How American Apparel is boosting marketing creativity with data


Data has gotten flack in marketing for being tough to parse and curtailing creativity. But for American Apparel, data allows them to humanize and personalize their marketing.

Data has gotten flack for being over-abundant, tough to parse and even causing creativity paralysis. But for clothing manufacturer and retailer American Apparel, data is what allows them to humanize and personalize their marketing.

Although the retailer’s top digital executive agrees “there’s no shortage of data,” he believes that what is often missing are people who have the skills to leverage that data to improve marketing creative and the user experience.

“There’s a shortage of the ability to distill it into two or three key actionable data points, and the key there is action and how you take all this data to change the consumer experience,” American Apparel Chief Digital Officer Thoryn Stephens told Marketing Dive at the ClickZ Live event in New York City last week.

He believes data can be a brand’s biggest asset in terms of customer retention and engagement. Given that much of the brand’s target audience is mainly millennials, who are increasingly prioritizing experiences, it’s crucial for the brand to find ways to put the customer experience at the center of their marketing plans.

After years of sliding sales and growing debt, the retailer emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year as a private company looking to achieve a turnaround. As a private entity, American Apparel will have more time to enact the changes needed to restore the company, and has more leeway to be inventive. American Apparel is betting that data can help boost their creativity and customer-centricity.

At American Apparel, Stephens has taken his quantitative testing tactics and applied them toward finding what drives value for the company. Data acts as the connective tissue at the center of the L.A.-based retailer’s omnichannel marketing strategy, key for the brand in cracking the evolving customer shopping journey.

Test everything

As a former molecular biologist, Stephens believes in testing everything. Through testing you are able to see what drives results and connect the dots between user behavior and consumer profiles to better target and engage your audience.

“A lot of people wonder how I went from synthesizing molecules to optimizing booty shorts,” Stephens joked during his presentation. But he said that both roles, at their core, are about sifting through data to find valuable signals.

“It really comes down to understanding the consumers through data,” he said, adding that data is what makes personalization and customer-centric marketing possible.

During his talk at ClickZ Live, Stephens explained that American Apparel uses a “data maturation curve” to better understand their customers and measure their lifetime value to the company.

At American Apparel, they look at current customer value, customer lifetime value and net promoter score to determine the value of a given consumer for the company.

“Not all customers are created equally,” Stephens said, and zeroing in on the value add in marketing campaigns will ultimately help brands better serve their customers the right types of content. “You look for the patterns of behavior, your high-value consumers are doing this, your mid-value consumers are doing that, and then ultimately you start to develop hypotheses around that data, and then you test against it.”

Data allows retailers like American Apparel to better understand their consumers and tailor experiences to them. From the second a shopper sees an ad through their entire path to purchase, the company wants to ensure they have a seamless and personalized experience.

Being able to pinpoint consumer behavior patterns can help drive additional behavior and then ultimately bump up the lifetime value of those consumers.

An omnichannel strategy

To maximize customer value, the brand has focused on having a strong omnichannel marketing strategy that allows them to deliver the right message, to the right customer, at the right moment.

Part of this strategy requires figuring out what does and doesn’t work for American Apparel as a brand. For example, Stephens said the retailer has determined it doesn’t make sense for them to have a native mobile app — at least not at this point. Even so, he told Marketing Dive they are currently redefining their loyalty program and “the mobile app could be a pivotal component there.”

But the retailer has jumped on other omnichannel opportunities, such as a partnership with messaging app Kik to, for instance, notify shoppers near brick-and-mortar locations about special offers. Recently, American Apparel debuted a partnership with Postmates for an on-demand delivery program.

The retailer is the first in-app apparel partner for Postmates. In-app marketing is a growing category, dominated by install ads to get users to download new apps. Through the partnership, American Apparel is essentially carrying out a form of both in-app marketing, as well as capitalizing on the already-hot on-demand delivery market.


American Apparel Bodysuit Campaign
American Apparel’s The Bodysuit Credit: American Apparel

So far Stephens said the consumer demand for their speedy deliveries has been “pretty amazing” and one factor fueling it’s success is that their bodysuit campaign has really taken off.

“In terms of retention, I think the key is to drive engaging content,” he said. “You look at your consumer touch points and we use omnichannel marketing and we’ll take one message and we’ll amplify it.”

It helps that A-list celebrities from Taylor Swift to Nicki Minaj serve as walking billboards for the brand — and the marketing is free: American Apparel does not pay them to wear their clothes.

Stephens said that offering their customers a value proposition in email and social — “you want to check out this bodysuit because it’s the best bodysuit or the best basic that you could buy” — drives them back to the site and gets them to shop.

The “end-to-end consumer experience is what we’re absolutely focused on,” he said. Data-driven marketing is helping make that possible.



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