Levi Strauss & Co. has been pushing the envelope since 1873,
starting with its durable, affordable riveted work pants in the nineteenth
century and continuing with its fresh, youthful advertising in the twentieth
In this century Levi’s is leading the way when it comes to content
marketing that seeks to make a difference. In particular, the company has been
consistent and creative in talking
about sustainability with consumers.
Recently we sat down with Michelle Wright, Senior Manager, Digital
Content at Levi Strauss & Co., to find out where this focus on inspiring
change comes from, and to better understand out how the company approaches
Check out the Q&A below:
Q: Fill in the blank, the best content
A: Tells a story that is compelling and unique.
It does so in a way that informs, educates and inspires action — whether that’s
a purchase, a social share, a referral or an inquiry by media to write a story.
Q: What is the role of content marketing
inside Levi Strauss & Co.?
A: When you couple the interesting work that’s
going on everyday at Levi Strauss & Co. in areas like innovation and
sustainability with a rich history spanning more
than 160 years, the result is a seemingly endless well of inspiring
stories. Content gives us the opportunity to tell those stories and share our
perspective as it relates to industry trends and issues.
Q: How do you set objectives around your main
content marketing goals?
A: We start by considering our goals as it
relates to corporate reputation and consider how content objectives can help
move the needle. So, for example, one of our primary corporate reputation goals
is to increase the company’s visibility in the industry and business community —
our content-specific objectives then ladder up to this.
Q: In terms of getting content distributed outside
of Levi Strauss & Co.’s domain,
is it primarily in the hands of influencers or is traditional media part of it
A: It’s a combination of both. How we approach each
depends on the audiences we’re trying to reach and what we’re ultimately hoping
to accomplish as it relates to a specific story.
In some cases, we may rely
heavily on traditional media. In others, we may tap into our network of influencers
and partners, either to be advocates for us or to distribute our content via
their channels. In many cases, content that’s originally shared on our Unzipped
blog not only yields media placements, or amplification by influencers, but
also creates new media opportunities, resulting in more coverage and more
Q: Levi Strauss & Co. must face some unique challenges given the
focus on sustainability, for example. A lot of brands don’t focus on getting
messages like that out, things that are not part of headline news.
A: We’ve had some amazing opportunities to make
those types of stories a part of headline news. That’s really the charge of our
team — to bring storylines like what the company is doing from a sustainability
and innovation perspective, to the forefront.
can be a challenge, but it’s a fun one because it requires a healthy dose of
creativity and thinking outside the box. Last year’s discussion and coverage of
our CEO’s comments regarding washing (or not washing) his jeans is a perfect
example. A provocative comment he made at Fortune Brainstorm Green went viral
and was covered on every morning show with nearly a billion impressions. In
addition, it gained LS&Co.’ positive feedback from NGOs for raising the
visibility of the topic. By thinking creatively about how we could continue to
tell the story about the importance of water conservation, we were able to
spark multiple rounds of follow-on coverage and dialogue.
Q: You mentioned the Unzipped Blog, it’s unique
compared with most corporate blogs, and it goes a lot deeper into the topics that
it covers. Can you talk about the philosophy behind Unzipped?
A: As the
“Unzipped” name implies, we strive to go behind the scenes a bit and show a
side of the company that may not always come through in our more traditional
In doing so, we’re trying to tell the full story of the company — from
innovation and design to people and community to sustainability and social
progress — in a way that builds connections with critical audiences for our
company and our brands. That connection comes from telling rich stories, whether
it’s in-depth profiles of people we admire, personal insights from employees,
or even tips for how to care for clothing (in a sustainable way!).
Q: How did sustainability become such an
important storyline for the company?
A: By making products that last, we’ve taken a
serious approach to sustainability, and it goes all the way back to the
beginning of the company and the invention of the blue jean. The copper rivets
that Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss added to pants to create jeans were all about
durability. And that little leather patch on the back of our jeans, the
“two-horse pull,” is a durability and quality message as well (we like to joke
that it’s the first example of green marketing). Today, it’s sewn into the
fabric of everything we do — from how our clothing is made to the work we do to
help protect our planet.
Q: A lot of the issues around sustainability
and environmental responsibility can be difficult to get consumers to connect
with – especially with short modern attention spans. How do you deal with
that? For example, we came across the
water quiz, which seems like such a smart approach.
A: I think it ultimately goes back to that “What
makes good content?” question. It’s trying to tell a compelling story that’s unique.
But it’s also about getting that strong content in the hands of the people who
want to engage with it.
The water quiz, I think resonated
with people because it accomplished all of the above. The content itself was
backed by actual since and data that was unique to LS&Co. We used findings
from our lifecycle assessment, which studied the full environmental impact of a
core set of our products from cradle to grave.
the science into an easy-to-understand, visually appealing and highly sharable
quiz format was the first step. The second was amplifying the content through all
the paid-owned-earned and shared channels in our arsenal.
Q. Given the current drought, does water
sustainability resonate more for a California-based company?
A: At the end of the day, water is absolutely
essential to our business. And in an era of increasing water scarcity, we
recognize that it’s also essential for communities, agriculture and many
industries besides apparel. For that reason, it’s definitely something that our
company and our employees care deeply about and have interest in supporting —
though we see that interest spanning from our San Francisco headquarters across
all our global offices. We want to do everything we can to reduce our impact.
Q: What’s your favorite piece of content
created by Levi Strauss & Co.
A: That’s like asking me to choose my favorite
kid! One that I still in awe over even though we’re coming up on a year since
it was completed is the content we created around our Field of Jeans.
We teamed up
with Goodwill on a clothing drive and covered the entire field at Levi’s
Stadium in donated blue jeans, with a recycle logo in the negative space in the
The sheer size
and artistry of the installation was incredible in and of itself, but I also
love how the content highlights both our sustainability and our community
messages. Plus, it really exemplifies our ability to tell a story using many
different channels — from a time lapse
video that appeared on broadcast media to a behind-the-build story on Unzipped
and much more.
Q: Which companies do you look to for
inspiration with content? Which brands do you admire for their content efforts?
A: GE is always one of the top companies on my
inspiration list. I love how they push the boundaries in terms of the types of
content they create and the channels that they use. They have an incredible
ability to take a topic that isn’t necessarily flashy, like industrial
manufacturing, and manage to make it super-visual, super-interesting, and
does amazing things with content. I love their Journey magazine and their Unbottled blog.
American Express too, with their Open
Forum. The content that they create is strategic for their business and
makes sense for their audience.
Q: What’s the future of content marketing?
Where is content marketing going?
A: In the next couple of years, data-driven
content marketing is going to become the norm.
engaging in content marketing are going to move in the direction of media
companies – like BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post – that are constantly
analyzing the effectiveness of their content, then iterating to maximize the
impact of what they create.
what’s the future of content marketing at Levi Strauss & Co.?
A: Levi Strauss & Co. is
going to continue to refine how we’re distributing our content to most
effectively reach the audiences that matter to us. Whether that’s using data
and analytics to understand which content performs best, or whether it’s exploring
new channels in order to tell our stories in different ways.