CMO: Social Media and Fashion Retail—Frenemies or Friends with Benefits?

by Maya Mikhailov, CMO and co-founder of GPShopper
Social media has blown open the gated community that was once luxury fashion. No longer are fashion houses exerting full control over the images, videos and styling of their clothing. Instead, an army of online fashionistas are presenting their take on the latest fashion to their millions of followers. Brands and retailers alike scrambling to catch up are finding that with a tailored approach, social can move from a frenemy to a friend with myriad benefits from reaching multiple audiences to now converting an actual sale.

Swipe Right for Style

The modern shopper spends six hours or more per week researching fashion on their mobile phones, with much of that time spent in social media platforms, according to data from GPShopper, making social the go-tool for fashion inspiration.

While most fashion brands tightly curate their Instagram feeds and YouTube channels, some, such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton, offer unedited behind-the-scenes access via Snapchat Stories. While this rawness breaks with years of editorial tradition, it represents a keen understanding of social in attracting an audience’s attention. Snapchat is a casual and ephemeral conversation; Instagram a more polished and filtered brand voice. Using social streams helps brands position themselves to multiple audiences without diluting exclusivity and brand strength.

Fashion houses are also pairing with social stars to extend their brand reach. Kendall Jenner and Chiara Ferragni, to name just two, have acquired impressive amounts of Instagram followers, giving them influence over fashion loyalists. Brands invite key influencers to sit front row at their shows, driving inspiration and demand by live streaming their thoughts and opinions to a captive audience. Some brands have gone even further by sending clothing or sponsoring influencers. These influencers can command anywhere from $60,000 – $300,000 a post on popular social media networks, which brands are willingly paying for access to likes from their loyal followers.

From #Like to #Buy

Although social likes are certainly important in driving inspiration, the question some fashion brands are asking is can those likes lead to sales? Although Twitter briefly flirted with a “Buy Button” initiative, other social networks are still working to expand their reach into direct sales. Following in Twitter and Pinterest’s footsteps, Instagram is now attempting to answer that question with the recent addition of the shopping tags. One major stumbling block for new entrants is the mistaken attitude that social media must be accountable to direct sales, rather than storytelling. The risk in linking every inspirational photo with a “click to buy” is potentially cheapening the underlying lifestyle sold by the brand. Not every image needs to come with a “For Sale” sign and savvier fashion brands wisely exercise care with using direct buy option.

Although Twitter’s experiment with purchase didn’t quite materialize, it is still a powerful tool to drive sales – in other channels. By using its inherent advantage as a megaphone or call-to-action, major shoe brands such as Adidas and Nike have successfully leveraged Twitter for years to release new products announce shoe drops in stores, and run raffles for limited edition pairs.

The interesting side effect of the shopping tag paradigm is that it will likely add some accountability to social influencers in a very precisely measured way. This will prove to be an interesting shakeout between those who can drive likes and those that drive dollars.

WeChat and Chill?

The rising power of chat applications is another evolution of social and one where fashion brands can have ongoing conversations with consumers. WeChat, with well over 700M users, is impossible to ignore, and although 92% of global luxury brands have a WeChat account, most are still barely scratching the surface of effectively communicating with their audience. Coach and Burberry are among the global leaders on WeChat – they stream shows, send out announcements and greetings to fans, and open digital mini-shops with full commerce capabilities. Dior has even held exclusive WeChat flash sales for their legions of fans. However, many brands are using WeChat to answer questions and field customer service requests.

WeChat is not the only platform where one-to-one connection can lead to better brand engagement. Fashion leaders such as KITH use Facebook Messenger to enhance their customer service with opt-in alerts for orders and shipment tracking. These service messages, exclusive to email previously, allow brands to hold conversations with their customers, can lead to better service and brand loyalty.

Sign me up

Despite initial struggles with acceptance and voice, social media has proven to be an important tool for fashion brands. Emerging brands can use social media to get the type of reach they never could have imagined in the world of print magazines. Recognizing that different forms of social play unique roles in the interest, purchase, and loyalty cycle means that more brands and fashion houses are pursuing a diverse social strategy, leveraging the inherent strengths of each platform to unleash significant benefits to top of mind presence to bottom-line sales.
This article originally appeared in the psfk blog and was written by Maya Mikhailov.