How L.L. Bean Delivered Proof on Brand Promise

Ninety-five percent of people’s time is spent indoors, and 50 percent of that is spent at work. As part of its “Be an Outsider at Work” movement, L.L. Bean created the first outdoor coworking space to rethink the traditional office environment.

As a 107-year-old brand, L.L. Bean has plenty of heritage and nostalgia woven into its company story. But the outdoor retailer was experiencing stagnant growth and needed a new brand position to redefine how it played a role in people’s lives.

The first step was to reassess the brand’s target audience. Instead of grouping its customers by demographic, L.L. Bean wanted to target “Outdoor Family Enthusiasts” (OFE): people of any gender, age, and location who have a connection to the outdoors. While other outdoor retailers range from targeting extreme outdoor enthusiasts to the fashion-oriented, L.L. Bean wanted to position itself as approachable and accessible. Its product line offers casual apparel designed for going outside, even if that means just out in the backyard. This period of discovery led to a call to action to “be an outsider,” with a brand purpose of “getting more people outside, more often.”

With a new brand purpose came the creation of a new team. L.L. Bean’s brand engagement team came together from existing teams who had a connection to the brand’s customers. The team’s first campaign was titled “Be an Outsider at Work.” The goal of the initiative was to change customer behavior by tying into cultural conversations while also creating social engagement and media coverage. One challenge the team faced was the campaign’s summer timeline: the fall holiday season is the brand’s most successful, thanks to cult-status products like Bean Boots and flannel shirts.

Being an Outsider

Through a combination of curating existing research and conducting surveys of their own, L.L. Bean and its agency Jack Morton learned that 95 percent of people spend their lives indoors, and 50 percent of that time is spent at work. Studies have found that people are 50 percent more productive and 300 percent more creative when working outside, and 92 percent of office workers say they’d be happier outdoors. When consumers were asked what their most prominent barriers were to getting outside, more than 60 percent of respondents said their jobs. Companies such as Amazon and Etsy have already begun to combat this by bringing nature and plants into their office spaces.

Armed with the knowledge that people could do their jobs better if they worked outside, L.L. Bean and Jack Morton partnered with coworking startup Industrious to create a campaign that would highlight how work should be something people do, rather than a place they go.

On the first day of summer, L.L. Bean launched pop-up coworking spaces beginning in Madison Square Park in New York City, and later in major cities including Boston, Philadelphia, and Madison, Wis., which were all chosen for their media reach. Before the official unveiling, L.L. Bean set up a coworking simulation at its Freeport, Maine headquarters as a trial run with its employees and as an opportunity to create content ahead of time.

In addition to the pop-up coworking space, L.L. Bean created a handbook in collaboration with Industrious and a workplace strategy expert. The handbook had multiple purposes:

  1. It helped L.L. Bean earn PR attention that could help change consumer behavior.
  2. It satisfied the needs of the media by providing research and an industry expert as a spokesperson.
  3. It had built-in snackable tips about getting people outside that played well on social media.

L.L. Bean’s efforts resulted in an article on the cover of USA Today. And six months later, without any pitch from L.L. Bean, The New York Times published an article about the cultural movement of working outside and cited the brand’s research.

By fulfilling its brand promise with the use of “actvertising,” or the combination of actions and advertising, L.L. Bean’s Be an Outsider at Work campaign earned 406 million impressions and 4.6 million engagements, with a 73 percent increase in branded organic search. By questioning the idea that people have to be inside to be productive and tapping into consumers’ dissatisfaction of being stuck at their desks, L.L. Bean believes this resulted in a more successful campaign than had they simply hosted outdoor events.

Two years later, L.L. Bean now has a defined brand purpose and target audience. Language such as “OEF” and “getting people outside more often” are consistently used across the brand’s website.

Q&A with Kathryn Pratt, Director of Brand Engagement at L.L. Bean; Ben Grossman, SVP and Group Strategy Director at Jack Morton Worldwide

Q. What would have happened had you not had a wealth of information and insights data when going into a new kind of campaign like this one?

A. Ben Grossman: We used a lot of existing academic research. It’s finding interesting information — essentially insight-mining — and then going back and filling in the gaps with additional information. At Jack Morton, we find qualitative research, such as going out and meeting customers to understand their lives, to be extremely compelling and useful. It’s also about monitoring cultural trends. Coworking is an industry that’s on fire right now.

Q. What were the pros and cons of reorganizing various functions under the brand engagement team?

A. Kathryn Pratt: It’s been mostly pros. We’ve come together as a team to deliver powerful ideas. The biggest pro was that it signaled change, and we were pushing the brand to somewhere it had never been before. We could present different types of work and establish new KPIs by having new conversations. The challenge was breaking old habits and changing the existing vocabulary. We have a solid, tight team of people, but we had to undo some habits.

Q. How big is the engagement team, and how many people do you have for each channel?

A. Pratt: We have 17 people across PR, experiential, social, and partnerships.

Q. Did REI’s #OptOutside campaign impact or inspire your “actvertising” strategy?

A. Grossman: It’s no secret that the outdoor retailer and brand category is an extremely active category. I think “actvertising” is more the state of the industry rather than the outdoors specifically. From a competitive landscape, we know what other brands are doing. To get attention, you have to bring something new to the table.

Q. How do you combat the go-to-market approach like Patagonia’s that operates through retailers?

A. Pratt: We have this conversation all the time. We’re always assessing our business and distribution channels and thinking about where we should be. A few years ago, the question was, “Are we a brand or a house of brands?” It was a conscious decision that we are a brand. We have started migrating to be predominantly L.L. Bean-branded products. We have partner products online, but we used to sell Patagonia in our stores. We’re always looking at the new channels coming out, but for now, we’re staying committed to our existing ones.

Q. Can you give some detail about the research, such as how it was organized and managed?

A. Grossman: First we scoured academic journals to find the existing research on people’s exposure to the outdoors and the health and work benefits of it. Once we understood the gaps, we wanted to partner with someone who had credibility. We brought in Leigh Stringer, a New York Times best-selling author who wrote a book about the healthy workplace. We then came up with the new quantitative research that we wanted to conduct about changing people’s perception of the traditional workplace. The two sets of research came together as a handbook. One of our biggest takeaways was that having our own quantitative data made it easy for the press to tell our story, and it worked well on social, too.

Q. Has this rebranding changed consumers’ perceptions? Has it translated to sales?

A. Pratt: Moving the big brand needle is challenging. This campaign absolutely presented a new face of the brand and inspired behavior. From a sales standpoint, we had conversations about if we should have products as part of this campaign. We decided not to do that because it would have taken away from the purity of the message. So while we haven’t connected it to sales specifically, we have seen an increase in traffic on-site and in-store.


"How L.L. Bean Delivered Proof on Brand Promise." Kathryn Pratt, Director of Brand Engagement at L.L. Bean; Ben Grossman, SVP and Group Strategy Director at Jack Morton Worldwide. ANA Brand Activation Marketing Conference, 5/16/19.

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