From ugly to icon: 5 marketing lessons from Crocs’ rebrand

Words have the power to boost sales, appeal to a different audience and encourage a desired action.

They make the difference between building a thriving community-based brand that attracts the dreamiest of dream clients… and giving up because it feels like nothing’s working. 

No brand proves this better than the notoriously uncool footwear brand, Crocs. After its wacky rubber shoes became less of a novelty and more of an eyesore back in 2018, the company closed its stores and came dangerously close to bankruptcy.

But then a new CEO stepped in and changed everything.

By overhauling the company’s marketing strategy and embracing the ugly, Crocs repositioned itself to go from hated and failing footwear business to iconic fashion brand in a matter of years. 

Whether you’re a Crocs lover or loather, it’s good news for all of us. Because it’s proof that by repositioning your product or service, you can take your business where you want it to go — without changing your offer. Here’s how.

Lesson #1: Understand your audience 

You might think you hold full decision-making power in your business, but the truth is your ideal students do. They’re the ones choosing whether or not to buy your offer, so they’re the ones you’ve got to listen to. 

Crocs learnt this the hard way when its sales dropped through the floor. But rather than try and convince people their product isn’t ugly or weird, the company transformed its marketing strategy by doing something ever-so simple… listening.

Instead of churning out content like the rest of us and hoping for the best, they built their social media approach around user generated content. This allowed them to reshape their brand image and get noticed by the right people, which has skyrocketed their sales. 

As tempting as it can be to try and force feed your ideal students what you *think* they should hear, it’s not going to work unless you meet them where they are. So, take a leaf out of the Crocs marketing playbook and listen to what your people really want.

Why are they learning the language? What do they want to achieve? The answers to these questions will are where the engagement magic lies.

For example: 

Instead of: ‘Improve your pronunciation’ 

Try saying: ‘Say your order once and get what you wanted’

Lesson #2: Focus on the benefits 

Rubber shoes might be ugly AF but if you’ve ever slipped a pair on, you’ll know: they’re as comfy as a cloud. How? It’s all thanks to the company’s oh-so-clever clever closed cell resin material.

But unless you’re a shoe engineer (or a total geek), you probably had no idea it was so… technical.

That’s because Crocs didn’t get to where it is today by promoting its ‘proprietary closed-cell resin, Croslite™ technology’. It made its name for selling its customers on shoes you can walk around in all day without getting blisters or a reputation for stinky feet.

Your language course might not feature new technology but the same principle applies: sell the WHY not the WHAT.

In other words, your copy should highlight the tangible benefit of enrolling, buying or signing up by answering one simple question: what’s in it for them? 

Even the biggest language nerds of all aren’t *really* interested in how many words we’ll learn or how soon we’ll get stuck into the different cases. We want to know what those words and grammar will mean for our lives. 

So, rather than focusing on what’s included in your offer, dig a little deeper, find the real-life, exciting impact of that *thing* and describe THAT.

Instead of: ‘speak French with confidence’ 

Try saying: ‘Ditch the tour group and travel tout seul’

Lesson #3: Align your business with your people 

82% of consumers buy from brands whose values align with their own. Eighty-two percent. Gone are the days of simply saying the right thing. To successfully build a brand that people want to buy from, you need to show you live by certain values. 

Now, there is no right or wrong here. If your audience is all about plant-based diets and sustainable living and you’re a Land Rover-driving carnivore, you’re probably targeting the wrong people. 

But if your values and your product do genuinely align with your ideal students’ personal values? Let it be known. 

Crocs were — still are — objectively UGLY. That didn’t change. What did? The way they SPEAK about them. They’re not trying to be the hot girl of the shoe market. They’re owning their status as the misfit. And by embracing who they are and empowering their customers to do the same, they’ve made their shoes an iconic symbol of individuality

The takeaway? Listen to what your students think of your offer, find out what they value and use it to inform your copy. 

Instead of: ‘Learn new words and grammar’ 

Try saying: ‘For word nerds, grammar geeks and anyone who was told languages ‘aren’t cool’’

Lesson #4: Align yourself with the right people

A BIG part of Croc’s marketing strategy success was down to collaborations. The brand sought out popular celebs and influencers to market their shoes, helping transform their image.

Now I know you probably can’t DM JBiebs and lure him with an offer to learn real Spanish. But you don’t have to. There are tons of other ways you can solidify your position in your niche.

You could guest blog. Reach out to companies that complement what you do and see if they’d feature an article on their website. It helps their audience and you. Win Win. 

You could team up with people like you. The language world is small but full of interesting people, and there’s almost definitely someone out there you could work with. 

Don’t feel you have to reach out to anyone and everyone though — the key is to make sure you’re aligned. 

Lesson #5: Speak about wider trends 

Targeting a new audience meant changing their entire marketing strategy for Crocs, from what they say to where they show up. 

That meant that along with using the kind of language and tone that resonates with a Gen Z audience, they launched TikTok dance trends and viral hashtag campaigns. 

What does that mean for you? Consider what your audience likes beyond languages and integrate these interests into your marketing strategy.

Are they hot on TikTok trends? Join ‘em Duolingo style

Are they up-to-date with emoji language? Use it to show you get them. 

By keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the wider world and using this to inspire new content, you can better stand out, show your personality and earn the trust of your people.


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