Macala Wright Lee is the publisher of FashionablyMarketing.Me. Wright Lee is a retail consultant who’s firm, Fashionably Digital, specializes marketing consulting for fashion, luxury and beauty brands. You can follower her on twitter at @FashMarketing.
The fashion industry’s use of branded content gained momentum in 2010. In 2011, retailers will have three big shifts to consider as part of their branded content strategy. While many brands approach branded content in different ways, Susan Etlinger of The Altimeter Group feels that all retailers and fashion brands must:
- Talk to their customers; consumers expect dialogue with the brands they care about.
- Need to be able to shift between channels — web, mobile, print, broadcast — with a moment’s notice in order to keep a constant stream of communication with customers.
- Maintain a consistent brand experience, no matter where the customers are or what they’re doing. To reach this new empowered consumer, retailers now need to think in three dimensions: social, cross-channel and local.
So what do these guidelines for effective branded content translate to fashion brands and retailers? That answer can be found in four evolving mediums: the use of video, indie fashion and big brand collaborations, Tumblr () as an engagement platform, and possibly giving online customers a healthy dose of reality.
Indie Fashion and Big Brand Collaborations
In 2010, we began to see indie fashion team up with big brands. Examples of this include Kaboodle’s collaborations with indie fashion retail sites Moxsie.com and 80s Purple through PopPicks, and the launch of their indie fashion shopping channel that pulls products from independent sellers on Etsy into the Kaboodle site.
“Kaboodle’s platform has always provided a perfect way for brands to collaborate with a community of shopping enthusiasts who are ready and willing to buy products,” says Shari Gunn, Kaboodle’s chief marketing officer. “A vertically targeted environment like this provides natural and authentic ways for brands to establish conversations with their customers and also provides a number of unique and engaging touch points. Kaboodle has collaborated with partners such as Etsy in order to surface their products for a new group of consumers. This kind of direct communication between retailers and consumers has only just begun, and consumers will continue to have more influence over retailers in the future.”
One of the most notable indie fashion/big brand collaborations this year was when American Apparel partnered with lookbook.NU to create American Apparel’s first printed mailorder catalog (still available online). The site’s user-generated photo campaign asked lookbook.NU community members to send in photos of themselves wearing American Apparel products. The winners were flown to LA and used as models for the book.
Ryan Holiday, American Apparel’s online marketing strategist, reports that the campaign was one of the brand’s most successful collaborations of 2010, generating more than 10,000 photo submissions and 3,000 orders in more than 30 countries.
When asked about the continuing trend of big brands partnering with indie fashion, Holiday said he believes that more brands will implement strategic partnerships that extend the brand’s lifestyle to targeted fashion communities, like the American Apparel and lookbook.NU collaboration.
Holiday adds that success is a “matter of whether brands have the ability to meaningfully interact with a community or partner without crushing it, sucking the life out of it, or corrupting it. It’s also a matter of the fashion communities staying true to their mission (real people who love fashion) and not becoming too obsessed with fame, ad dollars, or modeling deals.”
Veronica Cavallo, social media manager at Attention, says the American Apparel campaign was especially successful because of its community-driven focus.
“Strategic partnerships allow association and exposure to new audiences, as well as great opportunities to leverage participants’ social networks and online presences.,” Cavallo says. “A more communal and collaborative approach to branded content conceptualization makes campaigns such as American Apparel’s successful.”
The Rise of Fashion Films
Fashion films became a common industry tool in 2010, costing less than $50,000 to professionally produce. Though there is some skepticism as to whether fashion films are beneficial to designers, I believe we will see an influx of brands creating fashion films throughout 2011.
A great starting point for exploring fashion films is Christian Louboutin’s film Dancer in a Daydream created by FASHIONAIR (no longer online). The film began with Christian Louboutin at work in his Paris atelier. While he worked, he slipped into a daydream that takes him to New York City. The dream had him tap dancing on Broadway like Fred Astaire alongside two showgirls wearing his signature red-soled shoes. As Business Of Fashion reported, “What’s most compelling from a business point of view was the way FASHIONAIR had displayed the video alongside shopable and sharable products featured in the film — an elegant and highly effective way to integrate content and commerce and turn engagement into sales.”
I spoke with Martin Zagorsek, partner of New York-based fashion consultancy Launch Collective, about the fashion film trend. Emerging designers such as Amy Claire, and established, internationally famous designers such as Christian Louboutin are using videos to tell their stories. Zagorsek says, “I see more and more fashion designers turning to film, or rather video, in order to help communicate their vision. The cost of creating video has dropped to the point where it’s not that different from the cost of a quality photo shoot, and video often allows designers to convey ideas and emotions in ways that are more compelling that photography.”
The Great American Boyfriend – “Genuine Ken”
One of the most interesting twists in the evolution of branded content came from toy manufacturer Mattel, which has created the search for “The Great American Boyfriend.” In an eight-episode, digital reality video series, Mattel’s Genuine Ken features eight contestants competing to be the Great American Boyfriend. Celebrity guest judges will eliminate one contestant per episode, determining which finalist, like Ken, truly has the qualities of “the ultimate boyfriend for every occasion.” The digital series premieres on Hulu () in early 2011. The web series is not children’s entertainment; it’s clearly geared toward a sophisticated adult audience — fans of Barbie and Ken who have grown up.
So what does Mattel’s content have to do with the fashion industry, aside from the fact that Barbie has always been fashionable? Genuine Ken is an example of the type of television-quality online content that brands such as H&M, Zara or Forever 21 could potentially produce to engage their customers through video.
Hamilton South, founding partner of HL Group, a strategic media consultancy in New York, discussed the Mattel web series in the context of fashion. “Genuine Ken, is the perfect example of engagement through content. It’s differentiated from other efforts in branded content creation by the fact that it is intentionally produced as TV-worthy entertainment. I anticipate we’ll see more execution like this in 2011 because the more engaging the content, the more likely people are to share it. Mattel was smart to make the investment in this level of production to create a compelling series that authentically reaches and engages an older audience in a relevant, modern way.”
Tumblr as a Brand Content Platform
Through my research and industry interviews, I found that consultants, brand managers and agencies were fascinated with Tumblr as an engagement platform. “Over the past year, fashion has emerged as one of the fastest growing segments of the Tumblr community, with 20% of our top 1,000 blogs related to fashion,” reports Tumblr’s new fashion director Rich Tong. Live.Milkmade.com is an example of how Tumblr as a fashion community fascinates industry professionals. The crowdsourced photo site was created by Milk Studios New York digital media agency ALLDAYEVERYDAY.
I spoke with ALLDAYEVERYDAY’s Kevin Kearney and Philip Leif on how the fashion industry could use Tumblr. “Tumblr is best used as a platform to find the community that surrounds a brand and then activate those communities, focusing on the influencers within those groups,” said Leif and Kearney. They offered three points of advice for fashion brands and retailers to consider in regards to Tumblr development:
1. Brands and retailers must establish a content plan before concepting and designing a Tumblr blog or micro site. Editorial concepts don’t need to be complicated, but they should be achievable and consistent to ensure success.
2. Brands and retailers must decide what their methods of engagement with users are going to be. Incorporating and smartly leveraging Tumblr as an engagement tool through following, reblogging and the built-in Q&A and submission tools are crucial for campaign success.
3. Brands and retailers must determine key goals and metrics for success. Is the site a brand play? Or an e-commerce marketing channel? Brands sometimes find it challenging to set and track goals, as well as benchmark the ROI of their Tumblr audience versus other online audiences.
The Future Of Tumblr and Fashion
As a marketing tool for online community and influence engagement, every brand and agency should be considering the use of Tumblr when developing long-term marketing programs; it’s going to become as commonly used as Twitter () or Facebook (). As Kearney and Leif pointed out in our interview, brands must consider the limitations of any platform, including scheduled maintenance and unexpected downtime. “While Tumblr is an easy engagement tool, allowing users to push and pull content from others, the use of Tumblr as platform has to be integrated into a brand’s overall initiatives to reach the right audience,” says Kearney.
For fashion brands and bloggers alike, I’ve wondered if Tumblr is the be-all-end-all blogging platform. The answer is no. I do think that many independent fashion writers and style bloggers who use their blogs for expression of their personal brands will migrate to Tumblr, because it’s easier to post and reblog content from friends and followers. But professional bloggers, equipped with content syndication and SEO knowledge will always stick to self-hosted, custom-designed sites that allow them to maximize their traffic in order to develop their careers.
What’s more, I believe we will see more Tumblr/Shopify-powered e-commerce sites launch due to the low cost of development. This offers fledgling startups like Of A Kind a quick and cost efficient way to get started as e-tailers. Once they’ve received VC funding or manage to generate enough revenue, they can develop more robust sites with additional features to build online revenue.
Considerations for Branded Content
Branded content creation serves several purposes at once: customer entertainment, brand advertising, social engagement and customer communication. Here’s a caveat: When it comes to branded content, brand managers and agency executives have to think of context and relevancy.
In a recent speech, Hamilton South of the HL Group shared what fashion brands and retailers need to keep in mind as branded content becomes a bigger part of the marketing mix.
1. Good content relies on good storytelling. Turning press releases and overt marketing messages into shareable content is a recipe for failure. Hire specialists who know what they are doing on both the content development side and the distribution side.
2. Think beyond the immediate transaction. The real value in using branded content is its ability to create a relationship with the consumer that lasts. There’s a lot of talk at the moment about measurement, and an increase in purchasing isn’t the only mark of success. Time spent on engagement with the brand, new user registrations, sharing within communities — all of this data needs to be part of the measurement mix.
3. Many fashion brands make the mistake of thinking that because they know how to shoot great ad campaigns, they understand all aspects of content creation. And that’s a fundamental mistake. The fashion industry has often over-relied on photography as its primary illustration vehicle. In order to be successful, brands need to partner with people who understand video, language, sound and graphic design as they work online, and the difference is enormous.
As fashion designers continually innovate in the fashion lines, I’d hope brands and their agencies would be as innovative with their content. Don’t copy another brand’s campaign; focus on being unique and original, even if you have to build a Tumblr site to put your brand into context and find inspiration.