3 Insights from UNIQLO’s Growth Hack

Hello Internet, it’s Bryan from Tutum. I’m Tutum’s resident Growth Hacker and I wanted to share what I think is one of the greatest growth hacks I’ve seen outside of the Internet.

My girlfriend recently came to visit in NYC and since we’re both huge fans of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) we decided to go on a Friday and to our delight and surprise we happened upon what’s called UNIQLO Free Fridays. Every Friday admission is free for all visitors from 4:00pm to 8:00pm.

Looking at UNIQLO’s website, this is a multi-year sponsorship that started May 3, 2014, and was previously held by Target. Here are three things that I learned from UNIQLO and their decision to take over this role as sponsor.

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First Insight

Partnering with another brand allows you to inherit their image and reputation.

A great piece of advice from Seth Godin who came to speak to us at Techstars ties directly into this. People are going to talk about your brand/company/product whether you want them to or not, and they’re usually going to do it in a couple of sentences. You can either sit back passively and let people create their own phrase about you, or you can give them the exact phrase you want them to use. You may not be able to control whether people will share you through word of mouth, but you can help shape what they say if they do share you.

 

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I’m actually already a fan of UNIQLO but this made me see an entirely new dimension to their brand. In my mind they already had certain attributes mapped to them. They used to include “innovative, cheap, stylish, product focused” but by offering free admission to thousands of people every week they’ve added “community, giving, awesome, and generous.” With their new association to MoMA “cool, artistic, and edgy” come to mind as well. Partnering with a Museum, not to mention one of the most well-known in the country is a great move. Now UNIQLO has effectively tied their brand to one of the coolest museums in the world.

When people describe UNIQLO, even if they’ve never been to the store to shop before, they can now say “they’re awesome, they gave me free tickets to MoMA, you should totally go on Friday,” and that’s huge. Not only have they strengthened their brand with their current customers but they’ve allowed non-customers to become advocates.

 

Second Insight

People don’t have to be customers in order to be advocates.

If you’re interested in growth, your job is to explore and identify the various growth levers at your disposal. You start realizing that acquiring new users is extremely context sensitive. For example a brand that I really like is Darn Tough wool socks because they come with a lifetime guarantee. If they ever rip or wear down you can send them back to the manufacturer and they’ll send you a brand new pair. If they could gain exposure to new customers for $1 each at a Tough Mudder race (really fun race if you can find some friends to do it with), this would probably be profitable for them. These racers enjoy being rough on their equipment and would probably find value in something they never have to worry about “breaking.” However, if they were to go to a tech conference it would probably be a large waste of money, because it’s not their target audience.

 

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MoMA is the perfect target audience for UNIQLO because a large percentage of people attending MoMA probably care about fashion. I have a mental picture of the typical MoMA attendee and of the typical UNIQLO shopper, and I think there is a lot of overlap. I’m sure the marketers at UNIQLO saw the same opportunity.

UNIQLO is not only having potential customers exposed to their brand, but allows them to share the brand in a positive way. They can tell their friends, which is meaningful, because they are probably similar enough to fall within UNIQLO’s target audience. Now all of a sudden UNIQLO is building two viral channels into their customer acquisition funnel.

The first viral channel is helping existing customers reaffirm their belief that they made the right choice in shopping at UNIQLO (I’m glad I shop at UNIQLO, they’re doing good in my community and I love MoMA). The second viral channel, which is possibly even stronger, enables non-customers to share the brand with no prior exposure (just got back from checking out MoMA, thanks for the free admission @UNIQLO!).

This results in a lot of people being exposed to UNIQLO, and the likely scenario of being exposed to the brand multiple times by different people. Since museum-goers are probably friends with other museum-goers, this can be extremely powerful in converting a non-customer to a customer.

 

Third Insight

Conversion doesn’t happen all at once.

Most people interested in their companies growth will come to bow to the key performance indicator (KPI) Gods one time or another. Most every growing company will say they’re “data driven, data informed, powered by analytics” or some other catchy phrase that shows they’re doing their due-diligence. However, conversion doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

Customers are coming with preconceived notions of what they’re looking for, of what you provide, how that fits into their world view, what they ate that day, how they’re feeling, how much time has passed since they last posted a picture to Instagram, and is it too early to post another? There are just too many factors to control, and that are more importantly, out of our control.

What’s great about UNIQLO’s growth hack isn’t that they are making immediate customers of everyone they provide free admission to. What they ARE doing is creating more impressions of their brand. I know what you are thinking, “who cares? I don’t want impressions, I want clicks/purchases.” I know in my experience with purchasing things, I almost never buy the first time I land on a website or go into a store. It’s almost as if I have a little progress bar that goes from “completely unfamiliar” on one end to “buy” on the other. I have a bunch of other progress bars too, where the end result may not be “buy,” but instead “share, research, get opinion from friends, and promote.”

 

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These progress bars are all impacted and filled at different rates, but they are all fueled by the same thing: impressions. Positive impressions move the bar toward full, and negative impressions move the bar back towards empty. What’s rare here is filling an entire progress bar with just a single impression. What’s the last app that you downloaded on your phone? Did you download it the first time you had a chance? If you’re like me you already have 4 pages of apps that you don’t even use. The progress bar for me to download and try a new app is pretty long, and it is only becoming longer.

Here’s what is required for me to download a new app: it takes me discovering the app, friends telling me about it, reading about how it’s so wonderful and different from other apps out there, reading positive reviews on the app store, and only now will I finally download and try it out. A lot of this stuff is impossible to track, but each step is meaningful and critical for me on my journey to becoming a user of that app.

UNIQLO is moving the progress bars on all of the their customers, prospective customers, and non-customers. And why do non-customers matter if they are never going to become customers? Sometimes non-customers can be your greatest evangelist because they have no “ulterior motive.” They will bring up your brand in conversations with people in your target audience that you would otherwise never reach. I know that I’ve recommended products/brands that I’ve never used, just because I thought they were so great.

These are a few of the insights I learned from UNIQLO. I hope you found this useful for your business or it helps spark an idea to try. Even if you’re not a “growth hacker” there is probably some project you have that you wouldn’t mind getting a little more web or foot traffic to. Or maybe you know someone who would benefit from talking about growth.

Right now I want to know what you think.

Did I leave something out?

Have you tried reverse engineering another’s strategy for growth? How did it work out?

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.