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Go Huge and Stay Core: A Lesson in Marketing from Volcom

Volcom StoneVolcom once again won the prestigious Men’s Apparel Brand of the Year at SIMA’s Image Awards, it also won the Women’s Apparel Brand of the Year for the first time. If you are not familiar with the SIMA Image Awards the voters are fellow brand owners, so Volcom was voted by their peers and their fellow competitors.

On the ASR blog they talk about how Volcom has recreated the action sports industry and has experienced unbelievable success while still being able to stay core. It seems as though every new brand has some influence of Volcom in it and when they created their business they probably said something to the extent of, “Lets be the next Volcom”, or “We will be the Volcom of Eyewear” or be the Volcom of whatever the product niche is. It is even easy to see Volcom’s design styles recreated in the images of the older more mainstream brands yet they are still not seen as sell outs. They have also escaped the almost certain death of “Selling Out” even though they went public (VLCM on the NASDAQ). I have been a fan of Volcom’s since the beginning, and I wanted to write some thoughts on why I think Volcom was able to go huge and stay core.

Scarcity: In my opinion the most influential aspect of Volcoms genius is scarcity. When Volcom started to grow and show up in shops up and down the coast and inland it was very hard to find the same designs, or even the same designs in a different size. This is because they don’t overprint and they are very careful of who they choose to carry their product. They have test periods where they basically give their left overs and scraps to new shops wanting to carry their brand until they prove themselves. This creates emotions in the consumer to buy on impulse as they don’t know if they can come back and find the same shirt again. It also keeps the company from getting too mainstream as teenagers hate to see others wearing their same gear. Today you can go to any school in America and see plenty of Volcom paraphernalia but I can guarantee you there will be very few if any duplicates.

Not creating scarcity can be the difference between a long lasting brand and a one hit wonder. Look at AirWalk, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s AirWalk killed it, they had good riders, they only sold certain shoes to certain stores, and they were doubling their growth almost on a monthly basis. You couldn’t go to a High School without seeing the suede AirWalks with the jagged soles. Then they got greedy and they started distributing through large general retailers like Mervyns and other “Sell Out” outlets and the next thing you know AirWalk is more of a thought in the past then a brand (they are pretty much Payless Exclusives now). Call me superficial but I stopped wearing Hurley and Quicksilver when I saw them at Costco.

Know Your Audience: Volcom’s mantra since inception has been “Youth Against Establishment.” Their designs say it, their riders say it, everything they do shows it. If anyone has milked anti authority to the bone it is Volcom. They chose to appeal to youth, which happens to be the big purchasers in Action Sports as well as the evangelists. Youth is also the future and it ensures longevity in a brand when a younger group grabs hold of it. It also creates more buyers in an older demographic as they want to feel young and be seen as cool by the youth around them.

If companies can figure this out it becomes very easy to create marketing material as they set guidelines for themselves. In Volcom’s case the guidelines are there are no guidelines and that is a large playing field for product creation.

Innovation: It is always better to be known as the best for a specific trade or skill rather than a “Jack of All Master of None.” Volcom gained a following because their designs were innovative and they were good, they were creative. I’m almost certain they brought back the front print design when (early – mid 90’s) Action Sports was plagued by the business card logo over the left breast with a large design on the back. I remember buying a shirt that had the biz card logo on the back over my right shoulder blade and the large image on the front, and people used to say, “Your shirt is on backwards” and I was stoked to tell them, “actually no, the shirt was designed that way on purpose.” You were different when you wore Volcom shirts and that is why everyone was and is fanatical about them. Volcom’s CFO Doug Collier has coined the term, “consistently inconsistent advertising.”

Stickiness: Every brand needs to stick, you need to create something that connects with people on a different level then what your competitors are registering. You need to create something viral so people feel compelled to promote it for you. Volcom is a crash course on stickiness. Their designs and slogans are very unique yet they are familiar and so clever that they connect with you. When you see someone wear a Volcom shirt you haven’t seen it creates conversation and makes you feel you need to go get another one from the newly released line.

Evangelists: Their Riders couldn’t have been better chosen, they are all some of the most innovative and creative players in their space and they are perfect representatives for the companies brand and mission. Shaun White, Bruce Irons, Geoff Rowley, Mark Appleyard, Shawn Barron, need I saw more these guys are changing their sport (see full list here). Having a good and talented team is essential and just as Jordan sold a lot of Nikes these guys are helping with the spread of Volcom.

Branding: If you can break your brand down into one image or thought you are far better off then most companies in existence. You become easier to share and recognize and thus you will experience far more branding and mind share. Volcom did this when they created the “Volcom STONE.” You don’t really get what it is right off the bat, it becomes whatever you want it to be, and it is very easy to recognize. You don’t see cars with VOLCOM on them you see the stone sideways and you know exactly what it is and what it means and you automatically know about that person driving the car.

From: Fool on the street

“Collier’s anecdotes traced the Volcom Stone’s appearance in very personal manifestations: tattoos, doodled art, and frequent stories of young people with bedroom murals featuring the Volcom Stone. (Regarding Volcom tattoos, Collier said, “We see this on a regular basis.”)”

Whether you think it or not Volcom will go down in the History books for exceptional branding and marketing, they have reinvented the wheel a million times over and have an influence in almost every mainstream clothing brand. There is something to say about a company that caters to hooligans while grossing over $280 million a year.



Posted by on Monday, July 23rd, 2007 in Brands.

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9 Responses to “Go Huge and Stay Core: A Lesson in Marketing from Volcom”

  • Oakley HOLESHOT Watch - 5ones Says:

    [...] 5ones Profiling the Action Sports Industry « Go Huge and Stay Core: A Lesson in Marketing from Volcom [...]

  • Rhea Drysdale Says:

    Article discussion here:

  • Mat Crossan Says:

    I can’t speak for the marketing team in the states but I can for the marketing team for Volcom Australia. Those guys down there are as “core” as can be. I interned for those loose ***** and they are all just regular guys who love to surf, skate, and have a passion for art. Volcom has become rather trendy and you see it on bro’s all the time but thats just the price you pay for success. Volcom still knows what its about and holds true to its roots.

  • 5ones » Quiksilvers Young Guns 3: Movie A+, Online Marketing Big Fat “F” Says:

    [...] I bet the new team of riders that make up the Young Guns are a big part of their coming back to a Core image. Whether they were ever loosing money or not I don’t know but it seems that Quiksilver [...]

  • Niegà Says:

    Everything is fine except for the hypocrisy of their mantra: Youth against establishment doesn’t go very well with going public on the stock exchange, stock options, company cars and credit cards, etc…


  • Sam Snead Says:

    Who wrote this article? You should not write about stuff you are not an expert in. First off, you stated something about Quik in Costco and how it made it soft. Sorry to rain on your parade buddy, but Volcom’s stuff ends up in costco at times as well. Neither brand wants their shit in there, but it ends up there from time to time and it’s out of their control. Volcom’s distrobution is as wide open as any of the big brands in action sports. Shit, their largest retailer is Pac Sun. Oh yea, the slogan “Youth Against Establishment” doesn’t even work anymore. They are the establishment being that they are a public company and all. And for the their riders. Just like everything else in your article, their riders are becoming very outdated. They have bruce and Dusty P and thats it. Your whole article is based on Volcom of old. Your article comes 10 years to late. Volcom has sold out just like all the other big brands. I’m not saying Volcom isn’t the shit, I just want to let you know that your article is way off.

  • izzy Says:

    Volcom has sold out. Simple as that. I’m telling everyone of my friends who wears a Volcom shirt that they have gone public on the NASDAQ.

  • 'core skater Says:

    Volcom core? are you kidding? How many non mainstream individuals bought a pair of creedlers? How many kids that skateboard everyday have “the stone” on their car window? None.
    How core can a company be when Tilly’s and Dillards are some of Volcom’s major accounts? You’d be hard pressed to find a skateboarder actually wearing it, that is, unless they get followed to them.

    I’d write more but I’ve got some core things to take care of, I need to get to Tilly’s before the Volcom, SRH, Electric sale is over, Then after the sale I’m going to slap on some Right Guard eXtreme, drink some Mountain Dew, and drive my lifted truck out to “the dunes.” peace, bro!

    …I hope I make it home in time for Fantasy Factory or The Hills tonight.

  • hoon Says:

    Veeco has gone public. It also is seen in big box stores. So it does deserve some of the sold-out, sell-out theme that is expressed here and in internet chat rooms or lineups from Restaurants to halfpipes in Stratton. But I do agree with Chris’ overall assessment of Volcom. Originally I watched them with an amused eye convinced that they’d be a contender if they could get their distribution locked down and make their inventory commitments. As they grew I worried about their emergence in big box stores, etc. But they have maintained their roots more than some of their competitors IMO, keeping the “punk rock”, “artsy”, “irreverent” brand theme alive. It’s no wonder that many other new brands are compared to Volcom in their infancy or measured against their yardstick.

    With the same amused eye, I look to see how they’ll mop up in this recessionary environment with their low-debt, cash-rich position.

    Not drinking the kool-aid (own probably two volcom t-shirts max and one snowboard over the last 30 years), but saying props to them for their success.

    (Full disclosure yes I am a shareholder)

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