Published on January 27th, 2016
“Maybe I can pay my rent AND stay at home,” she pondered.
When this idea became a reality for Sophia Amoruso, owner and founder of Nasty Gal, she was intrigued.
Having struggled with formal education and “working for the man” through her early twenties, Amoruso seized the chance to be her own boss and capitalize on her passion for vintage clothing by launching a small eBay store in 2006 -- but it didn’t stay small for long.
Today, nearly 10 years later, the Nasty Gal brand has broken away from eBay, raised over $70 million in venture capital, made a rumored $100 million in revenue a year, expanded to include two retail stores and headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, AND inspired an upcoming Netflix series, all with zero debt to its name.
But how did a self-proclaimed, “dumpster diving freegan” like Sophia do it?
Here are five of the simple, but crucial inbound marketing tactics that helped this unlikely entrepreneur take Nasty Gal from eBay to the burgeoning empire it is today.
1. Pioneering Social Media Marketing
Arguably the biggest crutch of Nasty Gal’s early success was social media marketing.
Without even knowing it, Amoruso was a pioneer in the field, using MySpace (yes, MySpace of all places) to connect with her target audience, build awareness of her offering, and ultimately drive traffic back to her store.
By today’s standards, Sophia’s strategy was fairly unsophisticated.
To start, she simply went to the profiles of fashion magazines, bands, and “it” girls and added their friends of a certain age or in certain cities using a then frowned-upon automation software.
Once she had the audience, Sophia began publishing a MySpace bulletin/blog post every time a new auction went live on her store. Shortly after this, the bids began rolling in.
As Nasty Gal began making its presence known on MySpace, Sophia made a conscious effort to read and reply to every comment and message she received. “I just went with my instincts and treated my customers like they were my friends,” she divulges in her book, #GIRLBOSS.
“I just knew that talking to the girls who bought from me was important and always had been…. My customers told me what they wanted and I always knew that if I listened to them, we’d both do okay.”
This personal touch on social media not only set Nasty Gal apart from bigger competitors, but it provided the brand with valuable direct access to its buyer.
Through social media, Sophia realized, she could get unfiltered feedback and lifestyle insight directly from the girls who were buying her products, then use that information to improve other aspects of her business. -- And that’s just what she did.
2. Mastering eBay SEO
Unlike most marketers today, Sophia wasn’t going after top spots on Google or Bing when she first started Nasty Gal, but she certainly had her eyes on the eBay search results.
She explains, “Every auction title started with ‘VTG’ for vintage and then the rest was a world-salad mix of search terms and actual descriptions.”
Though she would never call it this, Sophia was mastering the early incarnations of search optimization with her eBay listings.
By listening to customer feedback on purchases and engaging with buyers on her MySpace profile, she understood what her persona wanted and recognized the words they used to express those wants.
With this insight, the budding entrepreneur knew exactly how to keyword optimize her auctions to be found by as many buyers as possible and in turn, she laid the foundation for the lively bidding wars that would help her company grow.
No matter how optimized her eBay listings were, however, not everything Sophia put in her store was a hit.
Like trying out a new type of content or campaign at your company, the Nasty Gal team had to test certain products or styles to see how their audience would react before making large investments.
“If [a product] sold,” Sophia shares, “Cool -- I’d instantly go find more things like it. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t touch anything like it with a ten-foot pole ever again.”
Amoruso even did variations of A/B testing to determine if it wasn’t the product itself that was the problem when things didn’t sell.
She explains, “[I]f I put a dress up for auction and no one was bidding on it, I didn’t just assume that no one wanted it. I just tried something else. I rewrote the product description, or swapped out the thumbnail….I never assumed that I’d just done my best job the first time around.”
In the spirit of Conversion Rate Optimization, Sophia understood that there are a great deal of variables at play in conversion/purchasing. Perhaps a product wasn’t selling with the current photo or description, but maybe it would with another. What was the harm in trying?
So, she iterated and measured and accepted every move as a lesson in what worked for her audience.
“If [something] sold, we learned. If it didn’t sell, we learned. And we kept on learning....[R]ather than dictating what I thought my customers should buy and wear, I listened instead. If I bought something and they hated it, I moved on. Rather than force my idea of what Nasty Gal should be on my customers, I let them tell me along the way.”
4. Providing Value Through Content (And Sharing Expertise)
While selling was always the end goal, Sophia unknowingly provided an additional value through Nasty Gal that she never intended -- a free styling service.
“I remember perusing a vintage store...when the girl working there confessed to me that to get outfit inspiration...she visited Nasty Gal Vintage.... Because I was styling every piece of clothing I was selling...I was showing girls how to style themselves….What we were really doing was helping girls to look and feel awesome before they left the house.”
It was content marketing at its best.
Nasty Gal was creating and sharing content that attracted even non-buyers and effortlessly establishing itself as an expert in the industry in the process.
As any good content marketing will do, this signature style caught the eye of potential buyers and industry influencers alike, helping Nasty Gal secure its position as a trendsetter, build awareness, and establish its brand reputation and credibility.
5. Creating an Unmatched Brand Experience
Also helping to build Nasty Gal’s reputation was Sophia’s attention to detail and brand consistency.
From her photography and silhouette to the accuracy of her product description, tone of voice, and packaging, she was devoted to perfecting the little things at Nasty Gal and creating an experience girls would crave both online and offline.
She confesses, “I took every item I sold seriously, obsessing to ensure my customers had a great experience.”
A lopsided label, poor lighting, or slow shipping may have led to bad feedback and that was not something that Sophia was willing to risk for her brand. Her buyer was just like her and she demanded perfection for her penny.
“If you’re just out to take [your customers’] money, they know it,” she realized. “But if you genuinely care about what you’re doing, they will respond.”
To help achieve this kind of engagement and loyalty Sophia leaves #GIRLBOSS readers with three rules for creating a brand that people want to be a part of:
- Do a Good Job: People have a lot of options in today’s market. When someone buys from you, make sure that they feel like it was a worth it both online and in-person.
- Give Your Customers Something to Share: Whether it’s your product itself, your experience, or a compelling piece of content, give your customers something to talk about. This will help keep people coming back to your brand and also provides you with an opportunity to affirm your position as an expert in your field.
- Keep Your Promises: Delivering on your promises as a brand is the easiest (and most cost-effective) way to earn a great reputation, encourage word-of-mouth marketing, and grow your brand.
As Sophia describes, “When girls bought something from Nasty Gal, what they got in the mail was just as amazing as what they’d seen online. [Because of this] Customers became not only loyal, but also evangelical. They came back again and again and again and shared their excitement with their friends.”
At the end of the day, people can buy products anywhere. When they buy from you, they’re not just buying a one-dimensional offering; they’re investing in your brand and everything it stands for. Like Nasty Gal, make business with your brand an experience worth remembering and talking about and people will want to relive it time and time again.