In the world of e-commerce, the internet-bred fashion retailer Dolls Kill is (excuse the pun) killin’ it with marketing on social media.
Yet, you’ve probably never even heard of Dolls Kill; they aren’t huge like some of their competitors in the retail world. But back in 2014, after only three years of operations, Inc. reported they generated $7.6 million in sales. In its seventh year, Dolls Kill elicited enough attention to raise $15 million from consumer-focused venture firm Maveron (the one owned by Starbucks’ CEO).
But that’s even the end of it. In fact, Dolls Kill:
- Is the 2,600th most followed account on Instagram with 2.6 million followers (a 55%-60% increase from the previous year).
- Generates 3.8 million website visitors monthly (of which 93% is organic).
- Generates $8-10 million in sales.
To figure out how Dolls Kill has exploded off the floor and created profits from the start, I’ve analyzed what they’ve executed in their short-but-powerful past. I’ve also tracked their current strategy of success, which focuses heavily on “tribe building”. In fact, all of Dolls Kill’s marketing seems to be lasered in on fostering a devout and excited “tribe” to drive sales and hype.
In this article, I’ve broken these strategies down into actionable tips so you can get inspired. Use these tips to take your business to the next level.
Tip #1: Make Your Core Values the Foundation of Your Tribe
Every successful entrepreneur has a theory or view of the world that he or she translates into their business, bar none. These theories or views often morph into the core values of the business (or at the very least, influence them). As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably heard the vague, but pertinent, advice that in order to have a successful business you need to build a brand; and that a brand is built on those core values.
You won’t get too much about Dolls Kills values from the “About” section of their Facebook page; it pretty much just says “GRUNGE TECHNO BABY” seven times in a row (I’m not kidding).
But when investigating such an odd brand, you have to dig deeper. What I quickly understood from this strange “About” section is that they’re targeting a very niche audience. They’re tapping into growing youth subcultures that align under the umbrella of “just don’t give a f***.“
And that’s almost word-for-f-word from the CEOs own mouth. An interview with their CEO, Bobby Farahi (founder of Multivision which he sold for a small fortune), reveals the brands values: “The brand empowers girls to unleash [their] inner ‘I don’t give a f***’.” He continues by explaining “[Dolls Kill] allows her to express her individuality and be as loud as she wants to be.”
The youth subcultures, which Dolls Kill targets, literally embody not giving a f***. Think of Punk Rock, Goth, Grunge, and Techno subcultures; they’re rebellious, empowering, and unabashedly themselves.
So, how did Dolls Kill so effectively translate the values of these subcultures into their brand?
Firstly, they have product lines that appeal directly to youth who belong to each of these subcultures. Secondly, their authentic approach to marketing and leveraging people who are, and aspire to be, part of those subcultures allowed them to build a community organically.
Dolls Kill managed to brilliantly incorporate the fans themselves into their marketing strategy as well, but we’ll talk about that later in the article.
Takeaway: Farahi and Dolls Kill aligned their core values of freedom and “not giving a f***” with a niche-but-growing market that shared their ideals (aka a “tribe”). This gave them ample and fertile ground to market their products. They build a “tribe” dedicated to their business.
Tip #2: Directly Communicate with Your Tribe via Social Media
I would argue that Instagram is, by far, the most critical medium Dolls Kill leveraged for their rapid growth.
Very early on, Dolls Kill was eager to exploit Instagram and Facebook, when social platforms were growing like wildfire (remember 2010 Facebook?). Undoubtedly, they had the advantage of capitalizing on the platform when it wasn’t nearly as saturated with startups as it is today.
But to this day, Instagram still has massive value and potential. I would even argue that Instagram ads are still under-priced when compared to Facebook ads.
Marketers are quickly catching on to this, too. Instagram now has a billion monthly active users and is a significant source of revenue for Facebook. Instagram is projected to become their main revenue source by 2020.
Apart from the significant contribution Instagram makes to Facebook’s ad revenue (effectively Facebook’s entire revenue), the acquisition also provided Facebook with two extremely important, unquantifiable advantages that also benefit marketers who leverage Instagram:
- A reconnection with a younger demographic (primarily millennials); and
- an elimination of Snapchat’s competition and usurping of their user base by cloning their features.
As social networking sites continue to pop-up (think Musical.ly) and some smaller players continue to grow (think Pinterest), pose yourself an important question: Where does your tribe live?
Takeaway: Communicate with your tribe directly through social media to achieve heightened brand awareness, advertisement awareness, and feeling of connectedness between your business and your tribe.
Tip #3: Sell Where Your Tribe Lives
Instagram is one of the most effective sales channel for ecommerce businesses because:
- It’s visual (impeccable for showcasing products).
- Its users are engaged millennials (80% of users follow a brand).
- Its users are making purchases (Instagram has the second-highest average order value out of all social channels).
- It’s continually adding new features that are commerce friendly (think of shoppable tags or the native payments Instagram is currently testing).
When I first began running ads for my eCommerce fashion brand two years ago, I started by advertising on both Facebook and Instagram.
I quickly noticed that my ads on Facebook were underperforming. Not only were they getting low engagement, but also attaining low conversions compared to the same ad that was being run on Instagram.
There could be multiple explanations for the underperforming ads on Facebook:
- The demographic which I was targeting was between the ages of 14-28. This is the main demographic that is leaving Facebook in favor of Instagram.
- My business was never very active on Facebook so It’s likely that users of Facebook had never seen or engaged with my content.
Whatever the reason, I decided to double-down on Instagram as I had found a clear winner.
Takeaway: Find where your tribe is most likely to frequent. Focus your marketing efforts on those areas, and keep your tribe engaged. Engaged users of social media are vital to keeping both your business and the tribe profitable.
Tip #4: Use Organic Means Before Paying to Play
From the start, Dolls Kill eschewed print and TV ads. Their smart founders were aware that, in order to build a cult-following, they needed to grow organically on platforms where their tribe was already populating. For clarity, organically growing on platforms means little-to-no paid advertisements; just good-ol’-fashioned social networking.
Only after three years of organic growth, Dolls Kill started dabbling with Facebook Ads and experimenting with PPC (pay-per-click) ads on Google.
I routinely check the ads that Dills Kill is running on Facebook by checking the “Info and Ads” section on their Facebook page. Today, they’re often running multiple ads simultaneously and probably have a much larger portion of their budget allocated for paid marketing.
However, their initial organic growth allowed them to be profitable from the very start; they leveraged social commerce to generate sales with almost zero dollars spent on advertising.
When I started my ecommerce business, I didn’t run any paid ads or push for sales until I had built a following of 2k. Sure, this is a tiny following in the grand scheme of things. But the community was built organically, so this tribe of 2k was much more inclined to engage and make purchases when I finally started running paid ads.
It must be mentioned that I did kick-start the community with ‘boosted’ (sponsored) content in order to build a following more quickly. But these posts were never about selling; they were about building a tribe. I focused on content that established the values, the aesthetic, and the overall vision of the brand.
I would suggest doing this if you have a small budget to allocate as Instagram has become much more saturated with content!
Takeaways: Grow the consumer base of your brand organically at first. It may seem like slow-going, but it’ll pay off when you start running paid ads. Investing in your tribe early with boost your engagement once you take the next step.
Tip #5: Turn Diehard Fans Into Key influencers of Your Tribe
Remember the subcultures that are the foundation for Dolls Kills values that I referenced earlier? For reference: Punk Rock, Goth, Grunge, and Techno subcultures; groups that focus on rebellion, freedom, and being yourself.
Dolls Kill managed to translate these subcultures seamlessly into a key influencer (or “doll” as they call them).
In other words, they have a real human that is actually a part of each of these subcultures in order to represent each of their product lines.
As their CEO Bobby Farahi says: “It’s a real girl. It’s authentic. We give the reins to these people to be themselves, whether in videos or the way we shoot product or editorial.” By endorsing key fans and making them tribe influencers, Dolls Kill created human points of contact and engagement for their tribe and ads systems.
Takeaway: Key fans of your brand have powerful clout in your tribe. Use them via endorsements to enhance your brand and empower your tribe. Create efficacy for your tribe by highlighting the real people that exist within it.
Tip #6: Recognize Tribes that Complement Your Own
In the age of lucrative events like Coachella, Burning Man, and Lollapalooza, there is a huge opportunity to capitalize on festival fashion. At first glance, it might seem like a poor business decision to sell event-specific outfits as trends tend to fizzle out; but almost all fashion brands (from fast fashion to luxury brands) are debuting festival collections.
One brand that capitalized on this earlier than anyone else was Dolls Kill. They made a killing (again, excuse the pun) by making eccentric, edgy fashion that caters to festival goers.
Dolls Kill found their niche in festival fashion and experienced explosive growth, as festivals like Coachella became massively mainstream. This month, Coachella celebrated their twentieth anniversary and, unsurprisingly, Dolls Kill was one of the brands that had a stand to sell merchandise directly to consumers.
But ultimately the secret to Dolls Kill success is that they found the sweet-spot: selling clothing for everyday wear with just the right amount of edge, to a tribe that appreciated that edge.
Takeaway: Find tribes that complement your own, and exploit the common ground. By engaging two very similar tribes, you stand improve your already-strong successes.
Wrapping Up: Tribe-Building
Not so long ago, you were born into a community and had to find your individuality. Today, you’re born an individual and have to find your community.
This couldn’t be more relevant for entrepreneurs. In order to actualize your individuality and your view of the world in a business, you need to build a tribe around your ideas and values. Individuals crave community: a group of people they identify with (ie. the tribe itself); a place where they can share ideas, feel connected, and engage with your business (ie. where the tribe lives); and feeling both represented and empowered by the brand you’ve built (ie. melding the two to create a powerful and reliable community of consumers).
I hope this journey into Dolls Kill’s history and how-to on tribe-building has inspired you to explore your options for your own business. Dolls Kill is a single success story, driven by the monumental power of human community. With careful leadership and a hungry consumer base, you too can learn how to harness the driving force of tribes in your marketing system.
Have your own tips or tricks on tribe-building? Questions or theories you want to discuss with like-minded readers? Build your own tribes in the comments by leaving your thoughts down below?