Digital Marketing Digital Media Buying Luxury Marketing Retail Strategy

The agony of fashion

Marketing fashion brands isn't easy. Here's how to avoid some of those sleepless nights.

I’ve had this book at home, propping up a TV cabinet on an uneven floor for as long as I can remember. I guess from the illustration on the front (and the title) that it explores the physical pain women had to suffer through the ages to keep up with the latest trends.

I know the author, Eline Canter Cremers-van der Does (I just had to share her name- I bet she doesn’t get tweeted about very often without abbreviation…) was probably focused on the varying degrees of suffering induced by corsets, girdles and the garments of the nineteenth century and earlier, but I’m afraid I can’t give you a book review here; if I moved it right now, everything above it might collapse.

So I’ve been sitting here thinking- it’s been a while since I’ve written anything for my blog… I wonder what fashion brands are finding most painful in this century? What can us marketers do to ease the pain?

The agony of the high street

Much has been written already about the death of the independent store and the subsequent death of the high street and the move of fashion retail to out-of-town retail parks and new shopping centres with prohibitive rents. Large fashion chains and supermarkets deny this is happening (of course) whilst the independent fashion boutiques feel the pain. I walked down Kensington High Street in London briefly last week and although there were a couple of interesting new stores since my last visit (welcome to The Kooples) the opening of the Westfield Shopping Centre has clearly had a negative impact…So what is the marketing cure? Well, much has been written about this, and hopefully some of the answers can be found in the recommendations laid out in the Portas Review. I don’t think the solution is a simple one. I might come back to it if I have a long flight coming up that gives me the time this topic deserves.

The agony of aging

What other pain are fashion retailers suffering that we might find a remedy for? I’m going to guess one day soon, sleepless nights will be caused by age. Some brands have already realised this, while others are quite simply in denial. Their customers are getting older.

On the face of it, this might not seem such a bad thing; a 50 year old Vivienne Westwood customer has a greater chance of being able to spend liberally on the latest collection compared with a 30 year old. But if total sales have stayed the same, that places more of the influence in the hands of a smaller group of customers, and if sales have dropped in the last twenty years, the picture is even more serious; the risk-profile has increased.

As these younger followers are growing older, some of the brands I’ve observed haven’t replaced this customer group – the leaking bucket needs to be constantly filled up, if that makes sense. Not tackling this issue now will surely lead to real agony in the future.

There are brands that used to be serious names in the fashion world that are beginning to lose their current relevance and being confined to a moment in history.. I was thinking about naming a few names, but with so many earning such a large chunk of their revenue from fragrance sales and high street capsule collections (based on their past glories), it’s easy for them to argue they are stronger than ever. I’d suggest otherwise.

So how do you attract a new young audience to your brand? Here are a few pointers:

  1. Hire a great new designer to take a radical new approach. Cue J.W. Anderson with his new collection for Versus (launching in just a few days) to give Versace a boost. Also Hedi Slimane has achieved great things at Saint Laurent turning around their ailing brand.
  2.  Partner with the new kids on the block.I’ve been looking at an alternative (and cheaper) solution to the first idea- simply turning it on its head: Introducing some of the old school designers to younger brands. Imagine Vivienne Westwood designing for YMC (You Must Create) or for Folk Clothing and you’d get an idea what I’m talking about. Then, if this capsule collection came with an offer of ‘something special waiting for you in a Westwood store’, the Westwood retail team would have the opportunity to give the young potential customers the ‘brand tour’ on their own turf. I’ve yet to see this done well and I’m itching to give it a go.
  3. An annual event, dressing the emerging bands to introduce their fanbase to the fashion brands. I was thinking about this concept in the car today and then remembered the cringeworthy Fashion Rocks – for MTV and running from 2003 to 2009. That’s not what I had in mind! I remember the bands trying to interact with the models on the runway and it not really succeeding. Mind you, it did raise around £1m a year for charity. I thought putting a whole host of bands on stage, dressed entirely by a named designer would be an interesting approach to the leaky bucket.

The social agony

Finally, I’d like to guess that fashion retailers are still trying to reconcile their spend on social media with their online revenues and this is causing more than just a few of them sleepless nights:

  • Does growing Likes on Facebook convert into sales?
  • Should I continue paying for my brand name on Google advertising or should I expect customers to find it naturally?
  • Should I really monitor all references to my brand on Twitter?
  •  Is it worth investing time in Instagram and Pinterest?

I’d suggest with a move towards bringing editorial in-house (Matches, Net-a-porter etc), some boutiques are starting to understand that creating editorial content (which is in part driven by the bloggers) does more to drive sales and that the Facebook Likes, instagram images and Pinterest pins are a by-product and a measure of the success of this strategy rather than the solution.

Easing the pain

There are many agencies out there offering instant relief through their own unique medicines, such as search engine optimisation, social media monitoring, content generation and even the classic cure of Public Relations. Many of these medicines are untested and it’s only after time and testing that we’ll really understand if they were a success.

I find that the more I spend time working in fashion retail, the case study from a specialist is highly prized: have you done it before, what did it really cost, and can you prove it worked?

If you’re suffering this year, I do hope it’s not for too long.

Featured Photo by Photo by Brunel Johnson on Unsplash

1 comment

  1. Interesting you mention YMC as a new kid on the block, haven’t they been around since the mid 90s? 🙂 Though good example of how challenging to establish a fashion brand.

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