Revolve's influencer-filled, made-for-Instagram events, which span from tropical vacations to full-blown music festivals, are not only central to its business — it's one of the things the retailer, known for glitzy party dresses, colorful swimwear and other #OOTD-friendly wares, has become synonymous with.
The company had big plans for 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic led to global lockdowns and stay-at-home orders. "We actually felt like this year, of all the years, was the most organized we've ever been," Raissa Gerona, Revolve's Chief Brand Officer, says, on a Zoom call in September, thinking back to the beginning of the year. On the docket was Revolve Festival during Coachella, a Revolve Around the World trip to Cannes for the French Grand Prix in June, Revolve Summer in July, the inaugural Revolve U in September and Revolve Awards in the fall. (The company typically plans events at least six months in advance; in the case of Revolve Festival, the planning for the following year starts not long after Coachella ends.)
There was also an unannounced partnership that Gerona can't speak of, as it might still be a possibility, that was meant to launch the last week of March and "was going to be as big, in terms of influencer attendance, as Revolve Festival"; that was the first event the company canceled due to coronavirus concerns, a few days before employees officially went into lockdown. Shortly after that, Revolve decided to pull the plug on the rest of its in-person events for the year.
"There was just so much that we've thought about, planned and really worked super hard on; to have to undo them felt equally as challenging in terms of trying to get deposits back and having to tone down our spend because, obviously, our business really shifted so quickly," Gerona explains.
Within a couple of days in lockdown, Revolve's business went down significantly — with net sales down nearly 50% at the end of March, before starting to recover in April. (The company temporarily reduced some work schedules and salaries, plus furloughed and laid off some staffers, as a result of Covid-19. It has since brought back most of its employees.) The team had to think very critically about how it was going to spend its marketing budget, not only because events were off the table, but also because of financial constraints. "We really didn't have a choice but to pivot and figure it out," she adds.
It helped that Revolve decided to cancel all of its in-person events in one fell swoop, Gerona argues, even if there was still some uncertainty at the time: "It lifted a lot of stress personally for me, because having to plan both [virtual and in-person events] simultaneously, in case something were to happen, was a lot of my time and energy. Even with Revolve U, just saying, 'You know what, we're just going to do it virtually and maybe next time we can do it in person,' really allowed us to focus and make sure that we were giving our community the best experience. And hopefully they're enjoying it."
Revolve has since gone all in on digital-only programming. The first example of was Revolve Around the House, a clever play on the #RevolveAroundTheWorld program that has become synonymous with the retailer's influencer strategy. Instead of seeing, say, Aimee Song, Negin Mirsalehi and Camila Coelho posing on a yacht in the Mediterranean, followers could see them make smoothie bowls (Song), show their hair routines (Mirsalehi) and dance in their living rooms (Coehlo). There were also regular workout classes and cooking demos, as well as collection previews on IGTV.
"We went to the two things that we know, I think, pretty well — our social media, particularly Instagram, and our influencer network," Gerona explains. "We just kind of sat down and said, 'What can we do to make sure that we continue to communicate with our customer in the most inspirational way, even when we're in lockdown?' Because I feel like that's really what our customer goes to us for — what to wear when she's going to go on her bachelorette party, what to wear for brunch, what to wear when she's going to her vacation to Greece. And all of that changed so fast, so we thought about, 'Well, what is our customer doing right now?'"
For any big marketing push it does, Revolve has three main goals: visibility ("How many eyeballs can we get around this event, this activation, in-person or online?"), traffic (brand awareness and discovery more so than an individual's sell-through or conversion rate) and sales (though, Gerona admits that it's never been the company's focus when working with influencers, rather that "the best approach is really just use them as a billboard versus being able to track each transaction").
When Revolve Around the House kicked off, "it was just like 'Let's just see what our customer would like and figure it out,'" Gerona says. "I think we were able to quickly realize that she was engaging with a lot of our content. We've produced over 175 IGTVs, which is pretty amazing, and have over 12 million views on them. We've never done that before, so that's like, 'Wow, this is a new channel within Instagram that we can grow and a new metric.'"
Then came Revolve Summer. In the past, it's taken place over a couple of weeks in a house in the Hamptons and a resort in Mexico. This year, events like flower arranging, floral pastry design, painting, a pool party and a movie night happened remotely, from each influencer's own home.
"This a whole new type of logistics and event planning that we've never had to do before, even on the content side," Gerona says. "Every single event and trip that we've ever done, we've posted live, right? For this, the planning was a bit challenging because for instance, with movie night, we couldn't just send the stuff and everyone was going to just post that day. We had to be meticulous. So we would purchase all the things associated with the movie night — the screen, the pillows, the rug — and send [them] out to each influencer that was participating, then make sure that they were taking their content and giving them guidance on when that post went live."
Like with Revolve Around the House, the team thought about activities its customers might be interested in doing and could realistically do, safely, from their places. "We knew floral making was going to be a hit because, well, everybody wants flowers, and it always makes for a good photo," Gerona says, as an example. She notes that the company also used this as an opportunity to work with and incorporate small, Black- or women-owned businesses, such as Offerings for flower arranging and Loria Stern for floral pastry design, into its programming. (In the past, Revolve has been criticized for its lack of racial and body diversity, particularly when it comes to its influencer casting; though the company hasn't officially signed on, a spokesperson said Revolve has met with the 15 Percent Pledge team.)
With all of its programming, Revolve aims to provide inspiration, according to Gerona. That may have been pretty travel-heavy pre-pandemic, but now it's become about fitness, self care and online community. Consequentially, her team has worked to shift Revolve's messaging when it comes to the product it's promoting on its feeds, from party and vacation dressing to activewear, loungewear and basics, as well as positioning itself as a destination for beauty (which has been a steadily growing category for the retailer since the pandemic began).
"These were all categories that, to be honest with you, in times past, when we were traveling and partying and doing these things, were harder for us to market," she says. "This is just presented an opportunity to, I think, really grow closer to our customer and let her know that, 'Hey, we have other things that you can come to Revolve for.' As much as this has been such a trying time, in every single level, for the team, I do think there are opportunities that have come out of it."
Expanding the way Revolve is perceived by customers was actually the impetus for its Revolve U conference, according to Gerona: "When we planned or started to really think about this concept two years ago — maybe even a little bit longer — that was one of the foundations: 'Hey. We sell all these other incredible brands that I, Simone [Kuhfal, a public relations representative for the company] and all these other people at work, and we're not letting our customer know that she can come to us for that perfect blazer, the perfect Redone T-shirt that I wear religiously, the perfect denim."
Beyond merchandising, she says that having an event centered on sharing personal and professional stories from the people in its vast network, from influencers to designers to hairstylists to brand founders and beyond, "then allows you to think about Revolve as more than that party brand, that there's a bit more substance behind the brand."
In its original format, Revolve U would've been more consumer-facing than, say, Revolve Festival. (Though the company does invite some customers to the event, the guest list is still primarily filled with celebrities, influencers and editors.) However, by going virtual, it was able to open up the door even wider, as attendees didn't have to be in the L.A. area to participate, and instead could tune in from across the globe. It also allowed Revolve to expand the scope of the programming.
"In-person events cost so much more money, so it's like, 'Okay, well, maybe you didn't have this many speakers...' To be honest, I think if we were to do it in person, there would have been some budget restrictions, [but going virtual] allowed for more panels and more speakers," Gerona explains.
Diversity was another big consideration when assembling the lineup. "As someone that is able to really make a lot of those decisions or contribute to those decisions, I personally am making sure that [Revolve's statement in response to Black Lives Matter] is applied to everything that we do," she says. Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner, Nicole Richie and Shay Mitchell delivered keynote addresses; Bretman Rock, Rachel Lindsay, Chriselle Lim, Chrissy Rutherford, LaQuan Smith, Golde's Trinity Mouzon Wofford, Classpass's Payal Kadakia Pujji and more spoke on panels about topics ranging from career to social media to brand building. "That's what will make this Revolve U really rich, that there are so many types of people, from so many different types of backgrounds, that you can learn from," Gerona adds.
Revolve's live events aren't gone for good — only until it's safe to gather once again (which, at this point, who knows.) "Events, for us, [are] what will build the brand and what really helped us connect with so many people and, honestly, just have an incredible experience for the team," Gerona says. "I would love [to return to] that. We've really figured out how to do that well, and I don't think it's going to ever go away."
These in-person activations are part of the company's long-term marketing strategy, and will remain that way. What has changed, however, is the way Revolve thinks and goes about planning.
"Now we think about three buckets," Gerona notes. "What is the virtual aspect of it? What's going to be the in-person (if that's doable)? And then what does that look like on the influencer side?" (Plus, it has developed digital-first franchises and programming, like daily workouts and Revolve Shopping Network, during this time that it can continue to do in the future.)
"Adding that digital layer — we've always done that obviously, when we think about content strategy look like, but now there has to be a virtual component in case the two other pillars don't come together," she continues. "It's taking a lot, a lot more time and planning, and a lot more 'what ifs.'"