Words by Gill Linton
Gill is the co-founder of The Joneses a creative brand and communications company in New York, with 15 years experience marketing brands such as Agent Provocateur, Lee Jeans, Theory, Courvoisier Cognac, Virgin Atlantic and HBO. She’s also a contributor for the business trend and innovations news site PSFK.com, and as a stylist has produced editorial features and campaigns for S Magazine, City, Surface, Flaunt and Fuse TV. You can contact Gill at email@example.com
Now that fall fashion marketing is here and the industry is working on what’s next, what should fashion brands do differently to make up for a terrible fiscal 2009?
Everyone’s a brand strategist these days, including people in the fashion industry whose core business is to produce fashion shows, generate publicity and create ad campaigns. In which case you’d expect fashion brands to be more distinct from each other, wouldn’t you?
Considering fashion is all about change, the fashion-marketing model is fairly old-fashioned. It took a recession for people to accept that the selling cycle doesn’t work, and although advertising isn’t as effective as it used to be, brands still invest heavily in formulaic print ads, along with the same old sponsorships, trunk shows and pop-up shops, or more recently, blogs, videos and social networking.
The fashion-marketing model certainly has its place, although the only tangible difference between brands here is the personality of a designer/retailer and their collections. Brands can PR, collaborate and Twitter all they like, but without an original brand strategy that frames a different way for consumers to think about them beyond a cool image or shiny mobile app, the focus will always be on outdoing their competitors latest tactic rather than doing something unique.
Daniel Chu, Executive Creative Director of marketing agency Momentum, who has worked with brands like Nike, Thom Browne, Kenneth Cole and Target, points out that, “In fashion, we create mystique, and that’s the strategy. To make it more complex, fashion is a culture that thrives on itself; at its root, fashion is and always will be about itself. It creates to impress itself.”
I understand that in respect of brands like Margiela where the mystique and creativity of the designer is the brand, and he is uncompromised in delivering it, but that’s one strategy for one brand, and the point of marketing is to create difference. Chu goes on to say, “Obviously as demand increases, fashion becomes a populist commodity.” My point exactly.
Before starting her own brand consultancy Vernon Company, Kim Vernon was CMO of Calvin Klein. Kim points out that the biggest change in fashion right now is that brands are trying to adapt their take-it-or-leave-it aspirational marketing to involve the consumer online. “We are right now seeing a quick shift in fashion brands jump into the SMM [social media marketing] pool, DKNY, Diane Von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta etc have put their foot, not toe in the SMM water in past months. It is an exciting time for SMM as the image and great product brands won’t fear the medium but have fun with it.”
Which is great, given that digital is just the world we live in, but isn’t building the future of a business around SMM as tactical as placing an ad in Vogue? I recommend reading ‘Impatient CEO’s are all of a Twitter, but it doesn’t work like that’ by John Naughton.
It’s not that the fashion industry isn’t strategic; some of the most revered and successful brands in the world are in fashion. However, the words are misused so much that anything and everything is a ‘brand strategy’ when it’s not.
A good brand strategy creatively reframes what the brand stands for beyond a product description and tactical marketing ideas. It’s a directional idea that drives everything the brand does, and goes much deeper than the surface aesthetics of the fashion business. One of the best brand strategies that I know of came from the AA, a road side recovery service in the UK that became market leader after reframing their brand as the ‘fourth emergency service’ alongside the police, ambulance and fire services – brilliant because no other brand could ever literally or emotionally replace them.
The fashion industry thinks they already have issues with replicas. They don’t know the half of it.