The Future of Brand Marketing   //   March 14, 2024

Why Halara is aiming for engagement after viral TikTok-driven sales

This story is part of a week-long editorial series where we dive into all the ways brand marketing has evolved. More from the series →

Direct-to-consumer athleisure brand Halara built a name for itself by working with thousands of content creators who share reviews of its leggings, denim and workout gear. Views of its stretchy MagicDenim products alone have surpassed 320 million on TikTok, while its skort-style workout skirt hit 1 billion views in 2022 — earning Halara viral status and spots on TikTok Shops’ picks list.

But this year, Halara embarked on its first-ever brand campaign in a bid to establish more awareness about the brand and its ethos. Dubbed “Confidently Halara,” the two-week social media video campaign encourages shoppers to share what the phrase “body confidence” means to them. Then one participant, based on the total views and engagement rate, will win $5,000.

Global brand president Gabby Hirata said it’s different than anything Halara had ever done before because it doesn’t focus on a specific product, but a narrative around the brand.

“What we really want is to show to the world, ‘Hey we’re more than just affordable cute athleisure on TikTok or Instagram,'” Hirata said. “What do we exist for? What do we stand for? What is the brand person that Halara is all about?”

Ultimately, the campaign surpassed the Halara’s expectations as far as participation rates. Hirata said the brand went into the campaign hoping to see 100 submissions. In two weeks, it hit more than 150 submissions on TikTok and a few dozen on Instagram. While Halara wouldn’t share the cost of the campaign or specific engagement data, Hirata said the goal wasn’t to reach as many eyeballs as possible but create more of a brand story.

While many e-commerce companies may hope to see a product “go viral” the way Halara has, the four-year-old brand’s decision to focus more on brand storytelling underscores the importance of a more lasting narrative. It also shows why brands are thinking more about their own story instead of just their product’s details. And in a moment when customer acquisition costs are rising, some marketing experts say that creating a brand story that a shopper can connect to is one way to drive loyalty and retention.

Prior to the rush of viral content concretion, brands used to invest in expensive, multi-channel campaigns to get noticed and build a national presence. But the prevalence of platforms like TikTok that allow brands to connect directly users allows them to work in reverse by launching products and building up their narrative as people shop and share themselves.

Halara was founded in 2020 by Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Joyce Zhang who noticed the demand for clothing suitable for both athletic and leisure during the pandemic. It’s become known for its affordable and size-inclusive styles that have gone viral. For example, it sold 1.27 million products of its Active Dress that sell for less than $40. While the brand wouldn’t share annual sales or customer data, a representative shared with Modern Retail that revenues has grown 8x since launch.

Still, Halara knows it has a long way to go to drive loyalty and see growth beyond TikTok views. Hirata, the former CEO of designer fashion brand DVF, who joined Halara less than a year ago, said part of her charge is figuring out how to make Halara known for more than viral content. Acquisition isn’t a challenge for the brand, Hirata said. But there is a root problem of ensuring shoppers have “an understanding of what Halara stands for.”

Mary Ann O’Brien, founder and CEO of marketing and branding agency OBI Creative, said brands used to typically start with a brand campaign to create “air cover,” and then create specific product campaigns to drive sales — like how DTC company Away positioned itself not on the specifics of luggage itself but the joy of travel. But Halara’s strategy is something of the opposite. And that means there could be more work to do. Halara’s current web presence, for instance, doesn’t reflect a strong brand identity with a standard product layout and static imagery. Instead, it comes off as “salesy” and heavily discounted, which could make people question the reliability of the product. O’Brien said.

But given the size of its reach, the company has a big opportunity to create a more compelling brand position, O’Brien said.

“This takes hard work and experts to come in and help them define and carve out their brand position, and then use that to drive the customer experience,” she said.

Inside Halara, Hirata kickstarted discussions about a brand campaign that would help set the brand apart from other online brands. At first, the team started talking to marketing agencies, but the company ended up not using them. “They were like, ‘We can give you a million views,’ and we’re like ‘You’re talking to Halara. Our TikTok views are hundreds of millions.’ And that’s not the goal, either.” It also considered hiring big-name influencers, but Hirata said that didn’t feel in step with the brand’s UGC-style roots.

“We could throw money at celebrities and influencers and talk about confidence,” she said. “Or we could use the money to start another grassroots [campaign], to share your confidence journey and transformation. You don’t have to show the leggings or anything, we just want to [listen] and be inspired.”

The results showed a mix of users who have already worked with Halara as brand ambassadors, prior customers and first-time participants. But all shared some reflection on their journey of learning to love their bodies.

One brand ambassador, Kelsey, rolled down her high-waisted leggings to show what her body looks like after having two kids. “I don’t love my body right now,” she said through tears. But then she shared how she wants to work on her body image, because she wouldn’t want her daughters to “talk about themselves the way I talk about myself.”

Once settled on a participation-based brand campaign, Halara had to set different metrics and benchmarks for success. In addition to the 100-person participation rate, Halara also wanted to see Google search trends go up for its brand. Conversely, its performance marketing content creator videos are measured by metrics like the number of purchases made using that content creator’s code or landing page traffic.

Now that the first brand campaign experiment is complete, Hirata said one of Halara’s next brand-focused marketing steps could be a webpage revamp. And she also said that the brand will continue to diversify its team of content creators. She added that Halara will continue to put out few guidelines, instead encouraging “complete freedom” to share what they want.

“She’s talking to her audience in her way, the same way she would in real life,” Hirata said.