Off the Cuff: Vans, Creativity, and a Converted Kiddo

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  • 6 February 2017
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There’s no doubt digital businesses are winning. They create more customer value, and in return, get better operating margins, less churn, more customer loyalty, and greater customer lifetime value. One of the reasons why is ubiquitous omnichannel experiences.

What does that even mean?

Ubiquity means being everywhere at the same time. The best digital companies create customer experiences any place, any time. Customers can continuously access products and services, information, and support either online or in person. Ubiquity is about access.

Omnichannel is about continuity. Continuity is created in several ways. One is the look and feel of the experiences. This has been a part of marketing for decades, with advertising spread across various media. Now the concept includes all digital communications and experiences. The best digital companies can recognize an individual customer and treat them distinctly regardless of how they interact with the organization.

Leading companies go even further to develop customized experiences based on data. Customer behavior now drives the experience a single customer receives. To get to ubiquity, the brand needs to transcend channels so the experience is consistent, complementary, and personal wherever and whenever. And they better, because the customer expects it.

The custom culture of VANS!

If you want an example of one company doing it right, take a look at Vans. A friend of mine recently told me about his experience with the company and, considering our kiddo was just asking to buy new shoes, I jumped right in!

Vans started in 1966 and, by the 1970’s, was big with skateboarding customers in Southern California. Since then, Vans (now owned by VF) has built out its brand to represent an action sports lifestyle, youth culture, and creative self-expression. The brand is projected to be almost $3b in 2017, growing at 15% CAGR for the last several years. They’re doing something right!

To make their experience part of the lives of millions, Vans is in almost 600 retail stores in 18 countries, has a substantial online operation, and plays a big part in numerous events around the world. These channels create the times and places where the brand is accessible always. They are, in fact, ubiquitous.

They also give their brand real definition across all channels by associating with athletes, musicians, and artists. These interwoven interactions with customers and those they admire create an omnichannel experience, with each connection reinforcing others with related messages, meanings, and moments. The experiences have continuity.

But what Vans has done that’s even cooler is they’ve set themselves up in a way that lets their customers use their own creative self-expression to fashion experiences on their own. How? Completely customizable shoes, available on any device.

So. Cool.

Think about it. Everybody is going to have a different experience, completely defined by their own creativity. For me, I was able to dig in to learn a whole lot about pop culture I was never aware of and get a better understanding of how pervasive Vans was in the community.

But, even deeper, Vans custom shoes created a bonding experience that allowed a father and son to reimagine themselves as artisans immersed in a “makers” persona. We stepped into a digital experience that connected behavior and space, both digital and analog. We tested our creativity and design chops. It even led us to explore skateboarding competitions – now we’re even making plans to go to our first one!

None of this would’ve happened had we taken the traditional path of buying shoes, either online or at the mall. There’s so much greatness in the moments and unexpected stories that come from discovery.

How did we get from digital to Vans?

The Vans experience marries its commitment to self-expression and personalization to a great product. That means that people don’t just love their shoes, but have a deeper relationship with the company, because Vans made it all about the customer.

In corporate-speak, Vans uses its ubiquitous presence and omni-channel consistency to present a brand-specific customizable-shoe experience that is fun for customers. But my kiddo doesn’t buy into that. He’s now just a self-proclaimed artist, and avid follower of the Vans lifestyle, and the owner of some really amazing shoes.

You know what he does buy? Vans.

Vans makes this look easy; who says omni-channel is difficult? Actually, it’s no small feat to bring this connected experience to life for a company starting with technical, political, process, and human capital debt. But it gets easier when you shift your mindset to a strong culture of meaning and putting people at the center. Vans did it. Why not others?

By the way, if you have a high schooler, here’s a great competition: Vans Custom Culture. Clever, and again, an example of how Vans is activating spaces for people to truly become one with a custom culture!


About Off the Cuff

Off the Cuff is an occasional series of ideas from Revel CEO Vikas Kamran, inspired by conversations about organizations and ideas defining the digital future, and intended get the creative juices flowing.


I go to Starbucks at least twice a week, at



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