When Andy Forch and Richard Greiner founded Huckberry in 2011, they were jumping into an outdoor apparel market that had established incumbents. They needed a way to capture attention and prove they belonged, without being seen as just a flash-in-the-pan eCommerce brand.
How does a bootstrapped company with a tight budget compete in a market dominated by century-old companies that have the authenticity inherent in being founded during the time of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir? With storytelling.
Huckberry used a smart content strategy to build a community of customers who shared their passion for outdoor living. Go to Huckberry’s website, open their email, or browse their social profiles and you’re met with content that’s filled with the adventure and wonder of the outdoors. The story they tell distinguishes Huckberry as a brand that elevates itself by making real connections with the customer.
To amplify their story, Huckberry partnered with other companies that already had influence with their core audience. This gave Huckberry a credibility boost in a market full of ultra-credible incumbents.
To compete in the crowded outdoor and apparel markets, Huckberry needed a way to differentiate their brand. They focused their efforts on creating a brand story that spoke to their target customer—men who liked the outdoors and the image of it, but who didn’t necessarily need a high-end performance hiking pack for a weekend away. While Huckberry certainly sells high-quality products, their target customer is more the weekend warrior camper than the seasoned vet planning a four-month trek along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Huckberry uses content to sell the romance of the outdoors, and it is this content that fueled their growth early on. Importantly, though, the content didn’t feel contrived. To authentically connect with those weekend warrior types, the company identified and told relatable stories.
“We’re trying to build a lifestyle brand, and authenticity is a big part of that. How do you try out a new product? You take the team camping in the Sierras. We hire people to work with us, not for us — people who are doers, who go out there and get after it. It’s a fun environment,” Forch told Basecamp.
Since the beginning, Huckberry has used email as a channel to connect with their customers. Their biweekly email included a section called “Diversions,” which linked to a curated selection of articles that Forch and Greiner thought customers might find interesting, alongside stories about brands and products they sold. For Huckberry, the content was a way to build credibility and establish their brand as a go-to source of information for their customer, so they included thoughtful content as prominently as sales content.
This theme continued into other content, including The Rundown, a monthly newsletter featuring conversations with customers and influencers.
While each conversation features product recommendations, the focus is more about each person’s story and how it connects with Huckberry as a brand. As an eCommerce store that offers lots of different types of products, Huckberry has the opportunity to talk to a wide variety of people with interesting stories.
The Journal section of their website is another example of how savvy Huckberry is at using content marketing to get customers to their site. Alongside product roundups and long-form product descriptions, their online magazine features travel writing, DIY tips, cocktail recipes, and interviews with influential men. It is again not just about selling; it’s about fostering these authentic connections with customers.
Though content, Huckberry is solidifying their relationships with their core audience and building a brand that their customers trust. In many ways, the stories they tell are more the backbone of their brand than the products being sold.
Huckberry’s storytelling ability helps differentiate their brand in a crowded market; their company and influencer partnerships are what lend credibility to those stories. By working with influential and established partners, Huckberry has built a community that trusts the company’s recommendations. This was especially important in the early years of the company, when advertising budgets were smaller.
By partnering with companies like The Art of Manliness, Stetson, Patagonia, and Bellroy, Huckberry is able to connect with existing audiences that share interests similar to both brands. Executive Director of Brand Management and Business Development Micah McKay told Sumo, “Getting the product into the right editors and publishers hands has been critical for us as a retailer. Our marketing strategy is very relationship-based, meaning that it all comes down to our relationship between us and our affiliates and us and our customers.”
This led Huckberry to establish dedicated shops, similar to the in-store brand boutique model used by offline retailers:
As well as exclusive products developed with partners:
Not only do these partnerships lend credibility to Huckberry’s brand, but they also up the exclusivity. By creating products that customers can buy only through Huckberry, the company is able to tell the story of how these products came to be.
This extends to their house brands, Flint and Tinder and Wellen. Huckberry acquired the former in 2016 and the latter in 2018, giving the company the ability to produce its own products, and control the story around those products from end to end. For example, for the Flint and Tinder waxed trucker jacket, Huckberry told a story that connects the jacket to Levi Strauss as well as to Scottish fishermen, playing up their outdoorsy brand aesthetic while tapping into the nostalgia and credibility lent by their forebears.
Through their association with popular brands, Huckberry is building a network that supports their story as an authentic eCommerce outdoor brand. Without these partnerships, Huckberry’s story wouldn’t have the same impact.
As an outdoor brand, Huckberry needs to show with their content as much as they tell. They’re selling the idea of the outdoors just as much as their products. Including inspirational and adventurous images on their website, in their emails, and on social media platforms helps to deepen the connection with their community. It’s also a way to highlight the Huckberry team’s authenticity by demonstrating their actual passion for the outdoors.
Huckberry’s Instagram account is chock-full of posts meant to inspire their customers. The adventurous and outdoorsy posts feature their team, their products, and their brand ambassadors living the kind of lives reflected in their content.
This kind of visual storytelling boosts the authenticity of Huckberry’s voice. While not everyone is going to read their blog and its longform travel writing, including smaller bits of digestible imagery through social media and website content can have the same kind of impact.
On Huckberry.com, they feature snapshots of their products in use alongside regular product descriptions. These images mirror their social media content, and strengthen the romantic image of outdoor adventure they’re cultivating.
The in-use product images also support the corresponding content and give Huckberry a way to showcase the use of their products by different types of customers. A biker is likely to be more interested in the weather-resistant aspects of the jacket than in the comfort and warmth of its wool-lined cousin (example above—also note that the lining uses Woolrich wool, another brand partnership that allow Huckberry to associate with an established company and boost credibility).
Speaking directly to different subsets of their customer base highlights the versatility of Huckberry’s products, as well. It tells a broader story about how potential customers can use a particular product in their own lives.
Huckberry’s use of imagery on their website and across their social media profiles cultivates a brand identity that showcases their passion for the product along with the experience of their customers. It enhances the relationship with the customer and adds value to their story.
Huckberry has been able to bootstrap their company in an exceptionally competitive market by creating an authentic brand story and finding different ways to circulate it to their potential customers. Through content marketing and strategic partnerships, they’ve grown one of the most successful eCommerce outdoor brands operating today.
► Be authentic
Huckberry needed to tell authentic stories to compete with long-established outdoor brands. You must understand what resonates with your audience to grow, so Huckberry turned to the stories of their customers, their team, and of influential people in their space.
► Tell a story
Outdoor products are meant to be used. By telling stories about how their team and their partners use these products in their own adventures, Huckberry shows customers how valuable the products are. Creating a story around your product and your brand gives customers something to connect with.
► Find the right partnerships
By connecting with established brands early on in their growth, Huckberry was able to find new audiences and get their name out there. Partnering with brands is mutually beneficial and can add credibility to your company as it grows.
► Use imagery to connect with customers
Telling your story is a great way to let customers know more about your brand, but to deepen that relationship, you need to show them as well. Huckberry does this through imagery on both their website and their social media platforms, and it helps to deepen the relationship with their customers.
► Build a community
Huckberry uses their email and blog content to build a community of like-minded customers. They’re not afraid to send a customer elsewhere on the internet for an interesting story. Show the community that you’re invested and interested in the same things they are and they’ll be more likely to trust your recommendations.