The Supreme Effect: What the streetwear giant can teach all businesses about brand experience
Marketing is always a little confusing. But even amidst all the buzzwords, techspeak, obscure metrics and ever-changing algorithms, brand is still the aspect of marketing that people seem to trip up on the most. And to be fair, branding is now a more elaborate maze than it used to be. Not so long ago, your brand was your logo, a font (or two), a color palette and maybe a slogan if you really wanted people to remember you.
Now, things aren’t so simple. Where traditional media created mostly passive opportunities for brand interaction, digital experiences have created a variety of complex touchpoints that require your audience to interface directly with your brand. Everything from where you place your menus to your opt-in notifications sends subtle but important signals about your brand and its overall value — both to consumers and investors.
But how does this decision-making play out? How does a brand translate into a full online experience? Let’s dive a bit deeper.
Looking beyond the logo — what a brand actually is
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s unpack a few basic points about branding.
Your brand is more than just your name and logo
Brand identity is a lot more complex than the kind of brand you’d iron on a steer. While your name and logo are crucial to your brand, they are simply the starting point for something much bigger and more abstract.
Your brand is your identity
It may sound a bit dramatic, but it’s true. Properly used and cared for, your brand signals all the most important parts of your business or product. A well-designed but crass logo doesn’t mesh with posh, refined interiors. Brash copy with cheeky asides and lots of stylistic rule-breaking doesn’t match a buttoned-up Fortune 500 company. What you put out into the world tells people who you are. And when things aren’t consistent, it can cost you.
Your brand inspires your decision-making
The thing about identity is that it often informs a larger purpose. And depending on your purpose, not every “good idea” is actually right for your brand. For example, most of us can agree that it’s nice when a restaurant has a spot where the kids can play games while their parents catch up with friends. And while this good idea can work great at your local pizza place or somewhere like Joe’s Crab Shack, it would feel pretty weird at a 5-star steakhouse with $75 entrees. Aside from the quality of food, the principal difference between our two examples is intent. While Joe’s Crab Shack’s brand is all about family, fun and laid-back good times, the steakhouse is all about craft, excellence and refinement. These brand identities and the decision-making that comes with them inform when and why you choose each restaurant and are an essential part of your overall experience.
Rethinking right and wrong in your web experience
A website is a lot different than a restaurant — “good ideas” are more universal, and the intersection between form and function is much larger. That said, it’s still possible to have a well-made website that’s not right for your brand.
When we’re talking about digital platforms and systems, the phrase “best practices” comes up often. And it’s only natural; bad user experience can send visitors running to the competition and can even bury your site on search engines. It’s important to know that your sites, apps and profiles are following basic conventions designed to ensure success.
But far too often, “best practices” can start to add up to a lot of identical websites and online profiles that fail to match the brand they were created for. And while it is important to focus on best practices to ensure you have a user-friendly app or website, it’s also important to reframe those best practices based on your specific audience, their expectations and what you hope to convey to them.
Just take a look at the global streetwear phenomenon Supreme. Since its humble beginnings in 1994 as a single store run by skateboarders and for skateboarders, Supreme has since grown into a $2 billion company with new collections that sell out in seconds online, not that you could tell any of that by looking at their website.
Being on-brand online
Supreme’s website lacks almost all of the flourishes that online shoppers have come to expect from an e-commerce storefront. There are no discounts in exchange for form fills, no free shipping guarantees, no envy-inducing banners with lifestyle imagery. There’s not even a search bar.
But here’s the thing: That’s their brand.
Supreme’s purpose as a brand is to impart their unique sense of “cool” to their customers by selling clothes, skateboards and accessories. Their storefronts forego any notion of customer service. They don’t put things on sale and they don’t work with third-party department stores. It’s a mentality that’s allowed them to maintain their edge and build their brand into one of the most valuable in fashion today; so why should their website be any different?
Their website isn’t the only consumer touchpoint that reflects Supreme’s brand values at the expense of other “best practices.” Take this newsletter, for example:
No tempting buttons. No limited-time offers. No flowery language. Their opt-out button doesn’t even try to hide or discourage you when you click it.
Much like their website, Supreme’s newsletter announcing their newest collection tells you nothing more than what’s absolutely necessary. Anything more would imply a level of caring that some may deem “uncool”, and that’s never been what Supreme is about. And in that respect, these digital touchpoints successfully reinforce Supreme’s brand identity by conveying and preserving its larger purpose.
Finding Your Version of the “Supreme Effect”
We didn’t necessarily choose Supreme because we like their site and think everyone should emulate it. We chose them because they offer a vivid illustration of an increasingly important branding principle — that every digital touchpoint should align with your brand’s purpose and identity.
It may not be your cup of tea, but that’s exactly why Supreme’s approach to brand experience works so well to the people who love them. And even if their brand does nothing for you, there are still ways to apply the same principles to your digital touchpoints.
It all starts with exploring and defining your brand at its deepest level and using that brand as the foundation for all future creations.