Motive: “If you’re not in fashion, you’re nobody”
by Robert Grace & Diana Springer. “If you’re not in fashion, you’re nobody.” No, it isn’t a line from AbFab, but is a quote of Lord Chesterfield, said some 260 years earlier.
Perhaps it was being in Paris late last year over Fashion Week for the 2014 World Retail Congress that got the two of us thinking about the concept of brands needing to be “in fashion”.
Chesterfield’s statement so clearly defines the ultimate aim of marketing and advertising: constantly keeping the brands we work on current, in-favour, preferred, and hopefully even loved — essentially, in fashion. We’re not sure that Chesterfield could’ve foreseen just how hard that task would be in today’s world, where just about everything is available everywhere, all the time.
Less stylish, more substance
The World Retail Congress is admittedly less stylish than Fashion Week but probably with a lot more substance to be had. After heading from the likes of John Lewis, Tesco, Coke, Printemps and Louis Vuitton, what struck us is that there is something fundamental to brands that have the ability to stay in-fashion.
You may think that it requires being on top of, and adopting, the latest trends (maybe creating a few of your own), or religiously following popular culture. We argue that it’s only a part of it.
However, we just need to be reminded that Apple — easily one of the trendiest brands out there — is noticeably absent on two of the most popular platforms of our time: Facebook and Twitter. No, being in fashion is a lot more than just the technology you use (and far harder work).
One thing in common
Brands that stay in fashion have one thing in common: a clear and powerful purpose, which consistently allows them to present themselves in authentic, unique ways that keeps the brand wanted and chosen.
Disney has the unique ability to ‘suspend reality’ in just about every person on the planet. It’s taken one of its most compelling propositions, Cinderella, into retail spaces around the world with its Bibidi Bopidi Boutique It’s a space where little girls live out the ultimate fantasy of being transformed into Cinderella through a range of services where they’re pampered, made up and dressed as real-life princesses.
Clearly, this suspension of reality is working — the waiting list for the Harrods boutique is six months, with prices of up to R18 000 a go.
Being in fashion also demands delivering value. European discount food retailer Lidl understands that product and price alone don’t equal value (unless, of course, you are consistently the cheapest in your category — a rare feat).
Struggling with its ‘cheap’ image in Sweden, in late 2013 it set out to get back in fashion by convincing people that Lidl isn’t a compromise.
It opened a pop-up gourmet restaurant called Dill (a convenient play on its name). Headed up by leading chefs who secretly used products exclusively from Lidl, it became an instant success. Its little secret wasn’t made public until the popular pop-up shut its doors. [And then it won a few awards — ed-at-large.]
Johnnie Rush, from the Home Shopping Network, talked about the ‘e-factor’ where you create an emotion that leads to a sale. Brands that are in fashion acknowledge consumer needs and mindset, and are able to offer their consumers social currency — experiences and stories that move beyond the transactional.
Ann Cairne, the head of insight for Mastercard, echoed this sentiment — one of the biggest macro worldwide trends that is being seen in global spend is the shift away from commodities to experiences.
A great example of a brand that has acknowledged this shift is Shoes of Prey, an Australian (and soon-to-be global) retailer. Modern consumers desire personalisation and customisation, so Shoes of Prey tapped into this mindset by giving shoppers the ability to design their very own, one-of-a-kind, pair of shoes, both online and at David Jones. De rigueur indeed.
Living the brand
Disney has taken this even further with its D-Tech-Me studios, which print 3D replicas of customers as Star Troopers, Super Heroes or Princesses. Now that’s living the brand.
Every week, lululemon stores and showrooms push their products aside, unroll yoga mats and turn their spaces into instant yoga studios. The classes are complimentary and lead by instructors from local studios, building real brand communities and followers.
But perhaps, most importantly, staying in fashion requires you to consistently build social currency. It’s the value associated with your brand that is intangible, yet so desirable, that your audience is continually prepared to spend its hard-earned money on your brand, no matter what anyone thinks.
“Brings us to the forefront”
Enter CROCS — in our opinion, far from the fashion icons seen at Fashion Week. However, with 300 million pairs sold globally and revenue of US$1bn, we think that neither its customers, nor it, could care less. In fact, a senior executive at the congress commented, “We like that we have detractors; it brings us to the forefront”.
As much as these are global shifts, they are increasingly relevant locally. As South African consumers become ever more value-conscious — seeking out brands and services that deliver meaningful, tangible impact — brand owners need to push beyond the veneer of just advertising or dialing up the decibels of their ad spend to attract and retain consumers.
Easier said than done in a world of ubiquity.
So, the real challenge is finding a unique, authentic way to present your brand. Great product and price are becoming passport factors. You need a thorough understanding of why your customers should put you at the top of their list.
And that’s called purpose.
Robert Grace is group partner of strategy for the M&C Saatchi Abel Group in South Africa. Diana Springer (@Dispringer) is managing partner strategy for M&C Saatchi Abel Gauteng.
“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on MarkLives.com. Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.
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