What role do blogs, influencers, social networks, and video marketing play in the fashion sector, today?
Digital marketing tools in fashion have evolved with communication technologies, becoming more interactive and more personalized over time, much like the shopping experience. The nature of fashion itself — its seasonality — requires that marketers create narratives, via content available on multiple devices or channels to inspire the need for new looks and specific items several times a year.
We talked about the site, e-commerce and SEO in a previous article, giving an overview of their functioning within the marketing mix and some suggestions to optimize them. Here we will clarify the role played by blogs (corporate and people outside the company), influencers, social networks – among which, surely, Instagram deserves a separate speech – and video marketing, media object par excellence, indispensable in any marketing strategy decided by the brand.
A necessary premise: the aspect that we are interested in highlighting here is that, even if born “spontaneously” from the personal initiatives of outsiders, blogs and social profiles have been systematically integrated in the marketing planning of fashion houses, as proof of a progressive and unstoppable awareness of the potential enabled by digital marketing.
The fashion blog: disintermediating fashion communication
Fashion, a multi-billion dollar induced industry, is under the influence of social changes and counter-trends that originate beyond its production and distribution boundaries. Fashion blogs, and their ability to create (and even control) content externally from the brand, as well as giving life to a hybrid ecosystem of online and offline, are some of the trends that have shaken the establishment from its foundations.
Although their origins remain vague, it seems that fashion blogs were already present in the blogosphere before 2002 (theage.com.au). At the dawn of social networking, the new multi-centric and multidirectional dimension of digital communication expresses realities capable of combining entrepreneurial intuition with simplicity of use. Fashion blogs were born in most cases as entities external to institutional marketing and grew exponentially over the years 0 and 20 in number, quality and volume of traffic.
The Blonde Salad: the case of Chiara Ferragni
In many ways, fashion blogs diffuse and enhance the creative resources of a brand to content creators that are often external to institutional marketing. To illustrate the firepower of these blogs, let’s look at the example of The Blonde Salad, the blog where Chiara Ferragni has built one of the most famous digital experiences in the world.
In addition to being the focus of a 2015 Harvard Business School case study (hbs.edu), Ferragni was also the subject of a 2019 documentary. Unposted, directed by Elisa Amoruso, chronicles Ferragni’s rise from blogger to business woman, was presented at the Venice Film Festival. While the story is somewhat promotional (as pointed out by several critics), there are also appearances by fashion industry personalities who help frame the extraordinary nature of the rise of her blog. Forbes Executive Vice President Moira Forbes places the context of The Blonde Salad:
“in the era where it began, 2009, a time when there was a lot of skepticism about blogs in general. In its first month online, Ferragni’s blog generated 30,000 hits at a time when few people understood this new ecosystem. Over a very short period of time, while Ferragni’s followers continued to grow, the fashion industry had to adapt to the fact that a blog, or a single person, could disrupt and influence an entire industry”.
The world of fashion was a niche. By her own admission, Chiara Ferragni struggled to be accepted by the industry. This was also confirmed by Derek Blasberg, head of the fashion and beauty department at Youtube, who acknowledged that “there was an aggressive, even hostile attitude towards bloggers by the “old schoolers” of fashion (brands, journalists)”.
In Unposted, Stefano Tonchi, editor-in-chief of “W Magazine” said that “it wasn’t easy for Ferragni to have access to the world of high fashion”. He acknowledges that “the luxury and fashion industry were among the last to convert to digital. (…) The digital revolution, including social media, has changed the relationships between people and how they communicate. Social media makes it possible for brands to speak directly to the end customer (and vice versa), and it eliminates the role of the “critics” , the role of the magazines, resulting in an unmediated relationship between consumer and product”.
Ferragni’s invasion of the industry also extended to sponsorship. Milan Fashion Week of February 2010 marked her first official invitation to fashion shows, which led the specialized press and TV to legitimize the “Chiara Ferragni” phenomenon. With it, a formerly “exclusive”, conservative sector is faced with the urgent need to let in the newcomers of fashion.
From blog to content hub. Today, The Blonde Salad is a multimedia platform that hosts not only a successful e-commerce site, but it’s also an online lifestyle magazine covering fashion, trends, celebrity looks, travel, and beauty. This evolution of the fashion blog from online diary to content hub has had two important consequences:
- the migration to social networks of the “outfit” blog, which is best expressed in short and immediate Instagram posts (micro blogging);
- the birth of influencers and the passage of their status from content creator to social icon to, as in Chiara Ferragni’s case, digital entrepreneurs.
Influencers at the center of the co-creation process
As David Craig, professor of Social Media at the University of Southern California (also interviewed in the documentary Unposted) pointed out, influencers existed before social media. Today’s influencers know how to take advantage of social media platforms to influence communities and turn these communities into sources of income. In effect, users become creators; this represents a radical, even revolutionary change.
In 2016, an exhibition organized at the Milan Triennale identified Bill Cunningham’s street style photography as the precedent that would inspire contemporary influencers like The Sartorialist’s Scott Schuman, seen as the leader of a new generation of photographers who immortalize street style in the great fashion cities of the world (Milan, New York, Paris, Copenhagen).
Forbes identifies the widespread presence of influencers as the reason for a change in the way brands relate to users, which would be increasingly less spontaneous and more advertorial in nature. The added value would then move from the “what” to the “who,” from the content produced to where it’s published. This highlights the emergence of partnerships between brands and influencers, which continues today. Here, this relationship is increasingly based on reputation and the media capital of the influencer.
The Achille Lauro-Gucci case
In the 2020 edition of Italy’s Sanremo Festival and later during Fashion Week, the singer Achille Lauro collaborated with Gucci for his performance, which featured several references to the brand (including the use of the clothes themselves). This collaboration illustrates the transition from the influencer intended as a producer of content to the influencer who becomes both content and container. On his social accounts, Lauro doesn’t explicitly promote the brand nor does the brand host the singer on its platforms, so what emerges is only the storytelling of the brand and the event (the fashion shows) amplified by the popularity of the influencer himself.
Social networks enable a social shopping experience
The social dimension has irreversibly modified the traditional funnel used by fashion marketing, which have proved to be completely inadequate to intercept changing and irregular consumer behaviour. Multi-channel and multi-format strategies have given rise to a new and original shopping experience, in which reviews prove to be an extremely powerful driver.
On this new channel, sharing and participation have become one of the most important factors in consumption, according to Digital Megatrends in the Fashion Market: How the digital environment impacts fashion.
Instagram: the brand favorite
All fashion houses, even the classics, have embraced the new ways of producing and sharing social content. Among the social networks that most lend themselves to a fast and receptive communication is Instagram.
According to Isabella Ratti in an article about digital transformation in the fashion sector, more than other social networks, Instagram makes it possible for a brand to establish a relationship with consumers. Consumers can freely express their opinion about the brand and brands can reach consumers directly, allowing them to form a much deeper connection with customers.
The Balenciaga case: differentiating with a minimal and eccentric aesthetics
As Gartner points out, Balenciaga’s social strategy is a response to a cultural change in the luxury market. Balenciaga plays on the pretentiousness and elegance typical of the industry and instead conveys a sense of imperfection and authenticity that works very well among younger consumers (generation Z contributes about 60% of Balenciaga’s sales). The style — selfies, cats, product closeups — is quirky, and the posts do not have hashtags or captions. While most fashion brands, such as Dior for example, share “behind the scenes” images or “shoppable” posts, with punctual hashtags to promote their line, Balenciaga seems to remain outside a “campaign” logic, which does not necessarily coincide with the releases of the new collections.
Fashion Video Marketing: three suggestions for success
In June 2018, Instagram’s IGTV, the vertical video platform, was launched as a standalone app that allows the playback of long-lasting content. The launch of IGTV and the speed with which it has been adopted by fashion brands, illustrates the relevance of video in fashion marketing. As Business of Fashion reported a few years ago, brands tend to create more and more videos as a response to growing video consumption. That’s why an effective video strategy must be an integral part of a fashion brand’s digital marketing strategy.
The video tells a story through moving images, feeds the imagination, activates a plurality of meanings, and contributes to the authenticity of the story being told. Interactive videos also provide additional possibilities for users to participate and a greater opportunity to personalize the message.
From different platforms, to live streaming, the format and role of video continues to evolve. There are no definitive rules but we can share a few tips for making your videos more effective. Here they are:
- create the video to match the platform, adapting to the technical specifications and structure;
- write creative titles and subtitles. Subtitles are getting more and more important: videos are getting shorter and may have to be played with the audio turned off, depending on where the viewer may be at the time. Titles and subtitles should also contain some kind of call to action;
- check your audience’s reactions during live streaming. Live streaming has become a common tool, both for fashion shows, informal press conferences, and interviews. Consequently, brands need to be prepared to handle reactions, comments, and requests in real time. They must make an effort to understand and implement an effective moderation and containment strategy that takes all possible risks into account.