Have you ever noticed how the three Urban Outfitters brands —Free People, Anthropologie, and Urban Outfitters— all seem to publish very similar content on their social media platforms, but still somehow manage to convey entirely different vibes to reach their target demographic?
We looked into their digital content strategy to better understand the similarities and how each label is able to own a different category.
We've all seen the feeds composed of photos depicting aspirational interiors, cute girls in a beautiful location, accessories presented in a fun, cheeky manner, wanderlust-inducing sceneries...
Which marketing content to you think I'm describing? The Anthropologie aesthetic? The Free People brand? The Urban Outfitters vibe? If you answered all of the above, you're onto something. It seems as though the companies housed under the Urban Outfitters umbrella have figured out the secret to curating successful Instagram feeds for the specific niches they've carved out. And in a very savvy twist, they're repeating the social advertising formula with a few minor adaptations across all their banners.
The folks at UO are smart af. They've developed each of their brands to have a similar aesthetic essence while servicing different demographics. There are slight variations and nuances, which reveal themselves once you start scrutinizing each of their Instagram galleries.
It's clear that the Urban Outfitters marketing strategy (or URBN, rather) stems from having a very firm grasp on each brand's customer, and understanding full well how to speak to their target. Scrolling through either one's images on Insta is taking a journey into that segment's (dream) world, where the respective social teams have curated the most aspirational version of their audience's life through visual storytelling.
All three businesses impart a similar feeling, yet unquestionably diverge as well. All in the name of reaching different consumer segments.
Just to get us all in the mood, let's do a quick study of each brand to properly identify their core focus.
What is immediately apparent upon going through this banner's Instagram account is that it's geared towards a younger audience. The images are textbook for what appeals to teens and college kids: dream dorm room decor, threads that were made popular by the Jenner sisters, and cutesie scenes that would make any nineteen year old swoon. An Urban Outfitters campaign reads like the youth's playground.
If you're a free-spirited chick with a wild heart, then you likely feel called upon by Free People's Instagram content. Scenes of desert verdure, gypsy garb on perfect pixie hippie babes, and aspirational scenes of wellness for the soul furnish their gallery. It's perfectly packaged boho chic.
The Anthropologie brands target the young professional who has reached a certain career point (read: has a bigger budget) and who enjoys the finer things in life, without having lost her craving for the cheeky. She appreciates a dash of whimsy in everything from her wardrobe to her home.
How can three completely separate brands with obvious diverging market share have almost interchangeable content? A quick segmentation calculation will lead to the conclusion that their galleries, while aiming for dissimilar characters, follow the same posting formula: home decor, fashionable girls, fun lifestyle scenes, beautiful exotic scenery, etc. Real talk: creating a content strategy that works for all three of the Urban Outfitters companies was solid genius.
To properly illustrate what we mean, we're going to show you each brand's version of the same segment. We identified four content pillars that are focal points of all three accounts to compare their interpretation of the same type of post, along with whose audience is more primed for each. Without further ado, here is their take on Flora, Shoe Scenes, Ladies in Threads, and Nature Frolics.
All three banners of the Urban Outfitters mothership are really big on peppering their feeds with beautiful florals and plant displays. While most bloom-heavy visuals could be interchangeable for the three brands, we noticed that they each have their own specific flavor upon closer inspection. The segments are in order of highest performing images for each brand, enabling us to get a proper sense of what resonates best with their respective audiences:
You'll notice above that these images are high performers for each brand — only Anthropologie's florals include low performers (a mere 6% of the posts analyzed).
The main difference observed here is that Free People likes their flora to be abundant, almost always filling up the whole frame. Their blooms are bright and really pop out of the screen, while their use of cacti is also significant. The Anthropologie florals are more polished and feminine: they're in vases, are carried by pixies, or adorn elegantly the side of a photogenic building. Meanwhile, the Urban Outfitters florals are more rough around the edges with more common varieties telegraphing an everyday sentiment, often tugging at teens' hearstrings with rainbows or denim-clad girls.
While blooms crush it for all, they appear to be particularly attractive for Free People's audience (remember: the free spirits), especially the cacti. With that in mind, the brand could use object recognition software to source similar top performing images to ensure they nail every single cactus post they publish:
Girls have an inexplicable obsession with footwear, it's a fact of life. Lucky for them, all three of our retailers in the spotlight offer slews of killer shoe collections, often putting them on display on their respective Instas. Let's take a gander:
So, how does each account present shoe scenes and whose audience is more responsive to them? Interestingly enough, Anthropologie's feed has the highest (18%) and lowest (35%) amount of performers in this category. "From where I stand" shots showcasing cute shoes and pretty tiles is something that banner's followers can't get enough of. In fact, it's impossible not to notice that most of their footwear visuals, along with Free People's, are of shoes being worn, whereas the UO method puts the accent on them sans limbs.
Footwear scenes seem to be pretty decent performer for both Free People and Urban Outfitters as well, with the great majority of these posts performing right on average. If UO wanted each of their sneaker visuals to climb the engagement charts every single time, they should always consider a composition showing someone's two feet, along with lifestyle scenes displayed behind them. For example:
As clothing purveyors first and foremost, featuring wares is a major focus for each of the UO brands' social channels. They all present a healthy mix of user-generated content, influencer posts, and lookbook images. While the clothing and the vibes differ, the formula for what makes it onto these brands' feeds appears to be unwavering:
At first glance, a lot of these images seem like they could be interchangeable for each account. But upon further inspection, it quickly becomes apparent that their muses diverge, with unique vibes that pertain to each brand's unique identity.
UO is the account that does best with outfit visuals, as it's the only one with high performers in this category (3% of the analyzed content). Free Peeps and Antro are hit or miss with the ladies in threads, which reveals that their audiences are more lifestyle-oriented and probably attribute more importance to their other content categories.
The Urban Outfitters customer is a younger lass who is keen on denim-infused OOTDs while living fun experiences. Most of this banner's clothing imagery is displayed either very up close, or showcasing a fun scene. On the other hand, the Free People content is all about embodying a nonchalant boho disposition, while Anthropologie's modeled outfits are evocative of the more mature young lady who can likely identify with the feminine sense of style exhibited by the brand's posts.
Case in point: the simple image below of an Anthro girl in a pretty millennial pink dress is the type of image that drives a ton of love from their fans. This is what they should be looking at when sourcing UGC to post.
Nothing makes audiences dream quite like the scene of a super cool chick in trendy garb gallivanting in nature somewhere exotic. UO, FP, and Anthro are all exceedingly aware of this, as the nature frolic scenario is a big part of each company's Instagram content mix. In fact, I'm dreaming right now just looking at these. Le sigh.
This content category crushes it for all three brands, as they all include top performing content. The Antropologie account's scenes particularly nail it, inducing some severe wanderlust with utopian settings. This tells us that their nature frolic content is geared towards the gal who's got travel top of mind, and who can afford it.
On the Free People end, the brand's visuals are yet again appealing to that adventurous free spirit and the bohemian lifestyle. The scenes are heavy in cacti flora and reveal a very strong hippie essence. These images are evocative of their muse living her journey.
On the Urban Outfitters side, things are lighthearted to call upon the youngsters who are at the beginning of their voyage into this big world. Cheeky scenes keep things playful and aspirational for the college players in search of life's greater meaning, but still plan on enjoying themselves while they're figuring it out.
If UO wants to up their nature frolic game, they could use machine learning to identify which type of content to source and create for their channels:
After inspecting the content categories of these three brands, we find it doubly impressive how both similar and different they all are. In theory, the visuals all blend together and could fit the bill for either Instagram gallery. But in practice, each banner's social team walks that extremely fine, precise line to appropriate themselves each content segment in a way that will appeal explicitly to their target audiences.
All three companies unequivocally publish similar images, yet have all managed to master visual storytelling with a unique narrative. And that is the power of social media marketing.