Supreme has the secret sauce for creating a cult-like following:
You can see from the Google Trends report below that worldwide interest has steadily rose over time for the Supreme brand:
Today I’m going to show you EXACTLY how Supreme New York has grown from a one location retail store run by skateboarders to a worldwide known ecommerce brand with a following larger than some religions.
The best part? Supreme has grown — and continues to grow — WITHOUT spending insane amounts of money on advertising or marketing.
This means you can do it for your ecommerce business, too.
Let's get it on!
Supreme is a streetwear brand that started as a skateboarding shop in New York City in April of 1994.
The brand produces clothing centered around their ‘red box logo’ which is shockingly simple, has transcended its skateboarding roots, and is fueled by the brands ability to create desire.
Here’s how Supreme gets most of their web traffic.
With a cult-like following, and a focus on exclusivity, it makes sense Supreme relies on direct and search traffic as their main traffic drivers.
Supreme is the most sellable clothing brand in the world. The stuff they make is statistically more likely to skyrocket in value than the merchandise of pretty much any other consumer company in the world.
To increase your own following, product demand, and direct traffic, here are nine ecommerce marketing tips you can apply in your business.
Supreme product drops are powerful, and the user-generated content around the brand has been enough to allow Supreme to remain in a mostly ‘underground’ status in terms of marketing with almost no paid search investment.
Here’s just one of the online communities that create viral content for Supreme without them having to do a thing:
Supreme Talk UK/EU (aka SupTalk) is Europe’s largest Supreme fan group. It’s also one of Supreme’s biggest Facebook reselling groups.
The group started in March 2013 when founding members Adam Rose and Peter Mitchell were frustrated at the lack of a UK secondary market for Supreme compared to the USA. So they started SupTalk for Supreme fans to buy, sell and trade Supreme products without having to pay obscene shipping costs.
Supreme have been able to get groups like SupTalk and major news sites with millions of followers like Hypebeast and Highsnobiety to promote their products by limiting supply of their product. Every week dozens of articles are published around how/when and who is involved in the resale of Supreme products, like this one:
When you look at Supreme’s top backlink, you can see the enormous amount of shares it has received, and traffic it provided:
Actually, Hypebeast alone have generated over 190 content pieces around Supreme with total shares over 200,000 in the last year. Again, just one example of content and momentum created outside Supreme itself.
But even though now more people than ever want Supreme, they’ve always kept supply controlled and never released a ton of pieces. This means demand gets higher as supply stays the same, manifesting an overblown hype that creates a secondary resale market for when Supreme release new products.
To get this level of virality and organic user-generated content around your brand, it means you need to be very disciplined. When a Supreme product sells well, they never make it again. That’s what creates the hype and insane resell prices that get as high as 1200% or more, like this:
When you make things in smaller quantities, it makes people:
While many businesses are trying to use “Limited Edition” as a selling point, with Supreme if you don’t get it you may never have the chance to get it again.
Supreme is the only company who sells it (they only have one retail distributor called Dover Street Market) and they only sell product through their online store and limited retail locations around the world.
Supreme do weekly product drops every Thursday where they release a fresh batch of streetwear via its online store and international retail locations (with Japan getting it two days later on Saturdays). However they never say what’s coming.
This allows Supreme to gain brand momentum and organic traffic to their site every week through viral communities like SupTalk and major news sites like Hypebeast, because their fans want to know what’s coming next.
Supreme’s limited supply strategy created a demand frenzy that got so big once that when the “Supreme Foams” were released at Supreme’s New York Store they were forced to not sell it by NYPD due to concern for public safety.
The takeaway: Intentionally release every product in limited quantities to ensure sellout and engineer viral content around your brand. (Supreme does this by limiting the quantity of every product they sell and varies the number available depending on the product and collaborators.)
Supreme’s homepage is largely different from most retailers homepage. You’ll notice that Supreme uses a ‘stripped down’ website theme that combines a minimalist approach with a ‘too cool for school’ feel, leaving visitors wanting to know more vs. bombarding them with information.
The brand’s stripped down homepage contains:
When compared to other big name brand homepages Supreme’s homepage is strikingly different, and relays a different message. Just take a quick look at Nike’s homepage for example:
It’s clear what message Supreme wants it’s visitors to understand: you need to chase them, they won’t chase you.
This simple and clear message also position Supreme perfectly in its target audience’s mind as a high-end, exclusive brand. Supreme has actually been quoted in the documentary “Sold Out” as being:
“The girl that gives you her number but never answers when you call.”
The takeaway: Will this homepage approach work for everybody? Absolutely not; however, if you are looking to create a high-end, luxury brand, it’s something you should look into. (Supreme does this with a site design that hasn’t changed since it launched in 2006 to stay elusive and on brand with 1 logo, 9 page links, 2 social links and 1 link to their mobile app.)
Supreme’s mailing list sign up is not plastered all over their website. There is a very modest link to their mailing list page in two places:
When you sign up for the Supreme Email List you get… nothing!
Crickets actually start chirping as you wait for any sort of email from Supreme.
Supreme’s email marketing strategy actually makes customers impatient for their next email.
It’s no surprise that Supreme uses their email newsletter in a different way than most retailers. Following suite with everything else they produce, Supreme’s email sign up is not the norm.
In an age where consumers are bombarded with emails highlighting specials, sales, and content -- Supreme uses their email list as another tool to portray the message that ‘you chase us’ in their marketing.
Supreme uses their email list for two main purposes:
1) To update consumers on their weekly ‘drops’
"Each week you will be notified of a location where you can go and sign up for your spot on Thursday’s line. Once you receive the email you can proceed directly to the location given." - Supreme Reddit Forum
To create an inline mailing list form like this on your website, you can use Sumo.
To make sure their emails reach their mailing list subscribers inbox, Supreme use specialized email delivery software.
2) To send exclusive insider emails to select customers
Supreme has been known to send messages and updates to a select group of customers. The way they come up with this list is a mystery.
But because of that, fans are eagerly waiting with anticipation of receiving emails from Supreme.
The takeaway: Do not follow the crowds. Just because 90% of retailers spam people with emails and push for sign ups does not mean it is the best tactic for your email list. Make sure your email marketing strategy is in line with your branding. (Supreme does this by only sending emails when their products drop and “mystery” customer-only emails.)
Three days before their new collections are available for public sale, Supreme launch something called a “lookbook” on their website. Supreme doesn’t have a blog on their website; however, their “lookbooks” provide customers with rich visual engagement with the brand, like this:
When the “lookbook” goes live on Supreme’s site, you can look through and see what Supreme is going to drop over the next few months, but you don’t know when those items are going to drop. You can basically see all the items Supreme are going to come out with in the coming season, except for collab drops and surprise drops.
Here is one of Supreme’s lookbooks for their Fall/Winter collection (they release two per year):
By releasing the lookbook before the product is available for sale, it creates a massive amount of buzz across social media and major news sites like Vogue, Highsnobiety, Complex, and Hypebeast:
Fans get so hyped about the lookbooks that they make videos on YouTube reviewing the whole season's collection (pictured above). You can see some of these videos are so popular that they get over 100,000 YouTube views.
Outside of seasonal lookbooks, Supreme do collab lookbooks. These are based on collab drops with other highend fashion and clothing brands. Here is a Louis Vuitton/Supreme lookbook from a collab drop Supreme did with Louis Vuitton:
Supreme use their “lookbooks” to further convey the exclusiveness and allure of their brand.
Notice how the images portray a sort of ‘clique’ that further motivate customers to try to be a part of the brand culture by purchasing their products.
The takeaway: Use “lookbooks” as part of your content marketing strategy so you can build up hype and social buzz around your brand before your new products drop. (Supreme does this through their biannual Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer lookbooks which they release three days before you can buy their products.)
Here’s a look at Supreme’s top social traffic sources:
To get traffic from Reddit, Supreme get one of the moderators of the subreddit to post a “super thread” under the News post flair category with links that go straight to Supreme’s website with their newest lookbook.
If you tried to do a post like this by yourself in Reddit, you would get 762 Reddit trolls swearing at you for shameless self-promotion. But by getting the moderator of the subreddit to post, Supreme got 762 comments discussing their new lookbook collection.
Here is a full list of all the moderators for the Supreme subreddit:
Every subreddit has a page like this, all you need to do is type the below URL in your browser window (then replace “supremeclothing” with the name of the subreddit you want to find a moderator in):
Once you click on a moderator's name, on the top right of the page you will see a text link you can click on to send the moderator a private message:
Remember: Supreme managed to pull this off because they were reaching out and posting on a highly targeted subreddit. Redditters in those subreddit are there to discuss everything Supreme.
What if you don’t have a raving subreddit you can post in like Supreme?
No worries. Instead of giving up on Reddit as a traffic source, put in the time to build a strong and genuine relationship inside relevant subreddits related to your content and products, like this:
For Sumo, we recently shared our live Shopify case study in a long-form format in a subreddit called EntrepreneurRideAlong. The first post got us 141 upvotes, 195 traffic, and 100 people in our target market following our case study natively on Reddit.[*]
Instead of directing redditors to our website, we’re providing direct value on the subreddit about entrepreneurship, and linking to the full post with images.
The takeaway: Build a strong and genuine relationship in highly targeted subreddits by participating in conversations and adding value. When it comes time to promote your product or launch, Redditers are more likely to support you. (Supreme does this by getting moderators in the r/supremeclothing subreddit to post their newest lookbooks.)
Supreme has built their brand and boosted exposure by getting the attention of celebrities. Dozens of celebrities are captured wearing Supreme’s class box logo tee.
Their clothing can be seen on high profile celebrities such as:
Kate Moss in her Box Logo Supreme Tee
Lady Gaga sporting the Box Logo Supreme Tee
So how does one go about getting a celebrity to endorse a product?
One word. Authenticity.
Supreme’s celebrity endorsement actually started with their collaboration with music artists. In the 1990’s Supreme began collaborating with different music artists to inspire their collections. Supreme authentically created relationships with music artists to gain momentum and establish collabs.
Here is the first ever artist collaboration Supreme did (with late graffiti artist Rammellzee when they opened their New York City store in 1994):
The hand-painted Supreme trucker caps with neon clouds Rammellzee helped create are amongst the rarest of Supreme products.
After the trucker cap collab with Rammellzee, Supreme created dozens of celebrity inspired t-shirts, hoodies and caps over the next three decades. When a music artist works closely with Supreme to create a piece of clothing inspired by them, there is a bond that is formed.
Celebrities who work with Supreme can feel the authenticity oozing out of everything released by Supreme, and are likely to wear the products themselves.
Supreme’s key influencer marketing tactics for getting collabs with major celebrities and brands are:
If you do these four things right, then leverage the success of your first collab to get your second and third, you can get celebrity influencers promoting your product for you.
The takeaway: Look at the influencers your target market admires then brainstorm ways to help them with what they’re working on in order to authentically gain their trust and collaborate with them. (Supreme does this through collaborating with top names like Lady Gaga, Kanye West, Drake and Kate Moss - all artists who their target market admire).
Supreme’s Instagram posts average over 230,000 likes, and over 1,400 comments:
To maintain brand consistency, exclusivity, and mystery for each of their Instagram posts, Supreme uses simplicity and celebrity endorsements/collabs to gain followers.
They posted their first Instagram post in March of 2013, and use the social media platform to post images from their lookbooks and highlight their collabs.
Their top hashtag is related to their collab with Louis Vuitton -- #LVxSUPREME
The brand has collaborated with brands and influencers such as Vans (pictured below), Nike, Fila, Levi, and dozens of well-known brands.
Supreme has nailed doing collabs with well-known brands and then promoting that collaboration on their Instagram. By focusing on growing one social media channel (ie: Instagram growth) Supreme are able to show collab partners they are able to promote the collab to their over 12 million Instagram followers, creating a flywheel for more collab opportunities and more Instagram account growth.
The takeaway: You can’t win on every social media channel. Focus on growing one social media channel and finding the types of posts that work best for your business. I saw a marketing company called HubSpot doing the same thing, but instead focusing on Facebook growth by using Facebook video posts. (Supreme does this by collaborating on products with major brands like Vans then using that as social proof to hack their Instagram follower growth).
Instead of the standard PPC advertising campaigns most clothing brands do, Supreme instead chooses to do periodic celebrity poster campaigns to stay true to their brand exclusivity.
When a campaign runs, Supreme will glue posters of celebrities rocking the brand’s signature box logo design on walls, scaffolding, and mailboxes around New York City and other cities where they have retail stores, like this one with Kate Moss:
Supreme will then make a photo t-shirt (based on the poster) available for sale to Supreme fans in future months. These t-shirts are some of the most desired pieces in Supreme’s collection.
Here are some of the most famous poster ad campaigns Supreme have run over the years:
Other than the photo tee and poster campaigns, the closest Supreme comes to advertising is through their behind-the-scenes videos that you can find on the “random” link on their website. Here’s what it looks like:
The takeaway: When you find an advertising campaign that works, keep doing it. (Supreme stay true to their brand identity and have been doing photo tee and poster campaigns since 2005.)
Every Thursday entrepreneurs (and Hypebeasts) line up at Supreme stores to get the latest drop. The online web store sells out so fast that two guys built an ecommerce bot called “The Supreme Saint” that people can buy the option to use for sixty minutes every Thursday at 9am on their website.
From 9am to 10am on Thursday you can pay anywhere from $10 to $100 to get these guys to buy Supreme for you. Then at 11am when the Supreme online store opens, their bot will connect to Supreme’s servers with your shopping list and credit card number, and complete the checkout for you before other ordinary online shoppers can.
One time these guys made $20,000 in five seconds, by selling 200 pairs of Nike/Supreme Air Jordan 5 sneakers for $100 (that’s not the price of the Air Jordan’s, that’s the price people paid to use The Supreme Saint bot to get a crack at spending another $200 on Air Jordan’s.)[*]
Another bot maker called EasyCop Bot sells a Supreme app-based bot for $595 that people can use on their own. By mid-2016, more than 500 people had purchased it raking them in nearly $300,000:
The reason add-to-cart bot services like this exist, and why so many resellers line up for Supreme is because founder James Jebbia follows two simple ecommerce marketing rules:
By following these two rules Supreme have created a culture where customers know when to come back and know that they will find something new every time. This strategy has been so successful that Supreme’s website got almost one billion pageviews in 2016 when a box logo hoodie dropped (data I found in a deleted tweet from Supreme’s web agency.)
Obviously a lot of that is from bot traffic, but the bots are actually helping Supreme sell out quicker and make more money. They work so well that items are selling out quicker every week (between 19 seconds and 173 seconds.)
The resellers then flip and profit.
Supreme is trying to reduce bots so customers who want to wear the clothing can buy (and not just attract resellers), but their two rule strategy has worked so well that the resale market has become insanely lucrative.
Wealthsimple, an investment company in New York found that if you flip 149 Supreme items at an average profit of $67 per item, you would make $10,000 profit per year. If you then invest that $10,000 every year and the market goes up by an average of 5.5% per year, in 35 years you will be a millionaire.
Most ecommerce companies can’t replicate this sort of math for their customers because they’re missing scarcity and consistency from their business model.
And just look at the math on this business model for Supreme (this Redditor said it best):
Supreme make this money in under 10 minutes every Thursday too, like damn ;)
The takeaway: If you want a predictable ecommerce business model where you sell out of stock every week and do massive sales volume in a short time period of time, limit your supply and drop your new product at the same time and day every week/month/year. (Supreme does it by limiting supply and dropping new products every Thursday at 11am.)
Supreme Streetwear has a marketing strategy so legendary, so mysterious, and so successful that entire documentaries have been created around it’s ‘marketing strategy’.
Supreme without a doubt displays the same characteristics of exclusive couture brands; however, their products are fairly simple.