Why Lilly Pulitzer Is Tripling Its Influencer Budget

Lilly Pulitzer's spring collection is full of the bright and beachy styles that made it famous. But the brand's marketing plan has a new look, including its most ambitious influencer marketing effort, which it hopes will build fans in the next generation.

Lilly Pulitzer is coming off two years of record sales, with revenues up 13% to $339.3 million for fiscal 2022. CEO Michelle Kelly says it's raising total ad spending by about 10% this year, with an increase of 25% in most upper-funnel tactics. It's also tripling its influencer budget.

"Our current plan is to modernize our foundation, pushing forward and adapting," says Kelly of the brand, which is owned by Oxford Industries. (Oxford also owns Tommy Bahama and Johnny Was.) "That includes building on what's working within our marketing. It's all about anticipating how the customer is shopping."

Increasingly, that happens in direct channels, which now account for 85% of sales, with roughly 50% through ecommerce and 35% in 60 retail stores. Just 15% comes through wholesale channels.

"When I started with the company 19 years ago, we were 100% wholesale," Kelly says.

From a marketing perspective, that's powerful, says Eleni McCready, senior director of brand marketing. "The beauty is that you have more control over the brand and more clarity in the vision -- and then you can see it through."

In direct channels, that means infusing every product, experience and engagement with the brand's favorite word: sunshine.

"It's all about making them feel colorful and inspired as they pack up their roller bag and get ready to wear white linen and transition into that resort state of mind," McCready tells Marketing Daily. "We can help get them there. And that we've built that trust and credibility over time."

Kelly says Lilly's core customers are well-traveled, optimistic, confident, warm, welcoming and witty. "They're a little unexpected," she says. "And they've got a bit of nostalgic flair that often ties in with a strong sense of community, family and celebration."

That's made it a multigenerational brand, which Kelly hopes will continue, even as it courts generation TikTok. "We spend a lot of time asking ourselves how we can bring that magic of 1959 when Lilly launched the brand to 2024. She was a hostess, a traveler, an entrepreneur and a mother. So we ask, 'If Lilly were here today, which social media platforms would she use? What would her dinner parties look like?'"

Influencers are the key to those reinterpretations. And while many fashion brands are starting to question the impact of influencer marketing, the team thinks the cast brings all that sunshine to life.

"Consumers crave authentic people," says Lindsey Lehmann, director of influencer and branded content at PMG, the digital marketing agency that developed the campaign. "Brands doing influencer marketing the right way are embracing branded content as entertainment, not advertising. That's an approach that Lilly believes in."

The difference is learning how to genuinely collaborate. "We don't just send the product and ask them to post something," Kelly says. "Creators know their audience best."

The effort also encourages brand fans to create content, especially on TikTok.

That's a tremendous leap. "The biggest mindset shift for us in this journey has been that it's not just OK, but it's fabulous for other creative people to make content on our behalf," says Kelly.

That requires an open mind and an ego reset. "Our previous thinking had been, 'Well, we're the brand. We make the best content.'"

Influencers tell the brand story differently, "and with the right talent, that's a pretty special thing."

One of McCready's favorite examples is @taryntino21, who models a few outfits while fantasizing about an upcoming vacation to Mexico.

"This campaign is the most ambitious effort we've done, and it will continue to grow," she says. "It combines our special sauce of authentic creator content with the amplification and partnership of paid media, creating greater awareness and shifting perceptions."

The new formula has already unlocked more than 60 million views. Kelly says she expects those views to translate to new customer acquisition.

And increasingly, she says, influencer marketing isn't its own channel. "The impact shows up in every other channel as well and impacts performance on those channels.”

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