Macala Wright Lee is the CEO of FashionablyMarketing.Me a digital marketing and merchandising firm that specializes in fashion, luxury and beauty brands in Southern California. You can follower her on Twitter at @FashMarketing.
It’s safe to say that the fashion industry has adopted social media as a marketing platform to reach their customers online and reignite brand passion and customer loyalty.
While fashion brands and retailers are still grappling with social media in terms of controlling brand perception and establishing metrics to measure its marketing value, they have used Twitter (), Facebook (), YouTube () and other social communities to develop digital marketing strategies to drive online sales and retail store traffic. Here’s how they’re doing it.
1. Getting Cozy in Communities
Until recently, the fashion industry has been fashionably late to the social media party, refusing to adopt it at all, or merely adopting one-way communication via social networks and RSS feeds for sales and promotions.
Fashion has traditionally been aspirational. From a brand’s perspective, fashion is an experience with very specific feelings and emotions they hope to create for the wearer. The thought of going social scares many brands because they’re not sure how to translate these feelings into online traction.
Along came communities — social networks, forums, wikis and blogs telling brands that they need to participate and create dialogues with people online.
The majority of the industry thought this would tarnish brand image, but American Apparel, TopShop and emerging independent designers were early adopters of social marketing. Once they started reporting positive results, other brands followed. Now almost every brand or retailer, from Sears and JCPenney, to Oscar De La Renta and Louis Vuitton, have created a presence in several social communities, the most notable being Facebook.
It’s been a tough learning curve, but we’re beginning to see less one-way discount promotions, and more genuine interaction between brand and client. Facebook and Twitter are now among the most valuable tools for brands to monitor consumer sentiment and provide real-time customer service in the fashion industry.
2. Creating Niche Communities
Now that fashion brands have learned to navigate social media, many are experimenting with development of their own social networks or even invitation-only communities.
Brands have also started to partner with fashion-oriented sites like Polyvore for sponsoring branded contests within the web site’s community. These contests create opportunities to develop brand affinity and establish relationships with the next, younger generation of shoppers.
Luxury brands Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Burberry have launched their own social networks or added social components to their existing web sites. While Facebook and Twitter are great for mass marketing, more exclusive social destinations allow brands to extend their story and promise to their customers, maximizing the user’s online brand experience.
3. Embracing Mobile Apps
When it comes to developing apps, fashion brands and web sites have taken “there’s an app for that!” to heart.
Chanel shows its runway collections via iPhone app, and the Gilt Groupe app allows users to shop sample sales and receive alerts as to when sales are starting.
StyleCaster’s app lets users access style tips, individually customize news feeds and fashion trends, and houses a large online retail catalog of brand-name clothing.
JustLuxe is a digital global concierge company whose extremely interactive app comes with over 1,000 member benefits. Utilizing GPS, the app will recommend participating restaurants and hotels in the user’s area. It’s the first style-oriented app that leverages location-based mobile marketing. Luxury product and service companies should be watching this.
Most brands are focused on the iPhone. We haven’t seen a lot of development for BlackBerry or Android () devices. There are currently only 41 fashion-related apps available for BlackBerry users, and most of them simply deliver articles and blog posts via RSS.
4. The Rise of Style Bloggers
In 2009, bloggers had an enormous impact on fashion, affecting everything from print publishing to how brands market themselves online. There are thousands of style-related blogs on the web these days, and those dedicated to their craft have earned industry recognition.
Gala Darling, Bryan Boy, 13-year-old Tavi, Scott Schuman of the Satorialist and Garance Dore have earned recognition from Dolce & Gabanna, Burberry, Alexander McQueen and leading publications such as Vogue. They’ve participated in fashion design collection collaborations and received front-row, international Fashion Week seats next to some of the most notable figures in the couture world.
A recent Financial Times article notes that being a style blogger is a perfectly respectable career for someone in the fashion industry. The social web has removed the gatekeepers of an industry that was notoriously hard to penetrate and build a name in.
These sites have succeeded because of the quality of their content. While each is unique, they’ve built a cult following around their areas of expertise and passion.
5. The Impact of User-Generated Content
User-generated content is key to social media and fashion. From blogs to Facebook photo contributions to product reviews –- user-generated content is where it’s at.
Crosby Noricks, founder of a top fashion PR blog, has noticed more brands realizing the collective power of their customers’ networks by encouraging fan contributions. She points to G-Star, the Dutch clothing company who just launched a social media campaign to find “reporters” to attend their fashion show at upcoming New York Fashion Week, as well as Coach’s Holiday Blog-A-Day program, which enlisted 30 bloggers and vloggers to ensure holiday sales were in the bag.
One of the most notable and consistent campaigns built around user-generated content and social engagement has been from the brand Charlotte Russe, which Noricks manages in her capacity as Senior Social Media Strategist of San Diego-based Red Door Interactive. The brand’s weekly trivia contest on Twitter drives followers to the web site or YouTube channel with the hope of snagging some excellent prizes (the brand recently gave away a jacket worn on Gossip Girl).
The “CR Fan of The Week” contest also hinges on user content by giving fans a “style assignment” and asking them to post a photo to the brand’s Facebook wall.
Currently, Charlotte Russe is running “Be The Next Charlotte Russe Design Star,” a t-shirt design contest where the winner will have his or her shirt produced and sold online. A fashion-filled trip to NYC is also included, naturally.
Another great example of user-generated content used in conjunction with a niche network is Burberry’s Art of the Trench site. Users are encouraged to upload images of themselves wearing Burberry’s signature item – their trench coat. Burberry is highlighting consumer-created content from preferred customer segments.
Moving into 2010, brands and retailers will be delving deeper into social media to reach online audiences. We’ve already seen the rise of streaming and mobile broadcasts of runway shows, and expect to see more brands utilizing that medium for major events.
Digital and e-commerce launches of new products have also been a popular way for brands to keep costs low in a tough economy for luxury products.
And expect to see a variety of mobile platforms take off as brands, magazines, and web sites develop apps with the goal of extending their online presence and widening distribution channels. Location-based networks like Gowalla () and Foursquare () have massive potential for promotions, and will likely be a focus for mobile fashion marketers.