Levi Strauss And Social Media: A Perfect Fit

Clothing maker, the No. 2 company in our 2011 InformationWeek 500 ranking, is leveraging Facebook and other media to build its brand and reach more customers.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

September 7, 2011

5 Min Read

After inventing blue jeans in 1873, Levi Strauss could have rested on its laurels. Instead, the apparel maker is extending its tradition of innovation to social media, earning it the No. 2 spot in our 2011 InformationWeek 500.

When CIO Tom Peck says the company's social media strategy is about more than marketing, it's about redefining how the business relates to its customers, he can back that statement up: Levi Strauss was the first major retailer to add Facebook's "Like" button to its commerce site, and it created the first Facebook-oriented social shopping experience, the Levi's Friends Store. There, customers can share "Likes" and purchases through their Facebook networks, possibly influencing friends' buying decisions.

Levi Strauss's partnership with Facebook has translated into brand value. Over the past Thanksgiving holiday weekend, more than half of all visitor traffic to levi.com came from the company's Facebook page, which now gets more than 1 million visits every month. Today, it has more than 6.2 million "Likes" or followers on its Facebook page, Peck says, adding: "We understand the power and influence that friends and family can have."

Super Bowl Success

We've all heard horror stories about companies that fell victim to their own ad campaigns gone viral. Not Levi Strauss. The company introduced its "Men Without Pants" TV commercial for its Dockers brand during the 2010 Super Bowl broadcast, watched by some 53 million households. Backed by Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, its dockers.com site handled more traffic in the nine days following the Super Bowl ad than it did in six months the previous year.

The campaign, which involved some 13 technology and advertising vendors and seven in-house groups, generated thousands of page views per second to its Web site and hundreds of hits per minute to its mobile apps, and enticed some 630,000 people to participate in a promotion. The Dockers Facebook fan base surged by a factor of 11, and email lead generation increased 250% through promotion registrations.

Top 10 IT Innovators: InformationWeek 500

Top 10 IT Innovators: InformationWeek 500

Top 10 IT Innovators: InformationWeek 500 (click image for slideshow)

Remember we mentioned not resting on laurels? Even before the Dockers success, the company had launched Levi's Curve ID, a collection of new jeans based on a woman's shape rather than size, and Digital Fitting Experience, to help customers select the best cut. In October, it introduced its Shape What's To Come global online community for young women. Both initiatives have been well received by female customers, boosting brand awareness and engagement through the Web, mobile applications, a Facebook application, and e-commerce partners.

Asked whether his company's experience with Facebook might lead it to branch out to the new Google+ social network, Peck was circumspect. "We try to be as agnostic as possible to brands and technologies so that we can go anywhere," he says. "But we want to be careful, too, that we don't get too aggressive, dilute our brand, and cannibalize our other channels. There's no prize out there for the person who has the most deals or the most social experiences."

Where IT Fits

The growing importance of online social interaction reflects the broader consumerization of IT, a trend that's only accelerating. In our May InformationWeek OS Wars Survey of 441 business technology professionals, 52% of respondents said their IT organizations support BlackBerrys, half support Apple devices, and about one in three supports Linux or Android. This is a brave new world, and for Peck, it's a shift that goes beyond redefining how Levi Strauss relates to its customers.

"All of our employees are also consumers, and they're seeing the power of social and the power of mobile in their consumer experience," he says. "Our employees are bringing ideas and expectations to the corporation now."

Employees and customers are sophisticated users of technology, Peck says, and if you create too many barriers, people will find ways around them. In fact, he prefers the word "partner" to describe the role of IT.

At the same time, though, the consumerization of IT presents a challenge because consumer technology tends not to be designed for scalable deployment, management, or control. Again, Peck says it's important to balance the tension between the consumerization of IT and enterprise requirements.

"You can't say yes to everything," he says. "And you can't say no to everything." His advice: Don't skew too far to the no side, or you will become obsolete and irrelevant. And in addition to yes and no, don't forget "maybe later."

Levi Strauss CIO Tom Peck

Levi Strauss CIO Tom Peck

CIO Peck: "It's not about chasing the latest and greatest"

Peck emphasizes the importance of building relationships with suppliers and other third parties, especially as a way to communicate that you're serious about IT. Good people will want to work with good people, he says, and that notion extends to IT hiring. "We try to look for that person who has the technology breadth but also has the business acumen and the leadership to want to deploy the technologies," he says. "We're not always looking for the best engineer. We want those too, of course, but we want the person who gets excited about wanting to deploy the technology, and to see the end result in the marketplace."

To keep these great people, Peck fosters an atmosphere that encourages growth. As an example, the company runs monthly innovation reviews in which the focus is divided between what Levi Strauss has in its product pipeline, what direct peers and competitors are doing, and what the broader industry is up to. Participants in those reviews consider whether Levi Strauss can make use of technology deployed elsewhere, with a constant eye toward improving the consumer experience.

What he's not doing is just chasing the latest and greatest. Says Peck: "We always want to stay focused, again, back on the consumer and that end product that we're selling." With such clear focus, he may see a lot more people wearing Levi's.

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage

Go to the 2011 InformationWeek 500 homepage

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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