A content marketing strategy that incorporates the latest technology, creatively leverages social media, and distributes content in new ways that drive loyalty and sales is a must-have for today’s fashion brands.
There’s no question that shoppers increasingly expect a real-time and a personalized experience when engaging with their favorite style brands. When they have questions, they want immediate answers. And when interacting with brands in between purchases, they’re looking to be inspired, entertained, and informed.
Consider these stats:
- In the past year, 40 percent of YouTube users turned to the platform to learn more about a product before they bought it. – Google
- 52 percent of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t make an effort to personalize communications to them. – Salesforce
- Within six months after an omnichannel shopping experience, customers logged 23 percent more repeat shopping trips to the retailer’s stores and were more likely to recommend the brand to family and friends more so than those who used a single channel. – Harvard Business Review
- In 2021, 53.9 percent of all retail e-commerce is expected to be generated via m-commerce (i.e., on mobile devices). – Statista
That’s why building relationships with consumers through content is so important. More than ever, fashion brands need to establish always-on distribution channels to meet their audience where they are in every part of the buyer journey – and that is increasingly in the mobile and digital spaces.
However, the brands that will succeed will be those that learn how to be more strategic with their time and resources to rise above the noise.
“Instead of contributing to the general hubbub on every platform, do targeted, impactful content that inspires people,” says Duncan Edwards, a Content Strategy Consultant and former Head of Content Development for fashion retailer ASOS.
Here are the most impactful ways fashion brands are leveraging content marketing to build brand awareness, influence purchasing decisions, retain loyal customers, and, ultimately, add to their bottom lines.
Click-and-shop and User-generated Content
“Forward-thinking brands are taking steps to reduce the friction between the content they produce and the purchasing process: They’re creating shoppable content,” explains Ometria, a blog for e-commerce marketers.
While the trend has been around for a couple of years, improved technology and new features across platforms are enabling brands to seamlessly integrate the content and shopping experiences in creative new ways. Instagram and Facebook both offer shoppable ads. Shoppable TV shows aren’t out of the question, either. A year ago, Lifetime and Wayfair experimented with the first “fully shoppable” weekly TV series. “The Way Home” featured segments on interior design, decorating, and home renovation – and every product on the show was available for purchase on Wayfair. Which fashion brand will be the first to give this a try?
In the meantime, many fashion brands are finding success by leveraging blog and user-generated content (UGC) on social media to drive audience engagement and create authentic click-and-shop experiences.
Madewell is one brand doing shoppable content well. With more than 1 million Instagram followers, the fashion retailer consistently shares images of beautifully photographed products and provides a direct link for people who want to shop.
This Instagram post not only gives interested shoppers direct access to the product page, but ties in nicely to the “Madewell Musings” blog, with an essay from Harper’s Bazaar Fashion Editor Olivia Fleming (who is the one pictured in the Instagram photo). It’s the perfect combination of content and commerce, without ever feeling too salesy. Madewell regularly includes customer images with hashtags like #everydaymadewell and #totewell so customers can get style inspiration from other Madewell shoppers.
ASOS is another brand that has mastered soliciting UGC and leveraging it to create an engaging experience for fans.
On Instagram and its website, ASOS asks users to share photos of themselves dressed in ASOS products, tagged with #AsSeenOnMe. ASOS curators will then repost images on Instagram and the #AsSeenOnMe landing page with information so users can shop the looks. Featuring UGC photos is an all-around win: ASOS can promote its brand through valuable, authentic content (and convert some users to customers), featured customers get time in the spotlight, and other fans can glean inspiration from those UGC photos.
Improved Customer Service via Mobile, Digital, and Social
Get this: 54 percent of consumers stopped doing business with a company due to bad service, according to a 2017 Aspect Software study.
What’s more is that a third of consumers, and 52 percent of millennials, say there are open to customer service options that include self-service, intelligent assistants, or chatbots.
As such, brands need to be ready to supply content and information that answer users’ questions, in a variety of ways and on multiple channels.
Major labels are now experimenting with chatbots to deliver content and customer service to fans. And why not? A recent survey found that 40 percent of consumers want offers and deals from chatbots, and one in five would consider purchasing goods and services from a chatbot.
Levi’s recently launched a “Virtual Stylist” chatbot on its website and Facebook Messenger. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to converse with customers, help them find a perfect-fitting pair of jeans, and see corresponding images of what to wear with them.
“We are on the leading edge of a challenge that all retail companies face today – how to create a seamless and personalized shopping experience for consumers, and new technologies like our Virtual Stylist are integral to that evolution at LS&Co.,” says Marc Rosen, Executive Vice President and President of Global E-commerce at LS&Co, in a company release. “No matter where the consumer chooses to shop, we want to give them a personalized experience that leverages our expertise in fit and style to address the biggest challenge of finding the pair of perfect-fitting jeans.”
During New York’s fall Fashion Week in 2016, Tommy Hilfiger launched Facebook Messenger’s first “fashion bot” to promote its Tommy x Gigi collection with Gigi Hadid. Users could click to message the brand on its Facebook page; after doing so, the chatbot walked them through the collection. In addition, customers could ask the bot questions and receive answers – the Tommy Hilfiger team pre-programmed it with more than 7,000 responses.
Soon after, Burberry rolled out its own Facebook Messenger chatbot in time for London Fashion Week. The bot gave users access to content around Burberry’s new collection and offered real-time customer service.
With fashion retailers realizing that they can’t afford to skimp on customer service, expect to see more companies experimenting with chatbots (especially as the technology improves) and other forms of automation to deliver content and address customer issues.
Email Marketing Personalization
Eighty percent of marketers surveyed name email as the most important channel for real-time personalization, according to Adobe’s Digital Marketing blog. Fashion retail brands that aren’t using personalization could have an untapped gold mine that’s waiting to be discovered.
One company finding success is Thread, which delivers personalized style recommendations to more than 650,000 users. Says Tom Banham, Content Editor at Thread: “I personally think that when you’re in someone’s inbox, that’s a responsibility…We want to make sure all of the content we send out genuinely improves the lives of our users.”
In addition to your stylist’s recommendation, Banham explains that users might get emails based on where they live, or what the weather is like. “So at least it feels like you’re getting something for you.”
Another compelling case study is Alex and Ani. The jewelry and accessories retailer used to send all subscribers the same email – but conversions weren’t high. That led the company to delve into data to get a better sense of user behavior, preferences, and interests.
With those findings, Alex and Ani experimented with personalized emails. It sent targeted emails to re-engage people who had abandoned shopping carts, and deployed personalized emails and onsite experiences with dynamic recommendations. Alex and Ani’s efforts resulted in a 73 percent increase in monthly email revenue.
With brands increasingly targeting millennials and Generation Z, they’ll turn to email automation programs that will help them delight consumers and build trust. Look for that in the form of more abandoned cart messaging, birthday emails, and “top pick” round-ups based on past purchases.
Blogs are still one of the best ways for brands to power their content machines – and fashion retailers have some of the most effective content hubs out there. What’s great about blog content is that it works in tandem with social media and email marketing to serve as a key customer loyalty builder. A highly followed blog, and its content distributed across multiple channels, helps brands stay top-of-mind for when consumers are ready to buy.
Not to mention that shoppable content links and other technologies embedded within blog content have become the norm.
J.Crew is a retailer that’s already mastered the shoppable blog experience. From real people “test driving” new products and sharing their thoughts, to behind-the-scenes looks at how pieces of clothing are made, to style hacks and local tours, this blog reads like an elegant fashion magazine – but with embedded product links that easily let customers transition from reader to shopper.
Fashion brands can also use blog content to target an untapped audience, as Zappos’ The_ONES is doing with its sneaker culture content for women.
The site shares the backstories of iconic sneaker designers, celebrities, and “sneakeristas.” And embedded within the stories, of course, are modules that transition readers into shopping for the products they’re reading about.
“From the passionate collector to the casual street-chic fashionista, there’s an underserved consumer who loves the closet classics as much as we do,” says Jeff Espersen, Zappos’ VP of Merchandising, in Fashion Network.
Looking ahead, retail marketing teams will seek out platforms that contain modules that can serve up content based on user behavior and preferences with the goal of increased conversions in mind.
More Strategic Influencer Investments
Given the amount of money fashion brands spend on influencers, there’s been a lot of talk about an “influencer bubble” – but it’s unclear when that bubble will burst. A whopping 86 percent of marketers reported using influencer marketing in 2017, and 37 percent said they planned to increase their budgets for 2018, according to Marketing Dive’s “The State of Influencer Marketing 2018.” This steady investment can be partially attributed to influencer marketing offering a way around ad-blockers, which are on the rise.
However, 80 percent of U.S. marketers said they would like to be better able to measure influencer ROI. And that’s key as the cost of partnering with top influencers can easily run into six figures.
Revolve is a brand that works with a global network of more than 5,000 content creators to drive brand awareness and conversions – not to mention a legion of fans. In past summers, Revolve has rented out a house in the Hamptons and hosted four weekends packed with parties and activities for celebrities and A-list fashion influencers. They’ve also taken top influencers on international jaunts to Jamaica, Croatia, and Mexico.
Up to 70 percent of Revolve’s revenue (which hovered near $1 billion in 2017) is fueled by influencers, according to Michael Mente, Co-founder and Co-chief Executive Officer of Revolve.
With success stories like that, look for fashion brands to begin turning away from one-off campaigns and promotions with celebrities, and begin focusing more on on-going ambassadorships with select influencers who make more sense, strategically, and come at a lower price point.
With many top-tier influencers becoming too expensive and selective with the companies they endorse, brands will start cultivating more relationships with “micro-influencers” – as in, the up-and-comers who have loyal followings (in the 10,000 to 100,000 range) but haven’t yet made it big time. Though micro-influencers may have smaller audiences, their followers tend to be more engaged, according to a recent survey from influencer marketing platform Markerly.
So what’s next? Our predictions for 2018 and beyond:
- Voice-enabled content. Look for fashion brands to create more content for devices with voice-enabled technology like Amazon Alexa. In fact, Ask Perry Ellis launched the first voice-activated personal stylist for men. Simply say “Alexa, Ask Perry Ellis what should I wear to…” for any occasion. Alexa replies by suggesting a look, taking into account the weather down to the dress code. Alexa can then send the suggestion directly to your email, where you can continue shopping on PerryEllis.com.
- Instagram stories. Using Instagram’s Stories feature allows brands to stay in their fans’ feeds all day. Michael Kors has had some success with this, seeing a double-digit hike in ad recall after segmenting its millennial audience and targeting them with custom Instagram Stories. It also delivered a nearly nine-point hike in favorability, which is 10 times the industry standard.
- More augmented reality (AR). As brands look to deliver a “try before you buy” experience for shoppers who don’t want to visit stores, more uses of this technology will abound. Plus, customers are expecting it: Digital Bridge research done in fall 2017 found that 69 percent of consumers expect retailers to launch AR apps within the next six months. Eyeglasses maker Warby Parker has already done so. Using the iPhone X’s facial mapping technology, Warby Parker’s app scans people’s faces and recommends glasses that would best suit them.
- Dynamic, interactive email content. Instead of just sending out static email newsletters, brands like REI are experimenting with mailable microsites that are searchable without having to launch the website. Others are incorporating animated GIFs, live backgrounds, and interactive features into their designs. Look for more brands to enhance the email experience for on-the-go viewers to try to stand out among a packed inbox.
Like every fashion trend, each of these content marketing tactics will be most successful when brands adapt them to fit their own personalities, voices, styles, and audiences. In doing so, they’ll reach customers in a way that feels relevant, personal, and authentic.
“As well as a great experience, consumers want to know the lifestyle brands they buy into share their values and taste,” says Edwards. “It’s what makes a brand relevant in their eyes, so it’s important to demonstrate your brand DNA at every junction.”
Dawn Papandrea is a NewsCred contributor.