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Case Study: How Goodwill Attracted Hip Customers via Social Networking, a Virtual Fashion Show

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Company: Goodwill of Greater Washington
Contact: Brendan Hurley, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications
Location: Washington, DC
Industry: Nonprofit, B2C
Annual revenue: $21,000,000
Number of employees: 650

Quick Read:

Every day, Goodwill Industries receives generous donations of clothing, many in good shape and by popular brands. But a general public opinion of low quality and outdated merchandise looms over the nonprofit organization.

"People didn't think of Goodwill as fashionable, and we were saying 'why not?' All fashion is fashionable to somebody," said Brendan Hurley, senior vice-president of marketing & communications for Goodwill of Greater Washington.

Hurley set out to change that perception and, in particular, connect with young professional women who buy vintage clothing. By combining aggressive use of social media—including a virtual runway show, fashion blog, and social networking—with traditional marketing, Goodwill of Greater Washington has built market credibility and, as a result, increased sales.


The Challenge:

Goodwill of Greater Washington was on a mission to make its stores more appealing to young professional women. The organization had found success with two runway shows of its more fashionable items that viewers could later buy in its stores or bid for online in the organization's eBay store.

The two shows, held in Washington DC in 2005 and 2006, were effective but costly, and by definition limited to those who could attend on the day of showing. A virtual event, on the other hand, had the potential of accomplishing much more at a lower cost.

"The live show was very successful but also very expensive," said Hurley. "We believed we could increase reach and add value for our sponsors [with a virtual event] while decreasing costs."

The date for the virtual runway show was set for September 2007. Next, the organization had to get the word out, on a tight budget, and generate enough interest and traffic to make it a success.

The Campaign:

After determining that online media and virtual networking were the means for inexpensively reaching the target market, Hurley developed a campaign that included the following:

  • A fashion blog: Written four times a week by the "DC Goodwill Fashionista," the blog offers seasonal style advice, fashion industry news and event coverage, recommendations from leading fashion bloggers, and more. A "Goodwill Good Buy of the Week" features outfits composed of items found in both its online and physical stores. By delivering real content, the Fashionista has become a valuable fashion resource that drives traffic to both the eBay store and the virtual fashion show.
  • Social networking: Profile pages and accounts for the Fashionista were created on MySpace, Twitter, and Pownce to spread word of the blog and online fashion show.
  • Shared links: The Fashionista swapped links with other fashion Web sites, which helped drive traffic to the blog.

More traditional marketing tactics were also used, including the purchase of low-priced but targeted search ads on various search engines and fashion Web sites (such as thriftshopper.com and shefinds.com), as well as print ad placement in the fashion section of local newspapers.

Both the blog and fashion show were also promoted to the organization's existing database through targeted emails and monthly newsletter features leading up to the event.

Goodwill coordinated all of these efforts to support each other. For example, the blog linked to the fashion show Web site and eBay store; the eBay store linked to the blog and main DC Goodwill Web site; and the virtual fashion show Web site featured an invitation to sign up for the organization's newsletter along with links to the blog, eBay store, and main Web site.

The Results:

Transforming the fashion show into a virtual event reduced its cost 85% and increased the organization's margins from 39% to 79%. Furthermore, a much greater reach was achieved with 1,139 viewers on the first day (compared with an average of 400 for the prior live events) and more than 18,545 viewers to date.

The virtual show was replayed on Super Bowl Sunday, February 3, as an alternative to the game, this time including live chat with the Fashionista and a preview to the 2008 event, planned for September 18. The showing garnered an additional 169 viewers, impressive given the Super Bowl's record audience this year.

The virtual show and fashion blog drove traffic and sales on the organization's eBay site:

  • In the two weeks that followed the 2007 fashion show, 9,590 visitors visited the organization's eBay site—compared with 1,747 in the two weeks leading up to it.
  • September 2007 sales were almost triple those of the prior month.
  • Almost half (48%) of those who viewed the fashion show on its premier date shopped at the organization's eBay store in those two weeks that followed.
  • Some 15% of all viewers to date have made purchases from the online store.
  • 2,115 (7.6%) of blog readers have converted to online customers. 

Sales at Goodwill's brick-and-mortar stores increased as well, with a particularly large spike in clothing rack sales during the first two weeks after the show's launch, according to Hurley.

The campaign "helped reposition our retail stores and provided new credibility as outlets for inexpensive contemporary vintage fashion," said Hurley. "We're seeing a younger audience coming into our retail stores."

In addition to augmenting sales and promoting the fashion show, the blog has proven to be a valuable product itself. Recognized by CustomizedGirl.com as the No. 2 fashion blog in the country, the DC Goodwill Fashionista greets an average of 1,500 readers a week, with visitors from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. By offering worthwhile information rather than mere promotional material, the blog has achieved a 35% retention rate and a large amount of credibility.

"We have found a way to communicate our mission to markets that had previously been untapped. Young, professional women love the blog, love the store, and we hope and believe will also become much more passionate about our mission," said Hurley.

The blog has also garnered significant media coverage, including by the Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio.

Lessons Learned:

  • Online networking can be a powerful addition to your marketing mix. Goodwill was able to connect with its secondary market more effectively than traditional methods would have allowed. But the key, said Hurley, was not to discount those other methods entirely. He achieved strong results by integrating the online phenomenon into his overall marketing strategy and allowing the various channels to build upon each other.
  • Providing value beyond promotion is critical. With high-fashion news and tips for looking great on a budget, the Fashionista gained credibility as a trusted fashion resource—and not just another marketing tool. Accordingly, it built a loyal base that was ultimately willing to listen and act on her recommendations for Goodwill products.
  • A successful blog requires frequent upkeep. Hurley notes that it's important to give your blog the same level of attention that you would a regular product: "If [a blog] is treated as a resource only when convenient, it loses its credibility and punch and becomes destined to fail."

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.

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