With abandoned cities under a pandemic, fashion brands have found that many of their traditional marketing tactics are impossible or inappropriate for the global crisis. Suddenly, there were no shops open to hold events, several commuters to receive advertisements on public transportation, and there was no summer festival in which to collect merchandise. In response, labels of all sizes are experimenting with initiatives to capture the attention of an audience that is fixated on screens which are now largely confined to their homes.
For many people, this means launching new types of content quickly via Instagram – the favorite mode application – and the channel with the lowest barrier to entry. In late March, Loewe, the LVMH brand led by Jonathan Anderson, started a series of digital shows called Loewe En Casa. In this series, craftsmen who have been nominated for the Loewe Foundation Craft Prize offer a tour of their studio, showcase their individual practices through instructional workshops, and participate in direct interviews. Elsewhere on Instagram, brands such as Nanushka offer a respite from hard work from home in the form of guided meditation and yoga classes, while Marc Jacobs has tapped illustrators to lead a series of drawing sessions with guides called Drawn Together. The idea with each of these initiatives is to create a point of contact between the brand and the audience – to remain in the minds of consumers even when shopping is not.
The labels headed by great and blunt personalities have a natural advantage in this new landscape. Social media may have been hacked for a long time, but it was created to facilitate connections between individuals, and it still functions well – and feels most naturally – when used in this way.
JacquemusThe ten-year-old French label, famous for its statement accessories such as miniature Chiquito bags, has experienced remarkable growth over the past year. It now boasts 2m Instagram followers, up from around 750,000 at the end of 2018, thanks in large part to the charming personality of its founder, Simon Porte Jacquemus.
Jacquemus usually uses the Instagram brand as if it were his personal account, mixing runway and lookbook pictures with photos and captions that are funny, not clever and don’t seem to be mediated by the PR team. Last week, he asked followers to imitate one of his posts – a photo of someone standing on tiptoes, a heel floating above an orange like a pair of stilettos – and sharing it using the hashtag #jacquemusathome.
Jacquemus shared his follower posts the following day, and while reposting user-generated content is a proven tactic for social media managers, it becomes even more important when the founder of a well-known brand is the one who manages the account. This is the type of relationship that keeps the audience engaged, but it takes time and consistency to build. For Jacquemus, it seemed to come naturally, and his rough looks didn’t hurt.
Brands also look beyond Instagram to attract new viewers and deepen engagement with customers. The By Far accessories label has used its email bulletin to distribute line drawings that can be printed and colored by customers, perhaps with a child. On Spotify, Alexander McQueen this week launched #McQueenMusic, a nine-hour streaming channel of songs used in label performances over the past 20 years, with the promise of new music from collaborators such as the London Contemporary Orchestra to follow.
The brand also hosts a series of art projects on Instagram, inviting fans to submit their own interpretations of the Rose gown that closes the Fall / Winter 2019 event, which is then reposted on Instagram Stories. “I want this to be very inclusive,” creative director Sarah Burton wrote about the project via email. “I always find creativity and make things with your hands soften the sound of everything that happens around us.”
Summersalt, an American travel-wear brand built on swimsuits and comfortable basics, uses a less conventional content channel to engage followers: SMS. In mid-March, he launched a tool called Joycast, which aims to provide a note of emotional support and fun diversion to the customer’s text message inbox, from meditation videos to photos of cute animals.
Although Summersalt has used SMS as part of its communication strategy for several years – co-founder and chief executive Lori Coulter prefers the channel because of its direct intimacy to consumers – Joycast represents a change to non-commercial content.
“When we started Summersalt, one of our goals was to spread excitement by inspiring wanderlust,” said Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin, co-founder and head of the brand’s digital brand. “With all the uncertainty in the world today, we want to continue to find ways to spread excitement, just different.”
Chamberlin said that Summersalt brought Joycast from idea to execution in just two days, and within hours of launching on March 17 it had taken hundreds of customers. Managed by Summersalt’s 13-person customer service team, this service continues to gain momentum.
“We have thousands of people who choose Joycast,” Chamberlin said, “both old customers and people who have never heard of our brand before.”
Each of these first social ventures is a product of speed and savings. None of them were specifically resource intensive, and all were executed in a matter of weeks, if not days. They are, in this sense, the opposite of traditional industry marketing vehicles – fashion shows. With men’s fashion shows in June and July couture Sunday has been canceled, brands face key creative challenges – and opportunities.
Questioning the need for expensive and high-production shows has become, over the past half decade, as prevalent as industrial trophies as Cerulean Meryl Streep’s welcome from The devil uses prada, and now brands have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change their systems and design various methods to introduce consumers to their new collections.
Maybe months before the long-distance protocol relaxes in Europe and North America; and even when cities emerge from stasis, brands will operate under a new commercial paradigm. “What the ‘new normal’ after the crisis is unclear, but we hope that long-lasting changes in consumer behavior – with consumers increasingly aware of health and the environment, and digital becoming more important and consumers’ pathways migrating even faster from offline to online,” said Sarah Willersdorf, head of luxury at Boston Consulting Group.
“Companies that have produced real time, rough content and are ready to keep their customers engaged during this crisis have seen initial success, and I believe this increased focus on connections and community will remain as stores begin to reopen.”
Eventually, the situation will stabilize, and consumers will return to shop. When they are ready to open their wallets again, brands that are able to establish genuine connections with them at the point of a pandemic pandemic will benefit the most.
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