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Retail, Fashion – Time to Let Consumers
Join the Brand Community

by Kate Benson, Founding, managing partner Martens & Heads!


In today’s hyper-paced, sound bitten world, digital marketing allows a brand to become multidimensional. Not only can a brand be broadened to represent a company and its lines, it is now capable of becoming almost a “living organism.” By becoming digitally inclusive, a brand can give its audience the chance to gain access past the gates – and join the exclusive brand “community.”

Attitude vs. Ego

Technology has immensely affected different aspects of fashion, retail, beauty and luxury industries. The communities of these realms have expanded, allowing anyone to give commentary, display designs, distribute retail goods or communicate ideas and ideals of fashion. Social media has led the way for aspirants – dreamers and competitors, young hopefuls looking to participate in the discussion.

These are the ones who love, rather than those who declare themselves professionally obligated. The amateurs coerce freshness out of old perspectives. Their approach is to forgo their Ego in lieu of their Id, making their ideas novel and raw – they perform on a digital stage, one that gives young designers and retailers a platform and instant audience.

The Internet, for those who can use it effectively, has only magnified what we already knew about these industries. Now, however, we can not only see things clearer and faster – but we can participate and self-declare our own voices a designer’s worst critic. Retail must embrace this change, as there is no longer a wall standing between the design and its consumer.

Can Do vs. Have Done

It’s not easy to keep secrets from the flash of the media. Some retailers and designers praise this accessibility, as it gives a collection mass coverage. Tom Ford, however, made this approach blasé, with his latest collection last September. Under a hushed veil of secrecy, Ford hosted a fashion show, equipped with cocktails, at his Madison Avenue menswear store. Rather than plucking girls from agencies, he had friends, such as Julianne Moore, Rita Wilson, Marisa Berenson, Daphne Guinness, Beyonce and It-Girl models Amber Valletta, Daria Werbowy and Liya Kebede, sashay down his runway.

Ford only allowed 100 journalists present at the showing – he spoke about each model with a sense of knowledge, friendship and humor. His show was full of commentary, encouraging laughter among the audience. Cameras and camera-phone photography was strictly forbidden to prevent immediate streaming of his designs. Ford created buzz for the show by distancing his collection from the one force that designers use to create buzz in and of itself – the Internet.

Vision vs. History

What has caused fashion shows to go viral? In a sense, isn’t a fashion show like a movie, book or piece of art? Would you expect a director to produce six Oscar-worthy films within a year? Designers and editors haven’t been given the time to digest a show, when it is demanded that they travel the world season after season producing or critiquing them. The virtual fashion show allows designers to stream their art in real-time. Whether this condensed experience is better or worse than the real thing, is too personal a question. It’s seemingly similar to asking whether emotions can be felt through a text or an email, rather than a handwritten letter. You may be surprised at the range of responses, based on the age of the individual answering.

Buyers no longer just go to the stores, feel the fabrics and see the merchandise on the floor, they are now purchasing based on number crunching, and textures viewed through a computer screen. The collections are endless and there is a constant demand for change. Some designers, such as Christopher Bailey of Burberry, have the vision to take their art and make it mass. They know how to press Refresh and have been praised for their technological savviness. Others such as Alber Elbaz of Lanvin are self-declared romantics – cherishing the traditional beauty and history of fashion. It’s not a question of whether such experiences will go on the Internet, but a matter of perfecting the formula – figuring out a way to give the world an immediate glance of your art, and most importantly, somehow make it feel personal.

Dialogue vs. Monologue

In modern companies, offices are opening up. While the corner office still has a window view, perhaps the CEO is joining the rest of the group, and maybe even sitting next to an intern. This dynamic creates a democracy, a dialogue, which will only better the company as a whole, as it allows young newcomers to lend a fresh perspective to the top heads. The monologue of a CEO is no longer the only opinion in the room – there needs to be a constant conversation about the state of the industry to not only remain relevant, but with hopes of staying above the grain.

New vs. Known

How do well-known brands become applicable to consumers today? Look at companies such as Estee Lauder, TAG Heuer, Chanel or Dior – they are all established, successful and have history. These universal brands need to remain pertinent to a younger audience, one which prefers everything to be of the newest and latest.

Commercial endorsements tie celebrities, musicians, or even certain models, to brands. In this way, a brand can associate itself with any celebrity it feels represents its’ personality. An individual can become the face of a brand, and contractually embody the label’s attributes, so that a consumer will see the brand and think of the A-lister, or vice versa. Julie Roberts is now tied to Lancome; Leonardo Dicaprio is associated with TAG; Lady Gaga is MAC’s new It-Girl. All of these brands are able to be compelling because they have chosen ambassadors who can be effective on their behalf.

Brand stewardship needs to be positioned at the forefront. People want to hear a compelling story and the best way for your products to tell one is through the brand. Give the consumer a chance to be a brand ambassador because once they become part of your community, they will fight for you, especially if you make it as easy as a click of the mouse.


The Author

Kate Benson


A founding member of Martens & Heads! Kate Benson brings over fifteen years of industry experience and executive search expertise. She focuses on senior-level placements within the lifestyle practice and specializes in general management, sales, marketing, human resources and operations. Her clients include global iconic brands as well as entrepreneurial start ups. Kate’s dual experience within brands and in executive search gives her a keen understanding of her clients’ needs as well as an unsurpassed knowledge of and access to industry talent. She is active in industry associations such as the Fashion Group International, Cosmetic Executive Women, and the Society for Human Resource Management.

Many more articles in Branding in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2011 by Kate Benson. All rights reserved.

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