When Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson founded Good Man Brand athletic apparel in 2016, the aim was to grow social capital, not mere profits. The line, which is distributed by Nordstrom, Amazon and D2C, donates 3% of its proceeds to Wilson’s youth mentoring project, the Why Not You Foundation.
But as CMO Nancy Richardson tells Brand Insider this week, social impact is not just a beneficiary of Good Man Brand’s business but a central part of the model. The company starts with a particular social impact in mind, and figures out what level of sales and margins it takes to get there.
MediaPost: Pre-COVID, how was Good Man Brand product distributed, and what was the marketing plan?
Richardson: We were almost functioning like a private label inside Nordstrom across all of the U.S. Over the last four years, our main business has been through Nordstrom, so that's been the largest percentage. A very small percentage was via D2C and an even smaller percentage via Amazon.
This is a really interesting topic in terms of how to grow a D2C brand in today's world, because when you're developing your direct-to-consumer strategy, you want to have a foundation. Having a wholesale partner provides you with that foundation. So that when you do start to invest in your direct-to-consumer strategy, every dollar returns 10 versus every dollar returning 50 cents. If you're a direct-to-consumer leader, you understand that it's very difficult to get a new brand off the ground with just paid media nowadays.
MP: A lot of D2Cs use the opposite model — direct evolving to brick and mortar. You used retail to birth a direct business.
Richardson: Yes, and I think that's actually a new way to think about launching D2C brands. Our wholesale partners are really important for us in developing that reach and brand awareness in the early stages of building the company.
MP: At the core of Good Man Brand is the star quarterback. But how does a brand build off of and out of a celebrity base?
Richardson: We don't think of ourselves as a celebrity brand. This brand is not built on Russell Wilson's shoulders, meaning he doesn't need to be the face of the brand at every minute in order for us to survive.
There are three things we think about when creating what we call a good brand. The first is, does it empower people? The second is, does it do good for our communities and our planet? And the third is, does it solve a problem?
Our brand is also built for a specific muse and that muse is Russell Wilson, meaning that when we design this brand, it's all about creating a fashion athletic brand. When we develop and design the brand around Russell as the muse, we know it's going to attract a larger demographic of people -- anywhere from an older Gen Z to a young boomer. It's less about attracting athletic fans and more about making sure that we're developing a brand that will appeal to a large demographic.
MP: What are the core principles of the brand and its ties to the Why Not You Foundation?
Richardson: This was a foundation that Russell started back in 2014, and 3% of every sale goes to the foundation. It's directly invested in Friends of the Children, an organization where they pair up a mentor with a child through the critical years as they're growing up. This mentor stays with the child for 12 years no matter what. It's a very deep, meaningful and inspiring program.
MP: It's interesting that that extends to some of the ways in which you're marketing, especially using social channels. One of the programs that I noticed was the Everyday Hero Project that you do on Instagram.
Richardson: It's about identifying heroes that do things for people not for recognition, [but] because it's the right thing to do. We tell their story, we recognize them on social, and we send these heroes a Good Man Brand outfit. It can be any gender.
MP: If you have a brand where the question is not necessarily return on marketing spend or ad spend, but instead you're looking at how to invest well in the community, do you have metrics to measure whether you're making the kind of impact you want?
Richardson: Absolutely. We do want to be a healthy and profitable business. So we have all the same metrics as any normal direct-to-consumer brand, making sure we're bringing in our target revenue each month and hitting our margins.
But the thing that's different about Good Man Brand is, we start with impact. When we're writing our forecast, we ask ourselves, what's the impact we need to make this year? What's the impact we need to make this month? And based on that impact, how much traffic do we need to drive? How much revenue do we need to make?
As a result, we have revenue, traffic and conversion, but we start with impact in order to accomplish our goals. That's been a key to our success.
MP: For example? What is a key impact that you were aiming at in the last year and how were you making the other business metrics help drive that?
Richardson: What we know is that for every $100 that we invest in the Why Not You Foundation, that's directly invested in Friends of the Children. We provide transportation, mentorship, meals, activities, goal setting to help these children grow and develop over those 12 years that they're paired with a mentor.
With every sale, we give 3% to the Why Not You Foundation. We track these dollars, where it's going and the impact that they're having. In order for us to achieve that, we need to start with an impact revenue number in order to give the appropriate amount that we need to see each month in order to help drive that program.
MP: When retail shut down in March, how and where did you pivot?
Richardson: When I think about direct-to-consumer, I don't think about a platform. I don't think about paid media. Those things are all accessible to any business. The competitive advantage about direct-to-consumer is, it's a philosophy. It's a mindset. It's the ability to remain agile during a time where the future is uncertain.
MP: Was that a set of new muscles that you had to learn quickly when the crisis hit, or was this stuff that you already had been establishing in the fledgling ecommerce channel that you have?
Richardson: I've been in digital since the beginning of my career. It's in my DNA and it's in the DNA of the teams that I hire. In digital, it's really easy to get enamored with the bells and whistles and sometimes that can be distracting. During a time like this, we go back to the basics.
MP: How did you change the marketing mix and the marketing messaging so that you're redirecting consumers?
Richardson: This goes beyond [one's] brand story to what's your product story. Making sure that your product mix is right, your product drops are right, you're creating some scarcity and you're creating a compelling product story week over week that customers are going to be interested in.
In terms of marketing mix, it's less about shifting the mix and more about looking at owning your story and making sure that you have product availability in the right channel, to make sure that you're remaining nimble during this time to satisfy customer demand.
MP: Where were you driving demand? Were you using display advertising, influencer, video? What were the actual media buys, if any?
Richardson: We redesigned our website. We relaunched our social media platform with new content. We dialed up our influencer strategy. And we did lean into paid media, although that wasn't the core of our marketing strategy. It was more about driving that organic business. Nearly 100% of our traffic was organic. I did invest a bit more into paid media just to drive that growth but we did a full overhaul of our overall Good Man Brand experience across all channels back in April.
MP: So how do most customers discover the brand?
Richardson: Most of our customers over the last four years discovered the brand through our Nordstrom stores. Since we did the redesign in April, which I'm calling day one, we attract customers from across multiple channels through social, our influencers, paid media. We do use Amazon as that acquisition platform to help drive some of our new customers.
MP: How is overall demand? Other D2C apparel brands saw plummeting demand since most people were at home and weren't thinking about office wear.
Richardson: Surprisingly, we have been growing year over year. We've hit our targets above 100%. Maybe slightly less during the quieter months like July, and we're going into August.
MP: Was there a particular shift in messaging that either adapted more to the direct-to-consumer channel you were using, or to the circumstances you were in that resonated well during this period?
Richardson: It was about doing good and giving back to our community. So we dialed up that messaging. We ran a program called Choose the Good You Give, which gave our customers the opportunity to take a discount or to give back some of their discount towards a larger investment in the Why Not You Foundation. We launched the Everyday Hero Project and we started to tell more stories around the work that we're doing with the foundation and Friends of the Children.
MP: Now, D2C is driving most sales for a lot of the older retail brands. As we start moving out of this, retail starts opening back up. What do you see as the way in which the relationship between wholesale retail and D2C evolves, especially for you since you relied on retail as a key driver?
Richardson: It's about remaining nimble. We work with our partners at Nordstrom on a weekly basis to look at how their business is doing and how we can support them. Our focus right now is building out our direct-to-consumer business.
And it's not because of the pandemic, it's just because it's time. We knew that a year ago it was time to invest in our direct-to-consumer experience. We'll continue to do that. It's important for us to own our brand, own our customer data so that we can provide the best experience for our customers overall.