For 100 years marketing has been about business to business communications (B2B) and consumer targeting (B2C). With the impact of the social web, consumer to consumer communications are edging out some of the traditional brand PR messaging. Consumer opinions are more important than ever in influencing the dreams and desires of the consumer. Fashion has always been influenced by independent opinion. Now fellow consumers sit alongside magazine editors as a source of ideas and inspiration.
Social media provides consumers with front row access to all of the international shows and this enables them to see trends without the intervention of the mainstream fashion media. They get the unedited vision of the designers and fashion houses. In previous years the success of a new season launch was down entirely to the reviews the press gave it, if indeed they featured your product at all. Now PRs can launch collections directly to the consumer.
Working with social media and social networks offers potential access to a broad spectrum of consumers. Traditional PR routes can encounter many obstacles. Regional newspapers for example won’t run features on items that aren’t available in their region or if the brand doesn’t have wide recognition. Social media can overcome this, breakdown the boundaries and reach out to new audiences.
There is a burgeoning portfolio of examples where old brand rules are being broken and rebuilt on the web. American Apparel addressed their customer base directly by hooking up with Chictopia to invite real girls to become real models for the brand. American Apparel has built part of its brand image by refusing to airbrush models in their advertisements. By going a step further and engaging their customers and fans to appear in their ads was bang on brand and generated significant PR.
Victoria’s Secret Pink has a Facebook group with over a million fans. It contains nearly a thousand images posted by fans plus catwalk videos and official images and hundreds of thousand of comment postings. Swedish fashion brand H&M also uses Facebook to engage with its customers and also has over a million fans signed up on the site.
Fundamental to communications in the era of the social web is dialogue. This is not about brands talking to consumer; it involves consumers talking back to brands and consumers talking to each other. In this environment the scope for inspiration through interaction is huge. Filipino fashion fan and blogger Bryanboy wrote and posted on Youtube about his love of Marc Jacobs design. In response Jacobs named an ostrich handbag “the BB” in his honour.
Facebook, MySpace, blog posts and the social network du jour twitter are all contributing to a culture in which instant feedback is available with a mouse click, so brands can test ideas and source public opinion in an instant. The discussions that happen on line will influence the market and provide the endorsement that drives fashion. Being involved and sharing knowledge with consumers in the space where these conversations are taking place will become vital. Twitter is sure to emerge as a prime location for fashion brands and fashion fans. What began as a niche network has emerged as a major sphere of communication with the twitter accounts passing the million follower mark for the first time this month (April 2009). If you are not convinced in less than three months Women’s Wear Daily has gained over 300,000 followers on twitter.
This article is an edited version of one that was published on WGSN.com the world’s leading fashion and style forecaster. My colleague at Staniforth Julie Wilson provided much of the insight into the world of fashion.