April 16, 2015
Case Study

Social Media Marketing: Visual storytelling drives 4.4 million Instagram engagements for Lilly Pulitzer

SUMMARY: Fashion brand Lilly Pulitzer has an authentically American heritage that provides rich content for growing a social media community.

The marketing team wanted to use the visual resources at their disposal to grow its heritage brand into the digital world and keep up with customers — the "Lilly Girl." See how they were able to grow the Instagram community by 170%.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content


"One of the things I love about being able to be one of the lucky girls to work with Lilly Pulitzer social media is that it's an American fashion brand with a really authentic heritage and great story," said Eleni Tavantzis, Senior Manager of Social Media Marketing and Public Relations, Lilly Pulitzer.

There aren't a lot of American fashion brands that have been around as long as 1959, she explained, and because of that, "there's a rich story, rich content, such an authentic one to tell, so we never have to make anything up. We just have this great history to look back on that guides some of the story and the decisions that we make and the voice that we have."

Lilly Pulitzer is a multi-generational brand, but customers of all ages are referred to as "Lilly Girls" — a fitting title, especially since the original Lilly girl was coy about her age.

"Our brand, a lot of it is the experience and the emotional connection that the Lilly Girls have and just seeing what it's like in action," Tavantzis said.

The team at Lilly likes to use social media to promotes a brand experience and its connection with customers.

"Sometimes you don't know how happy a print can make you until you put on one of the shift dresses, and all of the sudden, you're in a happy printed shift, you're in Palm Beach, you're barefoot having a glass of champagne, and life is great," she said.


"Our job on social is to first keep telling that story and making sure that everybody knows why we do the prints that we do and the stories that we have," Tavantzis said.

From there, she added, the objective is advancing the story in a way that establishes Lilly as a heritage brand while staying modern in the digital world.

"I think we're doing a really good job of it with our social strategy, which is all about visual storytelling to reinforce what we see as our key competitive advantages in the fashion marketplace, which is all about Lilly's resort chic [and] our emotional connection with our Lilly Girls — which is my favorite one," she said.

Social media is a great opportunity, but it is also always a challenge for the team to "play with our brand voice and make sure that we're never getting too cutesy and that it's always chic — a little cheeky, and sometimes that it might shock her just a teeny bit because it should. That's very much the Lilly way," Tavantzis said.


Lilly Pulitzer is known for its colorful prints, and that is what led the team to the Lilly 5x5 campaign.

"Many people still don't know that all of the prints that are on our dresses and our clothes are all created in-house by an in-house team of artists. There are just 10 of them who paint, sketch and water-color and play with acrylics to create these gorgeous prints that make it on the line. It's such a unique thing," Tavantzis said.

The marketing theme for this year is "Lilly Spill the Juice," which is the hashtag for the year and goes back to the brand's origin story.

Lilly Pulitzer was born into New York society and "could've lived a fancy life of galas and soirées and black ties and gloves. But she … was a real rule breaker," Tavantzis said, adding that in her young 20s, Pulitzer eloped to Palm Beach, where her husband's family owned citrus groves.

She eventually started a juice stand using citrus from the grove, and Pulitzer created her first shift dress because she wanted a wild print that would hide the juice stains on her dress — hence the phrase, "Spill the Juice."

The brand took off when one of Lilly's schoolmates, Jackie Kennedy, wore one of the dresses on the cover of Life magazine.

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"That's when things incredibly took off for the brand, and it really became America's first resort brand with a female entrepreneur who was leading the brand. Those are the two things that I find so incredible," she said.

Fitting into the "Spill the Juice" theme, the Lilly 5x5 campaign focused both on the brand's history and its unique color palette. The campaign was created in January 2013 when one Lilly print designer gave another one a Christmas gift.

"They gave them just a little 5x5 inch card, a beautiful painting that kicked off the New Year, and we posted it on Instagram, and everybody went wild. It was the most liked post at that time," Tavantzis said, adding, "There was the hunch of, 'Could we keep doing this?'"

The team realized this could be the perfect piece of content to help "us stand out in a sea of the same, particularly on the Instagram feeds, which is where our visual storytelling strategy looks to first to feed on and engage [the Lilly Girl]," she said.

Step #1. Connect customers with employees

This campaign connected customers with designers and through continually building up brand fervor. It invited customers into the current story of Lilly beyond just telling them about the brand's history.

The 5x5 prints are published on Instagram and Pinterest five days a week, "around 5 p.m.-ish because nothing can be precise. Why should it be?" Tavantzis said.

The designers are on a rotating schedule, and "they look forward to it [the 5x5] because it's a chance to try something different. They're trying a new critter that they want to insert into a print. They might play around and see what sea lions could look like," she added.

The team uses these prints as an opportunity to be timely and relevant, celebrating holidays and pop culture moments through the designs.

"It's our most viewed piece of content continually across all of our social platforms. I think it really has never gotten stale, and it really is the thing that is so defendable by reinforcing our print — our resort chic connection and then the emotional connection for the girls," she said.

Often, right after posting, Tavantzis said the team will review the reception of the print and will see customers commenting or tweeting, "'Screenshot it, it's my background. I need it,' or, 'Please make this into a dress,' which is something we've been listening to, customer feedback on these."

Step #2. Share across digital media

The team shares the 5x5 prints across the Lilly brand Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and also pulls the images into the home page, displayed at the bottom.

"Depending on how our home page is looking, it tends to rotate a little bit, but you'll always find a 5x5 there," Tavantzis said.

The Pinterest page has an entire board dedicated to the #Lilly5x5, with most posts being repinned over 100 times, some up to 300 times. Each post has a small, playful description of the print, such as one featuring a lion in the design that reads: "Spring is here. We're not LION. #Lilly5x5"

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Facebook and Twitter posts are similar, with the image posted including a short description and the hashtag.

"Probably, my favorite thing about my job here, and I've been in social media for about seven years since it started, is that there's so much freedom. As long as it's an idea that rolls up to our strategy of visual short storytelling and supports … [the] key competitive advantages that we have, then it's game on," she said.

Step #3. Cultivate authentic content

Something the team learned through this process is that they are able to learn a lot about what the Lilly Girl likes and dislikes.

"Because we do it so frequently, we really learned visually what she responds to more and what our Lilly Girl wants," Tavantzis said.

They have learned that Lilly Girls prefer all-over prints to ones that get "too illustrative," for instance.

This has become a challenge to create 5x5 content that is true to the brand because the Lilly Girl "loves us most when we're authentic, when we're being authentic to Lilly. When we deliver on that, then she is liking it, and she's commenting, and she's tagging her friends, and it's blowing up, and those are great days," Tavantzis said.

The complication with social media, she added, is that sometimes, "you think you've come up with a really great campaign idea, but if it's too complicated or if it goes on for too long, nobody will do it."

Over the past year, there have been "a couple of those hiccups, but we quickly learned," she said, adding that "the beauty also of social is that it can change very quickly and you're not locked in."

The brand uses social media, and the 5x5 campaign in particular, to learn about its customer and "also be able to talk to her so much and really hear from her," Tavantzis said.

As a company, she added, Mondays are "a great day for reporting and sharing insight, and my team compiles a really meaty report on Monday morning that shares what we learned from social during the week, what's trending in the world and offers applications for our merchandising team."

They give information, such as the top 10 pins from the week, for other members of the team to analyze, and they keep track of popular items for their own insights and takeaways.

"We also show our print designers, 'Here are the most popular 5x5's from the last 30 days.' It's fun to be competitive with each other, but they're really just sort of looking for themes, and that can inspire what they might be planning and dreaming up for 2016 and all the seasons that they're working on so far in advance," she said.

From this process, the brand is using the 5x5's as a soft launch of sorts for new prints for 2016 — "Low risk, little commitment, great payoff," Tavantzis said.

Step #4. Have popular social media content influence a physical product

Lilly is a full price brand and only has two online sales a year.

"That's it. Otherwise, what we do to celebrate what are usually promotional times in the world — like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, President's Day weekend — we have gifts with purchase that are at different spend levels," Tavantzis said.

After posting five days a week from January 2013 onward, in 2014 the team curated the most popular 5x5 prints and put together a book that could be used as a gift with purchase for events at several Lilly Pulitzer stores.

"Because of the popularity, we knew we had to bring it to more people. It became a product on the line and became for sale in stores and online, starting on Colorful Friday. And then it was just available to everybody," Tavantzis said, explaining that "Colorful Friday" is Lilly's version of Black Friday.

The team also made the book available first to the Instagram followers who had originally supported the 5x5's, posting on Thanksgiving, saying, "We're just so thankful for you and all the fun that we get to have with you every day. Here's the link for you to get the 5x5 book first," she said, adding that they placed the link in the brand page bio.

Creating the Lilly 5x5 book was "kind of the opposite approach as everything goes more digital now in this world. It was taking something social and digital and printing it and putting it in a hardcover book," she said.

"We love it, and we designed the book in-house too. It really was a labor of love. We all learned the process, our whole team, of what it's like to publish a book. So, that's a good skill to have, and it's something that our girls just love. You see it so many times, just an Instagram shot of, it will be her Lilly agenda, a tumbler, maybe a pen and the 5x5 book all positioned on her desk. It's all become part of her day," she said.

Some of the top performing 5x5 prints are also hanging in the physical Lilly Pulitzer retail locations too, Tavantzis said.

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"We love that. We have a really close relationship with our visual merchandising team, and they loved the 5x5's so much. We helped pick some of the favorite ones when they recently redid our Palm Beach Gardens store. It was one of the first ones to have it, and that's one of our beautiful flagship stores," she said, adding that as new stores have been opening, the 5x5's have become a feature of the designs.


"I think the results tell us [the Lilly Girl] hasn't gotten sick of it and it really has taken off," Tavantzis said.

The best parts about the results the team has seen is that it tells them that they are doing something right and can continue producing this content that they enjoy putting out. Just "make sure it doesn't get stale," she said.
  • With the 5X5, Lilly Pulitzer grew its Pinterest following by 56%

  • The Instagram following grew by 170%

  • Lilly Pulitzer drove 4.4M engagements with a single content series (the 5X5) on Instagram

  • Instagram referral traffic surpassed Facebook traffic for the Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday period by more than 50%

The team wants to continue "thinking of ways, little tiny tweaks or updates or surprises that we can give," with the 5x5's, she said, as they continue to review the numbers and ensure that the content never gets stale "because it's too great of a piece of content to let that happen."

"What we're doing with the Lilly 5x5 is so us. I don't think anybody else can do it, and I haven't seen anybody try, which I love," Tavantzis concluded.

Creative Samples

  1. Jackie Kennedy picture

  2. Posted 5x5

  3. Lilly Pinterest

  4. Instagram 5x5

  5. 5x5 prints in store


Lilly Pulitzer

Eleni Tavantzis, Senior Manager, Social Media Marketing and Public Relations, Lilly Pulitzer

Caroline Wright, Senior Associate, Social Media and Influencer Marketing, Lilly Pulitzer Print Studio


Chelsea Marion, Client Success Manager, Curalate

Stacy Goodman, Content Strategist, Curalate

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