Case Study: Supreme’s Unconventional Email Marketing Strategy

James Jebbia has never attempted to conform to industry standards. When he first founded Supreme in 1994, he used an unconventional store layout which pushed products to the side and instead opted for a large indoor skating area. Now, with over 23 years of business and $40M to his name, he still doesn’t do the norm.

Supreme’s email marketing is no exception, and when we dive into the details you’ll be stunned by how different it really is.

What is Supreme’s Email Marketing Strategy?

At face value almost seems like Supreme doesn’t have an email marketing strategy. Just take a look at all the peculiarities surrounding their emails:

  1. The link to sign up for the newsletter is small, and easily overlooked.
  2. After signing up, you don’t receive a confirmation email that you’ve signed up.
  3. Barely send emails.
  4. Occasionally don’t send order confirmations.
  5. And, they only send updates to a small group of subscribers, not the whole list.

If I saw a brand implementing an email marketing plan like Supreme’s, I’d tell them to stop. But, for Supreme it works. And, it might just work for your brand too!

See, Supreme’s marketing goals aren’t to get direct sales. Instead, Supreme’s marketing is all about generating hype. With that in mind, their email marketing makes a bit more sense.

Why Supreme Doesn’t Send Confirmation Emails

Let’s start to break down the individual parts of Supreme’s marketing plan starting with their lack of confirmation emails. When signing up for the newsletter, you get nothing. There’s no email saying thanks for subscribing, no discount code, just an empty inbox. And it’s genius.

See, subscribers are conditioned to receive that confirmation email. So many brands send them, that it leaves Supreme’s subscribers feeling odd. And it won’t go away until they get their first email. This is exactly what Supreme wants. It’s making use of psychology to make a subscriber impatient for that first email. When a email finally arrives they breathe a sigh of relief. They’ve successfully signed up.

But, more importantly, they’ve spent all week thinking, waiting for that email. It trains their subscribers to look forward to the rare emails they do send, and plays into the exclusive theme surrounding the brand.

Supreme doesn’t stop there though. They occasionally don’t send order confirmations too. Which, hints at another motive for not sending confirmation emails. It gets people talking. If they don’t receive a confirmation email, they’ll likely take to social media, asking if it’s normal. This results in free promotion for the brand.

How? When a confirmation email isn’t received, people take to social media to ask if it’s normal. And it usually looks something like this:

“I just bought the Supreme Arc Logo, but got no confirmation email, is this normal?”

It’s a clever way of getting people to say they bought a product. And, usually someone more familiar with the brand will let them know to wait - it’s usual. So by not sending emails, Supreme is actually generating more social media mentions. 

The Exclusive Inner Circle

Another thing that’s core to Supreme is exclusivity. If you own Supreme apparel, you’re part of only a handful of people. They extend that to their email marketing as well with a secretive list of subscribers and customers who are selected to receive insider emails. Nobody knows how to get on this list, but what we do know, is that it’s a great marketing tactic.

Those who know about the list, but aren’t on it, are left hoping that one day they might be. This hope will lead them to look for a Supreme email in their inbox. They hope they can receive more emails from Supreme because they know that they contain insider messages and updates.

Those on the list are also eager to get each email because they realize they’re part of something exclusive. They are likely to share the content in the emails as well because they know others can’t see it and are motivated by the potential likes/upvotes they’ll receive.

But, perhaps the most important part is that their email marketing clearly reflects and enhances their brand image. 

Low Sending Frequency

Another odd detail about Supreme is the low sending frequency of their emails. At best, you’ll get an email once a week when products drop, but if you didn’t elect to receive drop alerts emails are few and far between.

The infrequent sending frequency is directly counter to what the industry is beginning to do as a whole. Many new guides for email marketing are recommending to send emails at least once a week if not more frequently. The thought process is that people will forget about your brand due to the countless other emails arriving in their inbox.

And, yeah - that’s true. But at the same time, Supreme does the exact opposite, and to a level of success that far surpasses those who send frequent emails experience.

No Prominent Call to Actions to Subscribe

Another way Supreme goes against industry trends is by making their call to action for their newsletter small and almost unnoticeable.

Many sites now send multiple popups your way asking for your email. The page itself is also likely contain several prominent asks for your email. Companies are often trying everything they can to get a subscriber's email, but Supreme flips this on it’s head.

Instead of trying to get a subscriber’s email, Supreme makes it so that subscribers are trying to get an email. They make next to no effort to collect a subscriber’s email address and the result is an interaction that, like everything else they’ve done, leaves subscribers longing for more.

So, Should You Copy Supreme’s Email Marketing Strategy?

Like most things in marketing, the answer isn’t clear cut. However, you can take away a few key points from the Supreme email marketing strategy.

  1. Ensure that your email marketing meshes with, and enhances your brand.
  2. Make it so that subscribers crave your next email.
  3. Don’t feel obligated to conform to industry standards.

How to Ensure Your Emails Compliment Your Brand

Just like social media and advertisements, emails need to be on brand. But often brands don’t put the same amount of effort into making an email mesh well with the brand as they do their Facebook.

If you’re looking to follow in the footsteps of Supreme, start by ensuring your email reinforces the key brand ideals. Supreme does this by making emails scarce, exclusive, and exciting. Just like their brand. So take a moment, and think about the 2-3 adjectives that you want used to describe your brand.

Is it luxury? A personal touch? Perfection?

Once you have those in mind, begin to think how you can apply those to your email. If it’s a personal touch, make each email look and feel handwritten, with plenty of personalization. Maybe throw some emoji in the subject line, and keep it lower case so it’s as if it came from a friend.

After creating a template that you feel embodies those terms, send it to your team and ask them to describe the email with a few adjectives. If they choose terms that are synonymous with those your want your brand to embody, great! If not, take another stab at it.

How to Make it so that Subscribers Crave Your Next Email

This can be a bit tricky. Supreme’s method is to send few emails, but that won’t work for every brand. Instead you may need to get creative.

Try dropping hints at what’ll be in future emails. Keep emails exciting and unpredictable, and experiment with an inner circle which you send exclusive info to. 

Another way to make it so that subscribers crave your emails is to stop sending junk. It may sound a tad harsh but most brands aren’t sending email that’s purposeful. They send emails because they hear it’s got a good ROI, or that every business should do it. While these things are true, it’s not going to do any good, if you’re just sending email to check a box.

For each email you send, ask yourself: “Would I be excited to receive this email?”. If the answer is no, figure out how you can make the content within the email more meaningful for the subscriber.

Don’t Conform to Industry Standards

The last point to keep in mind is to avoid conforming to industry standards. It may be tempting to copy competitors and use popular email templates, but you’d be making a critical error.

No business is the same, and because of that, it’s audience will also be different. Even a business that only makes knock offs of other products and sells them for cheaper will have a different audience than the original. This means that they’ll be looking for different messaging, presentation, and even frequency.

If you’re following the industry standard, you’re missing out on the opportunity to tweak your message for your audience. To ensure you’re getting the highest ROI, use A/B testing to compare industry standards to your own, unique initiatives. You may be surprised to find that emails which break the mold perform better.

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