The ‘Anthropologie Woman’

Founded in 1992, Anthropologie is a branch of the Urban Inc. company, which owns stores like Urban Outfitters and Free People. It is officially described as “a lifestyle brand that imparts a sense of beauty, optimism, and discovery” to the customer. It is marketed to customers’ appreciation for “artfulness” and “good design”. Its products are consistently unique, and tend to incorporate a lot of bold prints and colors. Anthropologie is not a basics brand; in other words, it is not meant to meet customers’ foundational needs. It is an artistic brand, one that caters to the more indulgent, ostentatious consumer desires. Moreover, it is unlike most other brands in that it doesn’t use traditional marketing strategies to reach consumers. Rather, Anthropologie has a very specific target audience whose tastes they understand so well that they can cater directly to those people.

For most brands, it is an important part of their marketing to try and understand the consumers. They conduct demographic research, assemble focus groups, and hand out surveys all in an attempt to figure out what the customer wants and how to give it to them. Anthropologie, however, has taken this a step further and tried to get inside the minds and lives of their target consumers. They are trying to understand not only what these consumers want, but also who they are and how they live. This in-depth knowledge about consumers requires the brand to understand more than just demographics and buying patterns; Anthropologie must look at their customers’ habitus, as Pierre Bourdieu calls it. Habitus is the set of tastes, knowledge, and habits that an individual possesses, which helps guide his or her tastes and preferences. (Lury 91) In order to figure out what their consumers would find appealing and how to sell it to them, Anthropologie first set out to examine the habitus that drove these peoples’ consumption choices. The goal was to delve deep into their consumers’ lives and create the most accurate, extensive customer profile possible. They more they understand their customers, the better chance they have of reaching them.

The ideal Anthropologie consumer is an adult woman, perhaps in her late 20s or 30s, with money to spare. She is settled into her career and most likely holds a prestigious job that comes with a hefty salary. The Anthropologie consumer isn’t concerned with the prices, however; she is all about the design. She is a very cultured, educated woman, with a genuine appreciation for art and aesthetics. Additionally, the ideal Anthropologie consumer is a “free spirit”, a woman with an independent mind who dresses however she sees fit. Anthropologie president Glen Senk has described the Anthropologie woman as “very aware”, saying, “She gets our references, whether it’s to a town in Europe or to a book or a movie. She’s urban minded. She’s into cooking, gardening, and wine. She has a natural curiosity about the world. She’s relatively fit.” (LaBarre) The Anthropologie woman is continuously expanding her cultural horizons, whether it be through travel, reading, or perhaps even just going to the movies. Douglas Holt would argue that the Anthropologie consumer has high cultural capital – her education, her background, her worldliness, and her experiences give the Anthropologie consumer access to a certain level of culture. (Holt 3) Yet the Anthropologie consumer is omnivorous in her consumption, meaning that she consumes from many different areas of culture.  (19) The brand caters to this omnivorous consumption by carrying products that reference many different parts of culture, from travel to film to classic art.

What do you mean, Anthropologie doesn’t advertize?

You might think that because Anthropologie’s target audience is so clear and well understood, it would be effective for them to create advertising around that. However, that is not the case at all. In fact, Anthropologie does not use typical advertising to reach its customers. It doesn’t put out any print ads or produce any television commercials like so many other brands do. Instead, Anthropologie has decided to let its brand speak for itself, using the actual stores as well as social media to forge a connection with consumers. Glen Senk explained that one of the brand’s core philosophies “is that we spend the money that other companies spend on marketing to create a store experience that exceeds people’s expectations. We don’t spend money on messages — we invest in execution.” (LaBarre) Much of the reasoning behind this marketing strategy, or lack thereof, is that the brand has already narrowed in so closely on the kind of consumer they want to reach, and as a result they know exactly how to attract her.

Thus, instead of relying on conventional marketing methods, Anthropologie focuses their attention on the quality of their products and the shopping experience of their stores. Each Anthropologie store is custom designed, so no two locations look the same.  Yet, there is still an underlying theme of worldly, whimsical artistry that is distinctive and unique to the brand. For instance, the stores are lit by beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, as opposed to the bulky florescent light fixtures one might find in a Gap or other large chain retailer. The walls are lined with colorful murals and intricate paintings, making the customer feel as through they have stepped into an entirely separate world. This is reinforced by the quirky, indie music playing softly throughout the store as customers shop. There are no top 40 hits blasting from the speakers, and there are no sales posters – except for one hand-painted (or made to look like it) sign for the saleroom. The Anthropologie appeal is much more nuanced than that.

Photo courtesy of Roxy, author of Effortlessly Anthropologie blog

Photo courtesy of Roxy, author of Effortlessly Anthropologie blog

Aside from its store decorations, Anthropologie also relies on the products themselves to reach their ideal consumer. As company President Glen Senk explained, the Anthropologie consumer is very cultured and aware of the world around her, which is clearly reflected in the kinds of products sold by the brand. The clothing and house wares featured in Anthropologie tend to make references to specific cultures and their artistic trends. For many other brands, this would be a huge risk because it might alienate consumers if they don’t understand or appreciate the reference. However, it works heavily in Anthropologie’s favor because they are banking on the consumers’ comprehension, or at least their admiration, of such references. For instance, the majority of brands would be hesitant to produce and market vintage-style undergarments because they are not “in fashion” right now and would not appeal to most consumers. Anthropologie, however, is the perfect store to sell something like that because it appeals to their consumers’ quirky taste but they don’t have to go to the thrift shop to buy it. As was previously mentioned, Anthropologie consumers have high cultural capital, which is reflected not only in the products they consume but also in the way that they consume. High cultural capital consumers tend to consume products that are scarce, because they value exoticism. They enjoy consuming products that the majority of people don’t have access to or wouldn’t be able to appreciate. (Holt 13) Anthropologie consumers want to buy clothing and home décor that is going to make them stand out and distinguish themselves from other consumers.

Its lack of traditional advertising and specificity in consumer outreach is really what sets Anthropologie apart from so many other retail brands. For most brands, the end goal is to maximize profits by attracting a large number of customers. In order to achieve this, they will try to appeal to a wide range of consumers. The other strategy is to specialize in one particular product or category of products and use that as a basis for advertising. Anthropologie has taken an entirely different route and decided to focus on one particular type of customer, providing them with everything from clothes to house wares to cosmetic products. Rather than focus on creating advertising to try and reel in consumers, Anthropologie has focused their efforts on creating a shopping experience that will appeal deeply and directly to one specific kind of consumer, one who the brand has made its priority to understand. Anthropologie has its consumer base down to a t, and because of that it does not need to advertise in order bring in customers.

Moreover, Anthropologie is not necessarily interested in expanding its consumer base. Despite the potential risks of only catering to one specific consumer, Anthropologie is actually doing quite well, not only as a business but also as a brand. In the article “Sophisticated Sell”, Polly LaBarre explains that on average, customers spend longer periods of time in Anthropologie than they do in other chain stores. Additionally, customers tend to spend much more money on a visit to Anthropologie than the average customer spends per visit. Needless to say, the brand’s niche consumer approach is paying off, and part of that probably has to do with the perceived “exclusivity” of the brand. As one can see, the consumer base for Anthropologie is fairly small and very well targeted. This probably adds to the allure of the brand, seeing as the ideal consumer is someone who likes to be unique and stand out from the crowd. Perhaps if Anthropologie started advertising and bringing in different types of customers, the current ones would stop shopping there because it would no longer be different or distinctive.

Social Media Marketing

Even though they don’t use typical advertising strategies, Anthropologie is still interested in communicating with their consumers and creating a sense of community around the brand. One of the ways they are doing this is through social media. Digital communication is great because it allows the brand to reach a large number of consumers all at once and create a sense of solidarity regarding the brand. A brand community is an “imagined” community that is centered on a shared interest or identity, which means it can be removed from a physical space and disembedded from geographic constraints. (Muniz & O’Guinn 413) By utilizing the Internet as a marketing platform, Anthropologie can ensure that people are still exposed to the brand even if they don’t shop at the stores or physically interact with the products. The whimsical and artistic ambiance of Anthropologie’s brand is translated to their various social media profiles in order to facilitate communication with and among the consumers. The Anthropologie brand is a heavily visual one, so its message comes through the most effectively over image-based social media platforms, namely Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Anthropologie’s Pinterest presence is fairly impressive, with nearly 400,000 followers and just over 4000 “pins” to its 58 boards. Pinterest is an excellent site for building and maintaining brand community because its primary features allow users to pin and repin images to the appropriate boards. The boards are usually separated by theme or category, such as “books” or “wedding ideas”, which helps cater to specific tastes and interests. Anthropologie, for instance, has more than 50 boards with labels like “shoe spotlight” and “party style”. Consumers can look through each of the boards according to the titles that strike their fancy, and when they find something they like, they have the ability to repin it to one of their own boards, using whichever categorization and caption they please. Through Pinterest, consumers can share their personal product choices from the Anthropologie brand with everyone in their network, and connect with other customers using the repin feature. The brand’s Pinterest profile also gives consumers a sense of individuality and agency by allowing them to pick and choose which products to repin based on their personal sense of style. Consumers are able to brand themselves through their own boards, and show the rest of their followers how they are involved with the Anthropologie brand.

Anthropologie also utilizes Instagram as a platform for promoting its brand and creating a sense of community among its consumers.  Although it doesn’t post as much as it does on Pinterest, Anthropologie has over 500,000 followers on Instagram. Instagram is a very fitting site for a brand like Anthropologie because of its artistic nature. The filters on Instagram give users the ability to take seemingly “normal” pictures and enhance them to be more unique and aesthetic. This is very much in line with the Anthropologie brand, which values design and artistry. The Anthropologie profile on Instagram is basically a stream of semi-professional pictures featuring the brand’s products that have been amended through one of the artsy filters. Consumers can join the brand community by following Anthropologie on Instagram, and have the opportunity to interact with other consumers through features like hashtags and commenting.

Pictures courtesy of Anthropologie and Instagram

Screen shot 2013-12-15 at 11.52.25 PM Pictures courtesy of Anthropologie and Instagram

While the brand’s presence on Pinterest and Instagram is mainly focused on the products themselves, Anthropologie is also using social media to foster a community that is centered around a certain lifestyle. While the brand’s Pinterest and Instagram accounts feature pictures of its various products, the Tumblr blog includes so much more. The blog features highbrow drink and food recipes, many of which call for expensive and exotic ingredients, as well as indie music playlists and crafty do-it-yourself projects.  The entire blog is reflective of Anthropologie’s brand image – highbrow, artistic, and cultured. The blog serves to create a whole way of life for Anthropologie consumers, a brand community that revolves around more than just the clothes or the home décor. In many ways, Anthropologie’s blog is an extension of the ideal consumer. It includes not only the items that Anthropologie consumers purchase, but also the music they listen to, the food that they eat, and the drinks they like to mix. It essentially outlines the habitus of an ideal consumer, and invites other consumers to partake in these lifestyle choices. The blog gives consumers the opportunity to come together and create a community that focuses on an entire way of life instead of individual products and designs.

Consumer Reproduction

Anthropologie is creating an online community not just through the content they produce, but also through the content produced for them by participatory consumers. When these consumers post pictures on Instagram using the hashtag “Anthropologie” or post something about the brand on their blog, they are doing what Tiziana Terranova describes as free labor. This term is appropriate because the work that these consumers are putting in is not compensated financially, and they are providing this content willingly. (Lury 104) For instance, there are numerous lifestyle and fashion blogs dedicated primarily to Anthropologie products. A simple Internet search will result in blogs such as “Effortlessly Anthropologie”, “Anthromollogies”, and “Breakfast at Anthropologie”. These blogs usually feature product reviews, outfit ideas, styling tips, and items that the blogger herself is looking to consume. These blogs are about more than just the products, however. Often the writer will post about other aspects of her life, such as her travel experiences or a new restaurant she wants to eat at. Even though the main focus is on the products, readers are also getting a glimpse into these bloggers’ lives.

What is interesting to note is how similar many of these bloggers are to the consumer profile that was outlined earlier.  For instance, in the “about” section of the blog Effortlessly Anthropologie, blogger Roxy describes herself as an adventurer, a technology executive by trade but a “writer by passion”. She also mentions that she travels six times per year, and that she is interested in photography. She comes across as an educated professional with a creative side and an interest in exploring, which is directly in line with the Anthropologie consumer profile. Similarly, Molly of the blog Anthromollogies calls herself a “beauty seeker”, before going on to say that she is a musician and teacher and that she is married with children. Just like Roxy, she presents herself as educated, but with an eye for aesthetics. Judging by their pictures and self-descriptions, it is probably safe to say that both of these women are at least in their late 20s with college degrees, lucrative careers, and an artistic flair. They both seem very open-minded, excited to expand their horizons and try new things. These bloggers are exactly the kinds of consumers that Anthropologie is trying to attract, and clearly it is working. Not only are these women loyal consumers, but they are also helping to create a consumption community around the brand.

Picture courtesy of Effortlessly Anthropologie

Picture courtesy of Effortlessly Anthropologie

Anthropologie is one of only a handful of brands that have come to understand their consumers so well that they can make profits and build a loyal community without having to use traditional marketing techniques. The executives at Anthropologie have a very clear idea of who they want to target – she is smart, she is professional, she is creative, and she loves her individuality. This is the Anthropologie woman, and the brand executives know her inside and out, to the point where they can cater their products and consumption experience directly to her. Moreover, this strategy works remarkably well. Anthropologie is a thriving company, and consumers feel very connected to it, even making their own content based on the brand. It’s a fairly uncommon approach, but for this brand, it works.

Works Cited:

Holt, Douglas B.. “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?.” Journal of Consumer Research 25.1 (1998): 1-25. Print.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. 2nd Ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011. Print.

Muniz, Albert, and Thomas C. O’Guinn. “Brand Community.” Journal of Consumer Research 27.4 (2001): 412-432. Print.