeling created by the release of dopamine, they continue to scroll, like, comment, etc.

This is what brands are competing with, said Johansson, who started the men’s and women’s sneaker line with Max Svärdh in 2014, and in order to cut through the noise that young customers inundate themselves with, these brands must break from tradition.

Svärdh, the chief creative officer, and Johansson were inspired by the direct-to-consumer model that retailers including Warby Parker and Bonobos were utilizing. Johansson said there weren’t any brands re-creating this model with sneakers, so they attempted to fill the void. Before officially introducing Axel Arigato product to the market, Johansson, who used to work for multibrand e-commerce sites, introduced a test Instagram page that featured pictures of Axel Arigato product along with pieces from Nike and Adidas. This helped with brand positioning so much so that once Axel Arigato had its own Instagram account, it quickly amassed 3,000 followers.

“We didn’t have a marketing budget, so we did this about three or four months before our official launch,” Johansson said. “This is the way people are consuming culture.”

Once they introduced the brand, which now sells sneakers along with apparel and handbags, instead of releasing two to four collections a year, Axel Arigato decided to release new product each week.

“Our followers, visitors and customers always have a reason to come back to us,” Johansson said. “We need to create content and have a great excuse to send out an e-mail.”

Along with giving customers a reason to revisit their e-commerce site, Johansson said it was also important to create experiences, which started off with how they delivered their product. Each pair of Axel Arigato shoes, which retail for around $215, come with a dust bag, matte gray shoe box and branded chopsticks — Arigato means “thank you” in Japanese.

“There’s nothing today that says a high-end retail experience needs to cost a lot of money,” Johansson said. “People are spending their money on a meal at the latest restaurant or a trip to the Caribbean. Your brand can’t just be about the products you sell.”

Additionally, they are providing experiences in store. Axel Arigato opened its first flagship in London’s Soho last September, and the space is outfitted with places to sit, charging stations, Wi-Fi and beverages. The store turns into an event venue after hours.

Johansson hires store associates who are knowledgeable about the coolest bars, latest restaurants and exhibits to elevate the customer service.

“We want our team to get close to our visitors,” Johansson said. “As much as it is a selling space, it’s a cultural hub.”

Johansson said creating these types of experiences becomes even more important with Instagram’s algorithm and Facebook’s crowded platform.

“Instagram used to be a great, customer acquisition channel, but since they changed their algorithm, their engagement is decreasing and brand accounts are suffering,” Johansson said. “In order to be good on Instagram today, you have to spend money or build your brand someplace else, increase your followers and then use the platform.”

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