Levi’s: Improving marketing results with less budget

“We have to do more for less”.

I had just been promoted to head of digital for the Levi’s® brand in Europe and was participating in the annual strategy seminar at the European headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. The words above came from the brand president at the time, in his welcome speech.

The company was tightening belts and budgets and it was mine and the other managers’ job to make sure that the brand still met its goals.

Getting more bang for the buck cannot be done by simply creating better marketing output – you also need to do it with less resources. To determine the best course of action, I examined the brand’s digital strategy, the operational set-up, the collaboration with the local markets incl. online retailers, what was being tracked and measured, and the output and performance the past years.

There were 3 major issues: 1) The digital brand strategy was diminishing the brand rather than leveraging it and it didn’t reflect consumers’ emerging/changing use of digital media, 2) there was little alignment with the local markets who either didn’t use digital media at all or used it inefficiently, and 3) too much money was being spent on agency retainers.

Research validated the strategic issue: Beyond very loyal consumers, there wasn’t a lot of excitement about the products and the brand was not perceived as relevant. The brand was struggling to get its – in fact – wide assortment across and to be present where the target audience was.

Clearly, this was not a time for tactical adjustments. We needed to do things entirely differently. Major changes were made, incl. a great deal of reining in, and let’s just say I didn’t win the popularity contest that year:

  1. An agency review was conducted and we decided to hire a more strategic, creative and cost-effective agency partner, who was up for the substantial tasks ahead and committed to go the extra mile(s).
  2. A new 3-year digital brand strategy was developed that was extremely focused and deliberate while embracing experimentation, direct consumer involvement, and new channels such as direct online sales.
  3. A new way of working with the local markets was implemented, which provided processes, systems, and guidelines to carry out local digital market initiatives that were cost-effective and aligned with all other brand and marketing activity.
  4. I kept the same internal team, however instituted a more agile mode of operation that would allow both focus on the strategic marathon and grasping appropriate opportunities as they would arise from still faster market and technological changes.

The result was a focused long-term digital strategy for the brand, a distinct online presence across a number of digital and other touchpoints, millions worth of press coverage, a more digitally inclined and aligned organisation, a shift to a younger target audience, and a considerably healthier brand.



Levi Strauss & Co
Founded in San Francisco by Bavarian immigrant Levi Strauss in 1853, Levi Strauss & Co created the very first pair of jeans. LS&Co is a privately owned company which today manufactures and sells denim and casual apparel under the Levi’s, Dockers, Denizen, and Signature by Levi Strauss & Co. brand names. Still headquartered in San Francisco, USA, in 2010 the company had an annual turnover of $ 4.4 billion and 16,200 employees. Sold in more than 110 countries, Levi’s jeans are among the most recognizable and imitated pieces of clothing in the world. And the 501 jean is still my personal favorite!

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