Fashion is in itself a form of communication. Moreover, fashion firms communicate their brands and communicate their products by conveying a mix of both tangible and intangible features to their target audience. In fashion, however, the symbolic nature of a brand will always overcome its functionality.
The elements connected to a brand are called the ‘dream factor’ and are an essential component of a brand strategy within the fashion industry. A fashion firm will invest a sizeable amount of its turnover in building associations with exclusivity and luxury to attract customers and build a high-value positioning statement against its competition. To be persuasive, a brand will need to stay consistent across different media, and across a firm’s distribution chain, as this will allow to build a unique positioning strategy in the mind its customers.
As we delve into the world of fashion communication and brand image we are going to discuss the following topics:
Despite our premises, in the fashion industry, both ends of the fashion pyramid strive to deliver a similar communication strategy, focused on the dream factor effect. The difference between luxury companies and high-end designer brands is on a managerial level. Luxury companies, in fact, are able to take advantage of the strict internal supervision of their communication strategy and commit to spending a high volume of resources in order to interact with the best professionals in the industry: fashion photographers and top models. Using these elements of distinction allows firms to better resonate with an audience, and persuade it to react to its message.
The communication strategy of such brands needs to be “integrated”, or in other words, it needs to leverage on the synergic use of all the means available to achieve maximum communicational impact and consistency. An integrated communication strategy comprises the following elements:
In order to deliver a high-end communication strategy, a company is required to develop an ‘integrated’ strategy. By integrated we refer to a strategy capable of taking into account a variety of variables which relate to different departments of a fashion company.
At the corporate level, a firm needs to account for profitability, but also take into account operational decisions such as the opening of new stores, or entering into a new global market.
At the managerial level, brand managers need to align strategic communication to the target audience in order to convert the target audience, into a target market – or better yet into loyal customers.
At an operational level, the actual communication plan will need to define a communication goal, such as:
In the fashion industry, much more than in many other industries, the role of the designer is central to the communication of the brand. In this sense, communication is a strategic function, and as such it has a direct impact on the success of a firm.
As an example, companies like Gucci were able to completely reposition their brand thanks to the character and personality of its designer Tom Ford. Associating the brand to the personality of this designer was a strategic way to communicate where the brand was heading: from its legacy of Florentine craftsmanship to the new trends of the American west coast.
The role of the designer in a fashion firm is extremely important as it is the first ‘endorser’ or VIP connected to the brand, and a means of communicating the creative vision the firm is pursuing.
As an example, the fact that the designer walks out for the applause at the end of the fashion show, symbolises the importance of the designer persona, and its connection to the media fashion.
As a company pursues a synergic and integrated communication strategy, many companies decide to invest more in P.R. rather than ‘traditional’ advertising. P.R. is essential for brands striving to become well-known by creating a strong ‘buzz’ and media attention. A P.R. strategy will try to maximise press coverage when a new boutique is opened, or special – exclusive – events are organised.
A P.R. office is a department committed to managing company information in a centralised manner, and using its relations with the press in order to maximise consumer reach. In order to do this, a company makes use of video archives and images, but they may also issue press releases to establish and maintain contact with the fashion media, aside from monitoring media coverage.
As in this latter case, companies do not act through paid media, P.R. is seen as a more persuasive and objective representation of the brand, where the final consumer may perceive the value of the company more transparently when represented by an intermediary, rather than through company-owned billboards.
Over the last years, fashion companies have been using testimonials, influencers and VIPs to advertise their products and to amplify the reach of their communication. This approach has transformed VIPs and movie stars in fashion models, capable of influencing purchases and brand awareness on a global level.
The challenge for fashion companies consists in identifying the right celebrity for the brand, so that final consumers may see a degree of coherency and consistency between the fashion brand and the testimonial devoted to embodying the brand itself.
Given the influence of certain players in the fashion industry, it’s easy to see how this type of association has become a more widely adopted approach to communication. This was made possible by then new digital technologies, allowing individuals with large media following to sponsor fashion brands and to act as a gateway to reaching highly segmented markets with a laser-sharp focus.
Even if influencer marketing, is nowadays one of the most popular forms of advertising, it has to be noted that as for any digital marketing strategy, firms may end up pursuing ‘vanity metrics’ or digital traffic which does not actually convert into sales. This is why, despite talking about a topic that is highly based on intangible perceptions, the use of quantitative analysis is essential to obtain measurable results.
As much as we try to define fashion communication, the borders of convention seems to be continually blurred by new and engaging strategies, that aim at the heart of consumers while celebrating the dream factor associated with the fashion industry.
For managers and designers alike, it seems that one of the few options open, is to leave the ego at the door and keep an open mindset regarding the new practices and ideas which will influence this industry in the years to come.
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