In our previous post dedicated to the history of fashion marketing, we talked about the changes that the advent of digitization has produced in fashion. We also mentioned the deep cultural divide that digital marketing, with its revolutionary use of new media, has caused in communication in the fashion industry.
In this post, we will focus on the consequences of this epochal change, offering an overview of how fashion digital marketing and communication in the fashion industry has evolved.
Fashion Digital Marketing: from skepticism to integration
It was 1995 when the internet officially entered the world of mass communication – and communication in the fashion industry too. Today, our world is now experiencing the mature phase of globalization that has made it more interconnected than ever before in history. It is the short and very intense era of the new economy, a speculative bubble that deflated in the early 2000s with the collapse of dotcoms. The Italian newspaper Il Sole 24Ore positions the “new economy” within the time period of the public listing of Netscape in 1994 and the first signs of economic recession and the consequences of the events of September 11, 2001 (ilsole24ore.com).
While the dotcom boom was happening for internet companies and high tech, the world of fashion was not included in this period of growth.
First attempts at a digital presence: the website
Apart from some impromptu attempts, such as the Gap, which in 1997 recognized the value of internet retail and was among the first brands (if not the first) to go online, many brands were skeptical of this new medium. In 2001, for example, legendary Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani said: “Personally I believe that my clothes should be seen up close, I don’t believe in internet or video purchases, because while they can provide the experience of the fashion show but, I repeat, not the reality of the dress.” (cengage.com).
In 2002, Hermes was one of the first major fashion houses to go online, simply with an invitation to email the brand for further information. The book, Digital Megatrends in the Fashion Market, discusses how the first websites, driven by marketing departments and designed by IT, were probably not very aligned with the needs of the sector. These sites were part advertising, part catalog. In the first case, the web pages were weighed down by animated graphics, and in the second, the catalog was used mainly for informational purposes (not necessarily for online shopping).
In both cases, the purpose of the website was mainly used to convey corporate messaging, to advertise products or services, and as a repository of interventions outside the organization. Few, however, exploit the potential of e-commerce. Practically none reflected the restructuring of the entire funnel that digital technologies can offer and the possibility of using those same technologies to enrich the brand narrative and find new access points through which it can be conveyed.
It will take a few more years for digital to begin to be conceived for what it really is, beyond immediate or exclusively utilitarian purposes: a device to create and multiply connections with consumers. For this to happen, it will take the next development: social networks.
Social networks: the cornerstone of an integrated marketing strategy
In an interview with beunsocial.it, Giuseppe Maiorana, digital marketer and social media manager at the Fashion Research Italy Foundation, identifies the spread of social networks as the real turning point in the digitalization of fashion brands. Maiorana comments about the sort of negotiation process through which fashion marketing had to go through to finally transform its online communication:
“Online pages multiplied from static shop windows, as if they were a photograph of lookbooks and catalogs, to become real platforms capable of catapulting the consumer into the brand’s imagination. There was an exchange of ideas and opinions on social networks directly with fashion professionals. The technical characteristics for the purchase of products online were defined: from home or on the move, on the metro or while waiting to catch a plane. It was at this time that fashion dematerialized in search of new digital communities, increasingly hungry to satisfy old habits no longer, or rather, not only in the physical world but rather in the digital one. A challenge we could say won but constantly poised between the frenzy of technological advancement and the satisfaction of the needs of individuals, which, incidentally, have not changed since the dawn of time.”
Social media has indeed proved crucial precisely because its use has allowed brands to establish effective touch points within a radically transformed purchasing path. Through social media, these touch points are accessible and immediate to use in everyday life, also and above all from mobile.
The search for “new digital communities” of which Maiorana speaks allows fashion to open itself to new consumption dynamics full of opportunities. Brands finally realize that the stakes are high. With social media, a new scenario opens up that allows them to achieve two fundamental objectives in a short time: consumer satisfaction and growth, which is understood both as an increase in revenue and a strengthening of the brand reputation.
Faced with individuals who, thanks to the latest generation of communication tools, are able to actively participate in the definition of their identity as consumers, it suddenly becomes clear that the balance has been recomposed. The conversations that take place in the social media sphere and in the places, physical or virtual, where purchases are made (or where conversion takes place) are now multiple and bidirectional, and marketers operating within fashion companies are called upon to ensure that all assets work and contribute to building the imaginary and the value system on which the brand is based.
Digital Marketing and communication in the fashion industry
For the narrative that the brand conveys to its target audience to be authentic, capable of intercepting people’s desires and being perceived as useful, it is necessary to organize all of the different elements of a brand’s identity. Each of the channels used must tell the same story but to different audiences. Here is where marketing must work to orchestrate multiple voices, which resonate simultaneously. This is all the more so when it comes to fashion, whether luxury or fast fashion, accessories or design: the image must be solid, structured, recognizable, and consistent over time.
To achieve this goal it is necessary that corporate communication in the fashion industry undertakes a “symphonic” strategy, according to Chevalier and Mazzalovo in their essay on luxury brand management.
In this strategy, digital marketing is called to produce content that is targeted to different audience profiles. Such content must be unique and able to stand out from the enormous amount of content produced. Capturing attention is only possible if the message that travels on different media is able to establish a powerful link with the consumer by being able to say something personal: the key is to personalize, therefore, and to be able to use insights that are possible only through deep knowledge of the consumer. In this sense, feedback is a precious resource, one that is destined to become essential.
In conclusion, content must be many things at once if it is to work, if we expect it to establish and maintain a relationship of loyalty with customers, one that is capable of reproducing and propagating itself in public spaces “spontaneously,” through referrals and word of mouth. Here, the message must be in the form of targeted, interesting, honest, and engaging content that is designed around the specific characteristics of the different media, with respect to each particular micro-moment of the customer journey.
Digital marketing can then count on a series of assets, typically Inbound, which it can use to design and create this content: the company website, SEO, e-commerce, blogs (corporate and those outside the company), influencers, and social networks, among which Instagram and video marketing play a leading role.
Video marketing deserves a separate speech, because it is transversal: it provides a tool kit to support the strategies of other assets. It creates engagement and transports the viewer to the center of the Brand world, making him or her the protagonist of a common story.