🎯 How SSENSE became a ‘cultural protagonist’

Transcend products. Participate in culture.

Read time: 3 minutes 32 seconds

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How SSENSE became a ‘cultural protagonist’

Chess Move

The what: A TLDR explanation of the strategy

SSENSE started as a school project that evolved into a fashion-tech powerhouse valued at over $4 billion.

This achievement is especially remarkable considering:

  • Online fashion is hypercompetitive.

  • It’s notoriously difficult to scale to these software-like valuations.

  • Differentiation is crucial, even more so in luxury industries where value is “rooted in reflective emotional appeal.”

Founder Rami Atallah wanted to make more than a brand. He wanted to create a “cultural protagonist.”

To do so, he made sure SSENSE found ways to add value to customers in ways beyond the purely transactional.

Former Director of Brand Marketing Strategy Fanny Damiette described fashion as a 'pretext' for a bigger mission of using it "as a lens through which to understand the world."

As a counterpoint to common high-fashion stereotypes of exclusivity, SSENSE established an accessible yet aspirational gateway into the culture through: 

  1. Editorialised content: Offering distinct cultural perspectives with minimal marketing.

  2. Visual exploration: Providing inspiration through an emphasis on expertly curated styling.

  3. Experimental collaborations: Creating immersive and avant-garde memorable experiences that stand out from the traditional.

With global curation and delivery of over 700 brands across 150 countries, SSENSE's unconventional tactics created unique ways for the brand to connect with customers, differentiate itself within its competitive market, and garner mindshare to become a destination within the culture.

💡

Strategy Playbook: Craft unique content that transcends products to become a cultural resource and destination.

Here's how they did it:

Breakdown

The how: The strategic playbook boiled down to 3x key takeaways

1. Have a cultural point of view

What immediately distinguishes SSENSE as an e-commerce platform is its magazine-like presentation.

SSENSE takes the idea that "every company is a media company" to the next level: 

  • Content is prominently featured above the fold on their landing page

  • Professional writers, not marketers, craft the content

  • Products tend to be more in the background of the content

Why is this effective?

By prioritising stories and interviews over product-centric content, SSENSE builds credibility and an 'emotional connection' with its customers while also attracting new audiences. 

2. Provide a platform for exploration

SSENSE has a unique focus and approach to the styling of its products. 

Rather than photos focused on singular products and their details, they are styled with other brands they carry, mixing streetwear and high-end luxury, established and emerging, to create unique outfits. 

Through this, customers can see products in valuable new contexts:

It shows a product's versatility and how it might integrate with their current style choices or inspire trying something new.

Recognising curation as a strength, the platform was designed to deemphasise search to lean into visual exploration.

Even their mobile app was inspired by the iOS Photos app to create an easily navigable lookbook of style inspiration.

This approach turned SSENSE into not only a helpful tool for fashion enthusiasts but also a resource for industry research and social sharing that others often reference.

3. Expand surface area through experimental collaborations

In addition to its robust core platform, SSENSE makes it a point to step outside the box to experiment with retail activations and microsites.

This allows them to create immersive brand experiences while further cutting through the noise of a crowded market:

The launch of Pharrell Williams's skincare brand Humanrace featured five floors of physical retail activations at SSENSE's flagship store in Montreal, each offering a different look into the brand's creative vision.

A microsite highlighted these experiences with a look into sculptural designs, a curated clothing archive, and more, immersing new customers into the growing community and vision of "Humanrace Wellbeings."

The intention behind creating these standout experiments may forego immediate transactional benefits. It's a longer-term strategy of cultivating authenticity and building credibility, as Damiette said, "one stone at a time."

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Written by Carver Wilcox
Edited by Tom Alder

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