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As fashion brands shift to a digital focus of content-driven integrated campaigns, brands must learn from fashion leaders to codify, embrace change, and turn onto data to drive growth and stay meaningful, argues Duncan Gowers, Global Head of Content at Wednesday.


The fashion industry knows that integrated campaigns and content are today’s reality. Scores of articles, conferences and opinion pieces have commented and discussed the role of social media, the connectivity of channels and the ongoing connection with the audience that is needed for modern communication success.

But what is it about the brands we look at, from those that lead in L2 Digital IQ Index reports, to those that we as an industry laud for audacity and creativity, that makes them successful? What do they do that other brands can learn from?

The answer lies in courage. Courage to self-assess. Courage to learn. Courage to listen. And crucially, courage to act.

Duncan Gowers

Codifying your brand: self-assessment to create formalization

Self-assessment derives from the brand and its ability to appreciate who it is and what it represents, and turn that into campaigns and content of the highest confidence.

Of all brands that turn confidence into the most engaging platform, it is Gucci that succeeds the most. This self-assessment comes directly from Alessandro Michele himself. He has taken the idea of ‘brand’ and injected his vision of what that means for Gucci across the entire business. This is entirely about codification – the emotional, practical, visual, tonal and experiential.

Alessandro Michele and Gucci Ghost

Codification is a complex task of self-assessment, but also an invigorating one. It makes brands pause and lock down what the brand means. What are our visual codes? What is our tone of voice? What are the topics of authority we employ to frame our collections? Who is our customer and what role do they play in our world? Grappling with the detail on these and then codifying and articulating them is something Gucci has mastered.

The mix of references that Michele populates his communications (and collections) with speak to an authenticity that other brands struggle to replicate. He has ably fused the traditional and classical world of ‘old’ Gucci with a direct connection to digital culture. Who else would have the audacity to combine classical art references on the one hand, with meme communication on the other? Michele can be audacious because nothing deviates from his codified view of the brand. We as an audience, from season to season, await the next articulation of that codified world. That is why Gucci holds a position of being cultural relevant to the millennial audience, who can sniff out marketing b.s. faster than anyone else, and creatively relevant to the fashion industry and existing customers.

The learning is that all brands must get to who they are through the process of codification. Any brand that does not know who it is (or more importantly, who it wants to be next), does not know what to contribute, how to speak, or look, is never going to be able to honestly communicate its purpose to the customer.

Understand the wider world, and choosing to adapt to it

The codification of your brand can lead to an unexpected place. Evolution for brands, like people, is about understanding the world around you, accepting the fact that you weren’t once who you were, that the world around you has changed and that you also need to.

Tommy Hilfiger’s success with its Gigi Hadid collaboration spoke to this realization. In pausing, learning and strategizing, it tackled a multitude of challenges that all brands face in their campaigns. It found the mass millennial audience it had been missing. It used an influencer credibly and creatively, with a co-created capsule collection. That collection itself was shown and made available to buy immediately. And conversion on the ‘see now, buy now’ trend was achieved through social media, mobile technology and a supporting experiential and content platform. The figures show it worked: a 900% increase in traffic to Tommy.com; two billion social impressions in 48 hours; and collection sell through at Tommy and its wholesale partners.

On the flip side, Calvin Klein’s most recent reinvention with the hiring of Raf Simons takes the opposite approach. It has evolved, but through the lens of Mr. Simons’ own vision. The knowing nods to the earliest days of Calvin Klein remain clear to fashion historians and aficionados, but the mainstream democracy of the brand that was at its most potent with the #mycalvins campaign is no longer. From inclusive hashtag to ‘By Appointment’, it could be argued that the door was closed on the audience in favour of traditional elitism. In internal data analysis at Wednesday, we saw during the period of late 2016 to early 2017, #mycalvins remained the highest performing series of posts on Calvin Klein’s Instagram account with 22%, and engagement rates during the same period fell significantly when the art direction and communication changed to Mr. Simons’ codes. The more recent underwear campaign is formalising the new codification of the Calvin Klein world, and time will tell whether this approach will be successful commercially.

These two examples highlight the choices that fashion and luxury brands must undertake, and whether an internal view of codification or one that listens to the audience is right.

Strength in numbers – using data to inform campaigns and content

Of course, if you’re a brand owner, you’re may be thinking, “I don’t have the budget to entirely overhaul my brand or conduct complex customer research”. You have so much more power in determining quiet evolution than perhaps you know. The first step to evolving is realizing what you have at your fingertips. I’m talking about data.

Data and fashion are thriving together in terms of applied learning. And there are brands that use data inherently, from multi-brand retailers listening to customers on Facebook to inform seasonal buys, to mono-brands crafting collections based on social sentiment and sales figures from seasons passed. But data can also help get brands back towards articulating who they are and turning that into powerful campaigns and content.

A prime example of using content to drive messaging evolution is Mr. Porter. The brand, commonly accepted as the leading digital multi-brand retailer, has gone so far in ascribing lifestyle as the context of purchase, that its Instagram feed now almost exclusively only lifestyle imagery, that being focused on travel as a topic of authority. Looking at Mr. Porter’s Instagram engagement rates over the 2016 holiday period, we found travel content had the highest engagement, with product posts featuring fourth. The topic of authority effectively ‘frames’ the collections as uniforms of a lifestyle, so much so that simply showing the lifestyle is enough to demonstrate Mr. Porter’s tacit understanding of their customers’ aspirations.

Engagement on social media is a primary yardstick of assessing campaign and content success. And the measurement and analysis of engagement overall is a highly complex task that requires either highly capable internal teams or specialist agencies. It is a crucial measurement that can yield significant results and learnings.

Rich social insights are available to brands simply by engaging with their social media owner, their wider media agency, or with their creative agency, as a growing number of Wednesday clients are doing. Beyond simple tracking of performance, social platforms can also be used for customer research and attribution models, helping brands really understand how social can drive sales.

Data is something that agency partners can also use to inform the creative itself. At Wednesday’s London office, we are currently working with a client in the global premium menswear space. We conducted a social audit of their channels to look at what worked and what didn’t from previous campaigns, and found illuminating insights around engagement, sentiment and comments, so much so that for our work with that client on their next campaign, we’re using data to inform creative approaches.

This marrying of the creative and the highly rational works perfectly – we’re able to curate and refine campaign and content ideas that are true to the codified world of the brand, but also contain enough flex in terms of activation to have brand and commercial cut-through within platforms.

Where to next? Act on what you have

A strong and codified brand, that listens to its customers and uses data effectively is in a prime position, but still it’s only a position at the front of the grid. The key is to use these tools and guardrails as stimulus for ideas – creative, innovative ideas channeled into relevant platforms and devices, and supported with carefully planned content strategies, road maps and media spend in the right places. This is the natural home of the brand and its agency partners, effectively closing the loop on the integrated question by returning to expression of image, narrative and expression as vehicles for communication.

Remember, social media was supposed to destroy the campaign. The customer was too finely attuned to culture and their own worlds that they would sniff out anything that even resembled ‘marketing’ or ‘advertising’. Some of that may be true. But what brands and creative agencies are finding, is that those tools of destruction for fashion communications could actually be its saviour – and theirs too, should they choose to adapt their methods or strategy and creative approach.

Everything we need to make it fashion marketing and advertising a success is in our grasp, the question is how much courage will we demonstrate to use it.