Views From the Cove Series: Brands We Admire

Allbirds: The Sole Disruptor in Athletic Shoes  

When Allbirds launched in March 2016, it burst onto the scene with the promise to disrupt the athletic shoe industry. In the beginning, this San Francisco-based company sold just one simple shoe design whose main component was a simple material: Merino wool. The company’s idea was that all major shoe brands were too focused on flashy logos and man-made synthetics that were bad for the environment. Allbirds promised a product that cut through the noise with a minimalist design made from natural, renewable materials.

For us, what’s more interesting than the product itself is how this simple, understated brand generated awareness without the million-dollar television spots, celebrity spokespeople, or other flashy marketing techniques we’ve all come to expect from athletic and lifestyle shoe brands. What Allbirds may lack in high-profile campaigns, it more than makes up for them through the power of storytelling.

One of the Allbirds team’s first forays into telling their brand story was this 90-second video, which told audiences who they were and why it mattered. Why would anyone want a shoe made of wool? Because it’s more comfortable, and it’s better for the environment, they said. The video is also complete with rolling New Zealand hills, wooly wandering sheep, and the founder’s mother, knitting with a friend in a field. It hits the most important points for the brand: a unique product and a unique brand.

Since then, Allbirds has transformed from the little-known outlier to a household name in the athleisure space, with a total funding of $27.5 million to date. And while its growth can be attributed to both a mixture of good timing with the explosion of the athleisure movement and a quality product, their resourceful marketing strategy is what has built their following.

Allbirds has an interactive and responsive social media presence, particularly on Instagram. Allbirds’ Instagram account shares a variety of content, from artistic professional photoshoots, to irreverent, quirky shots of sheep, to reposts of consumers’ photos in their own wooly pair. The Allbirds team also not only responds to online customer feedback, they listen and adjust because of it; since the launch of their first wool runner in early 2016, they have made 27 improvements to the shoe. Outside of design and personality, Allbirds has even upended traditional sales models. Recently, for the company’s second birthday, it launched a line of shoes that was sold exclusively on Instagram – and it did really well. Allbirds veers from the status quo, from designing and making the product, to building the brand and selling shoes. Ultimately, this approach has proven that not only can Allbirds shoes succeed in the industry, they can disrupt it.

As technologies continue to evolve, and our habits with them, brands have the opportunity to creatively think about how to evolve their marketing strategy to better engage with today’s consumers. The success of Allbirds shows the shifting tide in marketing and the changing consumer landscape. By meeting consumers where they are – their phones – Allbirds has created the opportunity to tell a one-of-a-kind story and allowed its consumers to help write it.