What Vans and Skateboarding Can Teach Us About Brand Engagement



While checking out Geoff Rowley’s latest shoe by Vans, I realized that skateboarding has been executing multifaceted brand engagement strategies for decades, and has excelled at content strategy in particular.

It is no surprise that the underdog sport—born out of surfing and centered on creativity and innovation—has built an industry through a grassroots approach to marketing. From the beginning, sponsorship has been the main channel through which both brands and skaters were able to gain exposure and establish themselves in the community. All three main types of sponsorship—shop, amateur and professional—have a lot to teach us about co-creating with your audience and gaining deeper customer loyalty because of it.

Vans has been a staple brand in the skateboarding community since its launch in 1966, and many of its original styles are still popular today.

Shoes are the number one selling item in the skateboard industry and Vans has abided by these three core tenets of user engagement to keep themselves at the top through the years.

Tell its audience’s story

From backing early skate films to creating today’s OffTheWall.TV, a media channel dedicated to the stories of the people who wear their shoes, Vans has done a killer job of keeping its audience front and center with the brand. OffTheWall.TV features skate films, interviews and episodic series highlighting everyone from record shop owners to professional skaters to capture the voice of their audience and shed light on the culture that has been created in their shoes. Campaigns from Levi’s and Harley-Davidson have followed similar content strategies by creating a container for their customers to tell the story and rich culture of their brands.


Deliver value, consistently

Although Vans is primarily a shoe company, it has long been producing videos, sponsoring skating events and backing concerts, including the past 15 years of the Warped Tour. By understanding itself not as a shoe company but as an ambassador of the culture of skateboarding, Vans has integrated its brand into the fabric of the sport and consistently delivered experiences to delight their audience. And it is always recognizably on brand and pushing these experiences further. Last year, it opened House of Vans, an underground skatepark in London that hosts events, concerts and film screenings free of charge.

Red Bull is another brand that has focused its efforts on delivering experiences that add value to their audience’s lives well outside of their primary products. Instead of thinking of it as an energy drink company, think of it as a brand that pushes limits and wants you to do the same..

Pair products with meaningful stories

Creating great content is one thing, but connecting it to products and using it to influence sales is another. Vans has begun to integrate its content with its products to tell a more cohesive story. Geoff Rowley’s latest line, “Built [Rowley] Strong,” appears on its own page with three main calls to action: shop now, watch video and learn more. With two-thirds of the focus on content and one-third on the product, the customer is able to explore the world that brought the product to life, which is an effective invitation to buy the product and be part of that world.

This integrated strategy can also be effective beyond the sports industry. IBM is leveraging its deep content strategy to move the needle on sales. From the opening navigation to specific product pages, relevant thought leadership, videos and research is highlighted and effectively adds dimension to the product being considered.

By focusing on its audience’s stories, delivering meaningful experiences and integrating these efforts with its sales strategy, Vans has remained a leader in the skateboard industry for decades and continues to wow its customers. In doing so, it has created deep brand loyalty and become a welcome and respected part of its customers’ lives.

—Eileen Vogl is a New York-based brand storyteller and writer