“Hey you, what are you wearing tonight?”
“Eleanor, was it something we said?”
“Babe, we’ve missed you!”
“Ellie, you are going to look SO good in this!”
For consumers signed up to enough brand newsletters (first enticed by the welcome 10 per cent discount code, now too busy to unsubscribe), their inboxes will likely be full of intimate questions and exclamations once reserved for their nearest and dearest. Welcome to what journalist Pandora Sykes has described as ‘BFF Marketing’ - Best Friend Forever, a psychology-first marketing strategy in which brands make their customers feel special by treating them just like their new best friend.
Good examples of BFF marketing in action
Fast fashion brands with young customer bases, from Boohoo and Misguided to Nasty Gal, have cashed in on this trend, using conversational, witty subheads on their websites and email newsletters to create a brand voice that's instantly personal, inclusive, and relatable. They've also been cultivating Instagram hashtags such as “Nastygalsdoitbetter” and “BabesofMisguided” to build out a community. The result is that the consumer feels part of an exclusive club; the clothes are not just products but a lifestyle.
But the brands to most authentically wave away the formal barrier between company and shopper have been the direct-to-consumers (D2Cs), with two of the most recent success stories being Glossier – the billion-dollar beauty company founded by Emily Wiess in 2012 – and Marcia Kilgore’s beauty subscription service BeautyPie, which as of 2016 has raised a total of $170 million. Both are DTC brands, both are female-founded, and the psychology behind their marketing strategy is crucial to their success.
In fact, Beauty Pie works with psychologists to understand the data they collect about their customers. “For us, it’s about understanding these real human fundamentals before we then look at the data and the conversations that are happening from our consumers’ perspective,” Beauty Pie’s global head of marketing Sophie Jenkins told Marketing Week. Meanwhile, Glossier prides itself on being “people first, product second” and Weiss’ blog, Into the Gloss, from where Glossier first sprung, is still used to market its products through conversational posts such as “What’s Everyone Reading?” and “How to be a Person Who Has Their Life Together”.
The future of BFF marketing
So where is the BFF Marketing trend going? For an illustration, it’s worth looking back to where it all began. The first brand to truly harness BFF marketing was DTC cult clothing label Reformation, launched in 2009 by former model Yael Aflalo. In her Business of Fashion interview with Pandora Sykes, Aflalo credited a newsletter she wrote in 2013 for her now almost two-million strong Instagram community of ‘Refbabes’: “We wrote about Coachella and the caption was: ‘It’s not that important but it kinda is.’ All my friends rung me to say how cute it was.” Sales jumped from $18,000 in February (pre-newsletter) to $175,000 the following March. Reformation’s tagline, ““Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2”, captured a mischievous and memorable brand voice that other brands have since been endlessly trying to recreate.
A brand to follow hot on the heels of Reformation was another DTC label, Réalisation Par, launched in 2015 by late twenty-somethings and friends Alexandra Spencer and Teale Talbot, a fashion blogger and designer from Australia. The authenticity of its BFF marketing and distinctive brand voice is in a league of its own.
Initially selling just six simple but instantly-recognisable, 100 percent silk dresses each named after real women – there is the Claudia dress, in the style of Claudia Schiffer, for instance – the brand took off after model Alexa Chung posted a picture of herself in one of their dresses on Instagram, prompting one of the earliest instances of “viral fashion”. The brand has now been worn by everyone from Bella Hadid to Kylie Jenner, has over 670,000 Instagram followers, and has such sway over women’s wardrobes that it was largely responsible for bringing back animal print in 2019.
While the brand might owe its take-off to savvy influencer marketing, its continued reign over luxe but everyday fashion is down to its strong sense of community built via BFF marketing, and the idea that, just like its dresses, their customers are on first-name terms. “There is such a huge camaraderie with Réalisation girls,” Spencer told Harper's Bazaar. “They want to go up to the girl at a party who is also wearing a Réalisation dress and have a conversation about it.”
The brand’s community is called “dreamgirls”, tagging pictures of customers and influencers with the word on their Instagram, using a combination of studio shots and of women wearing their dresses in the wild. The dresses, given a human name and human characteristics, are not just products to sell but the most aspirational members of said community – a community so strong it even has its own Facebook group, operated independently of the brand, to buy and sell second-hand dresses. Across the brand’s newsletters, on social media and on its website, captions are arch and conversational, as if snipped from real-life pep talk between two of their dreamgirls getting ready for a party.
A description of the Diane dress, for instance: “It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card”. It goes on to say: “Maybe you forgot to take the trash out or you scratched your dad’s car or maybe you were really late and you forgot to do the one thing they asked you to do. Whatever the reason, The Diane dress is the solution.” Or the Bianca shirt: “This shirt has been sent to every one of our girlfriends: the tall ones, the tiny ones, the ones with boobs and the ones without and no matter who puts it on, it just works!”
But the thing about friendships is that they take careful and constant maintenance – do these brands really have the stamina to remain in their customers’ inner circle? Réalisation Par, for instance, is trying (and innovating) hard – two months ago it launched a quirky YouTube channel, “Reality TV”, in which beautiful but goofy micro influencers upload video diaries of themselves wearing Réalisation Par dresses around the world – on a beach, beside the pool, going out for dinner. Homemade, adorably wobbly and unpolished, it’s easy for customers to imagine themselves living such gorgeous lives and befriending such wonderful women – so long as they just buy a dress.
How to get started with BFF marketing
Have the right data
There’s a reason why so many of the brands harnessing this kind of marketing technique are DTCs. They know how to talk to their customers and tap into their interests because they know exactly who they’re talking to.
Define your personality
Your brand’s marketing needs to reflect an instantly identifiable sense of self. In the same way that you don’t become friends with someone whose intentions aren’t clear, or whose personality feels undefined, brands who attempt BFF marketing without knowing what kind of BFF they can play to their potential customers are not going to be popular. Your tone - from the kind of slang you use to the memes you might refer to - is everything. What kind of mood do you want your customers to have when they shop with you and how would they describe you, in three words, to another friend they’d like to introduce you to?
Make it feel like a real club
Thirdly, BFF marketing taps into every customer’s basic desire to feel part of something, to be liked and understood, just like they do offline. What kind of club are you inviting them into and why should they join? Who are the other friends they’ll make on the inside? The reason why Réalisation, Reformation, Beauty Pie and Glossier are so successful is that their “clubs” aren’t just marketing speak - they’re real. Countless groups on Facebook, Instagram and even WhatsApp have been set up by customers itching to discuss these brands’ products and make friends in the process. And once you have your club, everyone inside it becomes your brand ambassador for free. It’s a win-win - just like the best friendships.