anthropologieWalk through just about any mall in Knoxville, Tennessee, Kalamazoo, Michigan, or Spokane, Washington, and you’ll hardly know you ever moved across the country.

Gap. Starbucks. Apple.

From the lighting and display to the merchandise and employee uniforms, everything is exactly the same.

Herein lies the charm of Anthropologie, a clothing and home goods retailer that has completely turned its back on the mass-experience approach most retailers have chosen. Anthropologie, owned by Urban Outfitters, Inc., isn’t a small company. However, they use many business-branding techniques that can work for small businesses.

#1 The cheapest way isn’t always the best way.

We all kind of “know” this to be true, but we don’t necessarily believe it if you look at our actions. Cheap advertising, cheap content, cheap site design… it’s all too tempting when you’re a small business trying to make a (small) splash.

Anthropologie doesn’t do things the cheap ways. There is no “standard” for their retail stores. Rather, the décor in every single store is carefully curated by local designers, found objects, antiques, and other eccentricities.

No doubt, it’s more expensive than shipping display packages out to every store just before the season turnover, but it creates a sense of authenticity that resonates with the brand’s devotees.

#2 Don’t advertise… ?

Anthropologie doesn’t advertise. Not at all. They send out a catalogue to subscribers. They operate a Facebook page, Twitter handle, etc., but they don’t have any paid, traditional advertising strategy.

And they don’t need it.

How do they make it work? Anthropologie understands its target demographic so well, that they don’t have to chase down customers and pull them in the doors. The fan base is practically lining up to get in.

Obviously, this isn’t some winning strategy for building your brand. However, it’s definitely a lofty goal to reach for. By carefully honing in on a specific customer, you could save yourself thousands in advertising later on down the road.

Which brings us to lesson three…

#3 Don’t be afraid to get specific.

Specificity doesn’t necessarily refer to a product or product category even. Rather, Anthropologie focuses on a specific customer. The brand then caters a wide variety of products (from clothing and towels to books and gifts) to the specific customer.

The company culture refers to the customer as “our friend,” a term which, you get the sense, is probably somewhat true. Anthropologie really does know its customers on this “friend” level. Even more impressive, they aren’t so much “trying to sell” to their friends, as they are trying to create a full, shopping experience.

#4 Know thy customer.

Former Anthropologie CEO, Glen Senk, told Fast Company, “In my experience, retailers spend most of their time looking at things from the company’s perspective or the marketer’s perspective. They talk about trends and brand but rarely about the customer in a meaningful way. We’re customer experts. Our focus is on always doing what’s right for a specific customer we know very well.”

Wendy Brown, who has held various leadership positions at Urban Outfitters, Inc, echoes Senk: “We have one customer, and we know exactly who she is. And we don’t sit around a table and say to each other, What do you think she’d like? We’re out there. We’re in the stores, we’re in the marketplace. We live where the customer lives.”

What are your thoughts on Anthropologie? Any takeaways for building your own brand?