Memo: The Second Fastest Growing Brand

Meta is number one, but would you have guessed that the Crocs brand wasn’t too far behind?

Crocs officially have the seal of approval from the King of England, in case you were wondering how the once-humble footwear brand’s surprising winning streak has been going since we mapped their most recent explosion a year and a half ago.

Stand at the center of an imaginary circle and select 12 friends or family members to stand equi-distant to you. As you rotate, you will be impacted by what you see. If enough of those friends agree on a matter, any matter, there is a good chance that your feelings will evolve to meet their assessment. This is the power of a consumer epidemic. There isn’t a better example of this than the growth of the 21-year old Crocs business.

In June of 2021, we studied Crocs in the context of consumer epidemics or (how word of mouth and brand viability spreads like wildfire):

While the origins of consumer epidemics can be more anecdotal than scientific, I took measure of my own perception of the brand. Crocs transitioned from a shoe worn by “others,” often out of necessity or poor choice. The shoe is cheap, comfortable, and shameless. Over four years, my personal feelings shifted from disdain to tolerance to something bordering enthusiasm for its story. Nothing about the shoe changed; what changed was my perception of it and the volume of the positive signals that I received over that time.

Fast forward to November 2022, and Crocs have made their way to Buckingham Palace. Artist David Hockney once quipped: “I prefer to live in color.” He wore a bright yellow pair to meet King Charles, and the King complimented them in kind. The Daily Mail covered the exchange:

The King praised the artist’s ‘yellow galoshes’ as ‘beautifully chosen’ as Hockney paired them with a Savile Row-tailored checked suit to attend the luncheon.

It is perhaps no surprise the King appeared impressed by the comfortable rubber shoes which are favoured by gardeners – as His Majesty is known for being a keen gardener himself.

The Crocs brand has accomplished what many brands set out for. After over a decade of being regarded as decidedly unfashionable, the shoe has found itself in popular taste across a spectrum of customer-profiles.

But the two years since the last report has proven that Crocs are not going to bend to the latest trend cycles. It’s once again the “ugly shoe’s time, a unique gift of youth that propels unworthy items into global, popular demand. Remember, young millennials carried Uggs back into popular taste (in the early 2000s) after two decades of relative silence from the retailer. Crocs are utilitarian, comfortable, and most importantly of all: common. You’re no longer going to draw ire when wearing them out (at least not to most places).

If you still doubt Crocs’ rise and staying power, look at Morning Consult’s recent report on 2022’s fastest growing brands. Across all age groups, Crocs clocked in second in the brand ranking, only behind Meta, which has put a massive deal of time and capital into rebranding from Facebook over the last year. Across each demographic, Crocs ranked a top fast growing brand, all except for Gen Z, which Morning Consult’s Claire Tassin points out already has the shoe on their radar. From the report:

Crocs’ leaders attribute the company’s success to a turnaround plan that began six years ago and focused on key consumer audiences, capturing both trend driven shoppers who attach to the brand’s collaborations and those that appreciate the core product. The splashy collaborations range from Hidden Valley Ranch to Justin Bieber. Furthermore, a strong social media presence helps potential customers overcome styling challenges of these nontraditional shoes. These combined efforts help to keep brand buzz consistently high, particularly among Gen Z adults.

This makes complete sense given 2021’s data around Crocs’ Gen Z penetration: “As of Q1 2021, online retail for the brand grew 75.3% and constituted over one-third of all sales earned during the period. To the credit of Crocs management, the team has identified that much of its value is derived by the brand’s relationship to Generation Z – a demographic that prefers online retail over roaming malls and shopping centers.” The Crocs brand does not gate-keep, which makes its rise among celebrities and the rich all the more impressive. It’s a shoe for the people, and its retail strategy reflects that. It’s omnipresent, Tassin writes, available on Amazon and in malls and throughout retail partnerships and its own channels. Crocs rivals even Jordan in its popularity with Gen Z.

The practical lesson if there is one, is to know your audience (even if that audience is everyone). But the reasonable takeaway is that Crocs is a once-in-a-lifetime retailer with a rare trajectory, an even rarer growth strategy. The company maintains a wide adoration and support that crosses barriers like age, race, economic status, cultures, and personal style. The shoe will always be kind of ugly but they will always be comfortable. Regardless of who wears Crocs, they likely won’t be met with the same derision that they once were – not even amongst Kings.

By Web Smith | Edited by Hilary Milnes with art by Alex Remy and Christina Williams

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