If you are a fashion addict, you probably have nightmares made of stuff like paying hundreds of dollars for a bag at a store and then coming out and realizing it’s NOT BRANDED! I can imagine a few other fascinating events after this scene, but that would take us to Wonderland. Where we are right now is discussing the power of a brand. Gucci, Prada, Fendi, Chanel- all these are brands that are on the tip of every fashionista’s tongue and a one-day-but-someday desire. You’ll see women all over saving up frantically for a purchase of these brands. Having a Prada fur coat on your arm while you make it to the subway is a sight many commoners behold. Every woman wants to be the one with that fur coat.
What is a Brand?
A Brand pulls. A Brand elevates you. A Brand transforms you. This is not the lexicon definition, but it is what a brand really is. And for this, they can charge you millions for their products in the blink of an eye. It goes by the term of Brand Equity. A t-shirt which is unbranded goes for $10. A branded t-shirt will go for $100. So you see why every fashion store owner or designer worth her cent is trying to build a brand?
There’s much to be talked about branding. It’s a vast subject and can get really abstract at times. But ever so often, I find myself comparing a product brand to a personal brand (or vice-versa). It’s a very strong comparison. It helps clarify every vagueness about the term “Branding”. I’d like to think of Chanel as an extension of the designer herself- Coco Chanel. Prada, Fendi et al belong to the same school of thought. If these persons were not so robust and distinct and everything that they were(are) and stood for, their fashion brands as we know today wouldn’t have existed.
This brings me to the question- what exactly makes up a great brand? You will find books by the dozens written on this topic. But we like Simple, right? All of that information can be categorized into what I would like to call the 4 Pillars. Of course, these, by no means, are the be-all and end-all of branding. But I know without these, a brand cannot exist. And I know for sure, great brands are made of this stuff.
The 4 Pillars
Isn’t it obvious, you ask. Some of you may even like to think that Brand and Personality are synonyms. Yeah, the two are so damn closely related that they can be passed off as synonyms, yet it stands as only ONE pillar under the BRAND ceiling. It’s not so much why it is so, but it’s about what personality is all about and how it contributes to the making of a brand.
For a moment, think of the most popular person in class during high school days. Why was she so popular? It could be because she’s funny, has a cool attitude, is super intelligent, super hot/beautiful, charismatic, amicable, approachable, helpful or just plain classy. Whatever it is, she has her own distinctive flair which is unique from the rest of the class. The way she carries herself and the way she chooses to stand out from the crowd is unique. And EFFECTIVE! If you dress like a clown to class, you’ll be the only one like that for sure, but no brownie points for guessing it won’t fetch you the “Popularity” vote. A hyperbole thesis, but you get my point.
HOW-TO: In order to start building a great fashion brand here’s how you can do it. Answer the following questions-
1. Can your fashion brand be described in three adjectives or under? List them.
2. Can you for certainty say what your brand stands for? (eg: vintage romanticism, reinvented bohemian, we’re all about pink!)
3. Does your brand use specific colours to express itself, a distinctive tone in its messaging or creativity in displaying its products?
Now that you’ve got the ball rolling, add on more questions that can help you carve out a personified brand. Well, Fendi, Gucci and Prada all do that. Do a case study of these big brands now. Observe their photography and understand the personality that lies beneath them. Check out their fonts and messaging and read between the lines.
Next, brainstorm how your brand can be unique. Hint: Start with how it can be an extension of yourself and take it from there. You are unique. Then definitely any extension of you will be unique too. Try to use these characteristics via colours, fonts, message tone, product display and campaigns.
There, now you have lent a personality to your brand!
CEOs of big companies keep stressing on this. Especially tech czars. But I can’t stress enough on how important innovation is to fashion work. If you’ve been in the fashion field for sometime, you only know too well how fashion changes constantly. But change ≠ innovation. Even big designers have received flak for their latest collections this season. In the name of innovation, you cannot simply create haphazard designs and pass it off as new fashion. Innovation in the fashion industry happens on various levels- the fibre level, the yarn level, the fabric level, colour level, silhouette level or prints level. Fashion is infinite that way. And innovating is what makes fashion interesting. And with a bit of creativity, innovation in fashion becomes child’s play.
HOW-TO: If you want your brand to stand out and beat the cut-throat competition, you’d better have a system in place for fashion research.
1. Find out if you can get some manufacturers to mix and match fabrics for you. (attending trade fairs for this will be helpful)
2.Try surface ornamentation (embroidery, stone work, crystals, metal applique) on fabrics you’ve never tried before or showcased in your store.
3.Study the latest trends (colour, silhouette, prints, texture) and see how you can incorporate them in your fashion product offerings.
4. Ask customers what they are looking for. Talk to them and bounce ideas off each other. And LISTEN carefully. Then go out of your way and get it done.
If your brand doesn’t already stand for a specialized and exclusive fashion element which is hard to find anywhere else, you are soon going out of business. It’s a fact. Think of colour-blocked fur in Prada. Special textures in Fendi. A fairy-tale-come-true fluid shimmering gowns in Zuhair Murad. Printed and shiny lycra in Black Milk. The list is endless. The question is, where do you figure in this list?
This pillar is a deal maker! It can build or destroy your Brand. Let’s take the opening sentence of this blog post and revisit that nightmare. If you found that the bag you just bought is NOT branded, you’d probably miss a heartbeat and come down to tears of fury. Now if the same bag is branded, but had a small tear somewhere, a dysfunctional zip or a loose seam, you’d probably storm right back into the store and give a piece of your mind to the owner. One incident only, you propose. But it has already left a bad taste in your mouth. And there are several other brands out there to fulfill your brand fetish.
Having good quality doesn’t mean just passing the quality checks you lay down. It should pass every test the customer puts the product through. Yoga pants tearing down you-know-where on the second day of activity;t-shirt colours bleeding and fading on the first wash; the shoe strap coming off when a walk breaks into a run; a earring worn only once because it disassembled when pulling off a tshirt- all cases of poor quality to a customer. So we know now, higher the quality, 99% higher the chance of getting repeat customers and building a big name in the process.
1. Put in place some rigorous quality checks at the sample level itself. Check for textile strength, colour fastness, durability, seam loosening, fraying ability etc. The idea is that each piece you create should stand the test of multiple use. Otherwise inform your customers of the specific care they need to take of their products or how to use it.
2.Verify your sourcing points and validate their quality first. Source only from manufacturers or wholesalers who are long running in the business. It may turn out a little more expensive, but do not discount the value of quality.
3. Listen to customers. Again, a very important point. If you hear a single complaint, go all out to figure out why it happened and how to prevent it in future.
This is a measure of how “Alive” your brand is. Do you have blood flowing in the veins of your Brand? Show it! People love active brands, just like they love active people. People love the people who can involve them, engage them and make them have fun. Similarly, they love brands that can make them day-dream, laugh, feel special and good about themselves. You see where I’m going with this. Among the four pillars, this one pillar must be the fun guy of the lot! In short, marketing your brand and doing it aggressively (not annoyingly or in an interfering manner) makes your brand come to life. You should be a talking, smiling, growing brand. Do everything you can to increase the likability of your brand in the same way as you would do for yourself. Here are some tips:
1.Take advantage of Social Media and exploit the potential here. I know, you must have heard this a guzzillion times and it’s probably already stale. But what you may not being paying attention to is that there is social media beyond Facebook and Twitter. In fact, all fashion brands benefit most from using Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr. Apart from knowing that you have to use social media to engage with your customers, you need to know where and how to engage them.
2. Re-market you brand continuously. This includes e-mail marketing and ad campaigns on the web. Google AdWords and other advertising platforms give you the option of re-marketing (or repeating your brand ads to the same people who’ve visited your website previously). This goes all out in reinforcing your brand in your potential customer’s eyes. It makes them feel you are alive! (‘Coz they are seeing you everywhere). No wonder extroverts are more popular than introverts!
3. Run interesting campaigns online or host offline events where people can come and participate. They should have fun with you. Creating experiences for your customers trumps any other marketing strategy on the planet (including having a sale!)
So there you have it folks; 4 pillars that can take your brand from level zero to level hero. These are vast ideas confined to a single (long) post 🙂 Soon you will see me picking up each idea separately and giving you information and tool details to accomplish these tasks. And finally, efficiency is an inherent characteristic of a successful fashion brand ;).