March 5, 2020

Keds puts a print catalog at the center of its new marketing strategy

Glossy by Danny Parisi // March 5, 2020

When Lisa Lewis joined Keds as vp of marketing a year ago, she was tasked with coming up with a way to revitalize the brand. Twelve months later, Keds is launching a new marketing strategy with an unexpected non-digital focus.

On Thursday, Keds is releasing the Handbook for Women — an update of the Keds Handbook for Girls released in the 1920s — which will be at the core of the company’s ongoing marketing strategy. The idea is to leverage Keds’ long history to appeal to a younger consumer who craves authenticity. Every six months, a new issue will be released with a different theme. For the six month period until the next issue, all of Keds’ marketing and collaborations will be informed by the theme of the handbook.

Chatter about the death of print has been swirling for years, but Keds president Gillian Meek said it’s important for the brand to take risks. According to Statista, brands spent $20 billion on print advertising in 2012, and that fell to $12 billion in 2019. But print has been experiencing something of a resurgence. DTC brands like Article and Quip have begun experimenting with print catalogs, as digital advertising has become more competitive and expensive.

“With the [Handbook for Women], yes, there’s a physical book coming out and it’s beautiful to look at, but it’s also going to cross over to all of our digital channels as well,” Meek said. “The physical version is beautiful and focused, but the digital version will be a bit broader and have more content. And you can read it on our site or through Instagram. We want it to be really accessible.”

Meek said the new Handbook is the work of more than 70 women, including herself, Lewis, Keds’ marketing team, leaders from marketing agency Joan Creative and PR firm the Lede Company, both of which are female-founded, and 28 women ranging from activists to authors to models and editors. All are featured via their stories about what power, the theme of the issue, means to them.

Eighteen of the stories will appear in the print issue, while the rest will be in the digital version of the handbook. The Keds Handbook is intended to stand out among mailers, thanks to its editorial focus. While there is product photography, the majority of the books’ approximately 50 pages are dedicated to profiles and interviews.

The first issue will have a run of 150,000 issues distributed across channels. The biggest share will be sent to consumers who have shopped on Keds’ website, targeting existing shoppers first. The rest will be given out at various activations like Keds pop-ups and events, and given to Keds’ wholesale partners as they place product orders. In addition, they’ll be available via a few women-owned small businesses that Keds has not yet announced. Meek said that many of the details of how the handbook will factor into larger initiatives will change based on how the first few issues are received.

Meek said the year of research between Lewis being hired and the Handbook launch helped Keds focus its target demographic. The research involved two phases: First, the company took a a deep dive into customer data and metrics to analyze who the most valuable customers are and how they shop. Second, it conducted a long series of anecdotal surveys and conversations with core customers. Keds then narrowed its target demographic to women in the 24 to 34 age range.

Meek declined to give specific details on how much the company is spending on this initiative, but she said it cost significantly less than the campaign Keds ran with Taylor Swift in 2015. Even so, she expects it to be more successful given the time and care put into it.

In fiscal year 2018, Wolverine Boston Group, the subset of Wolverine World Wide that includes Keds and sister brands Sperry and Saucony, saw its revenue decrease by $93 million, or 9.4%, driven partially by store closures and a sharp decrease in Saucony’s performance. But Keds has been a bright spot, posting mid-single-digit growth in e-commere and keeping Wolverine Boston Group’s operating profit high. Taking a chance on an ambitious print media strategy may seem risky, but it could also be a good way to capitalize on that momentum.

“The reality is that most have fully broken from legacy approaches to what media is right for what purposes,” said Ted Nelson, CEO and co-founder of marketing agency Mechanica. “Anything and everything is fair game now. It’s a battle for engagement across all touchpoints. And sometimes an unconventional use of conventional media is a great way to relevantly connect. But again, God is in the details when it comes to pulling something off that is truly distinctive and engaging in physical media.”