What the right fashion media strategy looks like post-COVID-19
The global pandemic has been a chastening experience for a fashion media already facing a crisis of its own. And, as we emerge into the uncharted realms of the ‘new normal’, we’re going to need some form of a route map to help us navigate our way – hardly a simple matter when you don’t even know the lie of the land.
However, fashion brands are already broadly in agreement over what the first steps need to be. With some form of social distancing still in place for the foreseeable future, fashion weeks are inevitably going to have to change, with more emphasis on digital and a diluting of the endless march of the seasonal schedules. The crazy cycle of discounting and underpricing also needs to be tackled head-on, with the emphasis moving toward longevity and quality, locally-produced goods over cheap imports. All of these are interrelated, and it’s clear that a joined-up, consensus approach has to be agreed upon.
For marketers, there are some stark questions to be addressed: – where are the media dollars (or what media dollars are left) going to be spent as we come out of lockdown? – What are the most effective ways for brands to get their voice heard and to have a presence? (Particularly given many will be working with severely reduced budgets). – And where are the smart opportunities to replace the spend that would have previously been allocated to billboards and events? (While the gradual return to work will begin to justify some billboard spend again, the number of eyeballs on each site is going to remain significantly down; meanwhile, continued social distancing rules will entail that experiential events need to be reimagined.)
‘If brands are not already doing it, we will see the shift of dollars to an increase in audience-lead buying among channels (programmatic, display, social, mobile, CTV, video),’ says Ashley Bowles (Director, Integrated Media – Planning and Partnerships at 360i). ‘Brands will need to figure out who their target audience is and how their lifestyle has changed, map it out, and figure out the best way to target them. What is their emotional context? What do they want to hear? How and where should you be communicating to them?’
This will mainly be self-owned media, especially as print media – already facing dwindling newsstand sales and a rethinking of the entire ad booking and media planning model, comes to terms with the impact of shuttered newsagents, empty streets and staff on furlough. The most likely scenario is a decrease in print frequency: the smarter magazines have already been focusing on a bi-monthly or quarterly strategy, with a refocus on digital solutions, podcasts, and video content. (However, if the fashion seasons are restructured, this will inevitably have a knock-on effect on print schedules.)
The fact of the matter is that, no matter what industry, more digital solutions will need to be considered. Mobile is going to be huge – if we haven’t already started to see this shift. Social usage is becoming greater and greater since that’s where a lot of consumers are spending the majority of their time. Streaming opportunities are going to be even more prevalent, including live events. Bringing an experience to a consumer in their home is going to be key.
– Ashley Bowles | Director, Integrated Media – Planning and Partnerships at 360i
By focusing on self-owned media – ie your brand’s social own social media channels, website, and other digital solutions – the delivery of messaging can be controlled far better. We might begin to see the wiser brands learning from publishers in terms of when, where, and how to deliver their communications, with regular monthly cycles of campaigns that focus more on storytelling and customer interaction.
‘Be smarter with your ad dollars, but by no means go completely dark,’ Bowles advises. ‘Look at this as an opportunity to increase your share of voice. Brands need to significantly step up their e-commerce game and strategies.’
Digital helps brands to be more flexible both with their advertising messages and dollars, he adds, suggesting we explore how in-store experiences can be translated to online; staying ahead of innovations and seeking to lead where possible.
‘In the midst of a crisis there is always an opportunity,’ she stresses. ‘Know that you have to adapt and seize the opportunity.’
We also spoke to a senior communications manager from a major international fashion house, who for obvious reasons couldn’t reveal which brand she works for – but insists their experiences and projections are common across the industry.
‘Sales are down, so of course cutting costs is a huge priority,’ she says. ‘This will continue throughout 2020. Advertising is very much dependent on the health of the business – if retail sales are down, it tends to be one of the first places companies will cut. So, we are very much taking a wait and see approach…’ With budgets cut or moved to the second half of the year, she remains hopeful that retail will slowly recover to ‘normal’ levels – particularly after witnessing what is happening as Asia comes out of lockdown ahead of the US and Europe.
‘In the retail industry, it has felt like an apocalypse of sorts,’ she says. ‘I wholeheartedly feel for those without who have lost their job. [But], especially in the luxury market, the news we are hearing out of Asia is promising. People have gone shopping wild. It’s obvious they are ready to spend money. This trend will continue globally as communities reopen. Will it be enough? I have no idea. In the meantime, I would encourage using this downtime to rethink and reimagine the industry.’
A huge factor in this, she suggests, will be a more collaborative approach. ‘We will all be looking to one another for best practices. Many leaders in the luxury industry have been holding round tables. Once seen as competitors, we now understand the importance of our retail family in a newfound way. So, don’t be shy to ask other companies what they are doing and how they are managing. We are all truly in this together. I hope that camaraderie continues.’
Alongside a renewed emphasis on digital advancements and omni-channel selling – including tools enabling digital curbside pickup – she points out that much of their planning will be customer-lead, learning how their audience adapts to the new landscape and being as reactive as possible. For now, print contracts remain locked down, but she admits this could change at any moment given the volatile situation.
‘The irony of the Covid lockdown is that media consumption is extremely high, while media spend is down. It’s refreshing to see this growth in readership after a tough decade in media. I am sincerely hoping that readers have found or rejuvenated a love for reading that will continue, and that publications will be able to reap these rewards two or three seasons down the road,’ she says.
Helen Brocklebank, Chief Executive of Walpole in the UK (which is devoted to ‘promoting, protecting and developing British luxury worldwide’), sees reasons for encouragement here. ‘Luxury needs to remind customers of the cachet and desirability of the brand,’ she says. ‘It’s not been easy to create that kind of relationship without the immersive exposure you get in store, so print [needs to] remind customers of the dream/fantasy of luxury and its ability to take one to another world.’
Brocklebank also sees the ability to hyper-personalise digital content as an exciting opportunity. ‘Digital has become incredibly important during the lockdown, and the ability to go super-local – and segment into different customer niches with a nimble, personalised strategy for each – will be helpful,’ she says. She recommends that brands are as adventurous in this area as possible. ‘For top customers, even a very bespoke digital approach may not be enough, and person to person “clientele-ing” may be more powerful – people and service will become even more important.’
A new roadmap for fashion media
A top-down strategy
Audience-lead insights As we emerge from lockdown, brands should be wary of dictating terms to their audience: instead, learn to be agile, following their lead in terms of trends and behavior
Two ‘blockbuster’ ad campaigns a year
A ‘little & often’ campaign to maintain daily presence Think of your online and social connections to your audience as a regular conversation rather than shouting at them from the street corner.
Old school global national media buys
Partnering with media titles in smarter ways Create joined-up campaigns across multiple channels that enable you live in your world rather than that of a third-party publisher.
Billboards and traditional out-of-home advertising
Using the digital space to extend your billboard campaign A guerrilla poster campaign may last only 24 hours across a handful of locations, and be physically viewed by a tiny proportion of people, but by leveraging it across your digital self-owned media, you can reach a global audience in the millions.
Oversized macro ‘destination’ events in physical locations
Intimate, impactful events that can then be digitized and shared The days of gratuitous, carbon-footprint-heavy spectaculars, flying people to remote locations to view your collections, is well and truly over. Keep things small and personal – and share them wide through your channels.
Creating big-budget videos to release on YouTube, confident your audience will engage organically
Dedicating a decent proportion of your budget to promoted videos You need media spend to drive to your own media. Otherwise the views-per-production budget spend just doesn’t stack up.
Only doing what you know / taking the safe option
Dedicating 5% of your budget to pursuing new tech If digital is the catch-all solution for fashion’s global reboot, you need to try to stay on top of innovations and lead where possible.