How Lilly Pulitzer used its 60th anniversary to build loyalty and attract new fans

When Lilly Pulitzer turned 60 last year, president Michelle Kelly and her team wanted the anniversary to celebrate the company’s colorful heritage along with what it means to customers today.

Taking a hint from founder Lilly Pulitzer, who was known to buck the trend, Kelly ignored the conventional anniversary celebration formula of a fashion show in New York City with magazine editors followed by an upscale cocktail party. Instead, her team focused on what makes the brand unique.

At NRF NXT, Kelly talked through three ways Lilly Pulitzer leveraged the anniversary to connect with old and new customers in a meaningful way.

A new kind of fashion show

Lilly Pulitzer started at a juice stand in Palm Beach, Fla., and the resort town continues to be the heart and soul of the brand today. Kelly’s team planned a kickoff event for the anniversary on Palm Beach’s famous Worth Avenue that was part fashion show, part party.

Recognizing fashion editors weren’t necessary to make the event a success, Kelly’s team paid for one influencer to attend. Customers often associate Lilly Pulitzer with time spent with loved ones on vacation and at special events, so the event was family-friendly: Kids played on the “pink carpet” while guests mingled in the laid-back, beachy atmosphere.

To spread word about the event, the Lilly Pulitzer team created handwritten invitations on bright stationery that matched the feel and tradition of Palm Beach. This authentic touch generated digital buzz on Instagram from those eager to share their attendance.

Asking customers for stories

Knowing the special significance of the brand, the Lilly team focused on customer stories to build a campaign full of authenticity and emotion.

Lilly Pulitzer created a month-long Instagram contest where followers were asked to share their stories of what the brand means to them and why they love it with the hashtag #ForTheLoveofLilly. The winner received an all-expenses paid trip to the Palm Beach fashion show, and effectively became a new brand influencer.

Nearly 12,000 posts were published with the hashtag, and it continues to be used today. Customers are eager to share deeply personal stories where Lilly Pulitzer played a role in their relationships and major life milestones. The posts reveal an emotional connection with the brand that no other marketing campaign could capture, all driven by customers.

The hashtag also provided insight to the many reasons people love shopping with Lilly, from wedding anniversary trips to vacations — valuable knowledge as Lilly Pulitzer looks to reach new customers at the right time and place.

Re-thinking the store

Lilly Pulitzer opened a flagship store in Palm Beach the same week as the fashion show, different than any store it had built before. The flagship was designed in a way for customers to experience and connect with the brand, versus simply buy merchandise.

Since Lilly Pulitzer is known for its vibrant and playful patterns, the team hired an in-house artist for customers to see how each print starts, from painting to fabric and eventually a dress. In a nod to the company’s founding, there’s also a juice bar in the store.

Customers can design their own dress in the custom shift shop, selecting their favorite print and length. That personalized experience led to insights for the company; when it discovered customers often choose a length between two of its standard dress measurements, it created a new style.

Discover more insights from NRF NXT about how retail leaders are finding fresh and relevant ways to connect with customers.

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