Experiential Branding Through Physical and Digital Retail


In contemporary fashion retail, engagement matters more than sales. Studies show that in the world of e-commerce, 20% of your customers create 80% of your revenue. In order to manage your human and financial resources efficiently, you have essentially two options:

  • Identify who are those ‘special’ clients so that you can retain them.
  • Understand how those clients established such a loyal relationship with your brand.

In this post, we are going to have an in-depth look at the dynamics of consumer engagement and experiential branding in the fashion industry. As we’ll see in the post, the main areas of focus for our discussion will revolve around the physical and digital customer journey, the management of the brand, the use of quantitative analysis (data) to orient our decisions and what are some best practices to manage the increasing overlap between physical and digital shopping experiences.

In more detail, here’s a breakdown of the post’s structure:

  1. Analogies between digital and physical interactions with your customers
  2. All the roads lead to storytelling, creating a transmedia narrative
  3. E-Commerce platforms lead the way to a new physical retail experience
  4. Conclusions

1. Analogies between digital and physical interactions with your customers

In digital marketing, we usually say that a brand needs to interact with a customer as much as 7 times before the customer may convert into a sale. This is something that can be done just as easily when we look into retail management if costumes were to think about our brands only when they are entering one of our store locations, we are doing something wrong.

As we discuss in this post: Flagship Stores and The Future of Fashion Retail the challenge for brands is not to compete on quantity or numbers but to compete on quality and intangibles.

In order to develop an experiential branding strategy, a fashion firm needs to find new ways to tap into its customer memories and develop multi-sensory immersions that linger in the mind of the visitor for hours, days and weeks after the experience. This is a very perilous effort, and it’s further complicated by the need to not only evoke customer memories but to create experiences which resonate with different customer categories and buyer personas.

We provide a blueprint on how to develop a bespoke brand experience in this post.

Just like in digital marketing, the process of taking a customer through a journey of brand discovery goes through a variety of different stages. We usually use the AIDA format to present the so-called ‘conversion funnel’ whereby a client moves through a stage of attention, to then move towards a stage of interest, desire and then action. Because of the access to data that online portals have, setting up and managing a conversion funnel is doable, but transposing the same principles into physical retail is much more challenging.

In order to reach a workable model, we could suggest simplifying the funnel into three physical retail stages, which are pre-sale, sale and post-sale activity. By looking at best practices in the fashion industry we see that most companies invest in pre-sale, a.k.a marketing and communication, some invest in sales (by designing retail experiences) and very few invest in a post-sale relationship with their customer.

A big mistake is done over here, as we all know that acquiring a new customer is much more expensive than retaining an old one. Many companies, when faced with the limitations of their current retention strategy, argue that they are using the most advanced CSR (customer relationship management) software, but the truth is that is only the tip of the iceberg.

A post-sale relationship should be a relationship which is not anymore driven by economic interest. A sale has already been made, there is no immediate need to rush customers to the checkout again, there is now time to actually pursue other types of goals together we the community we created around our brand.

As we discuss in this article: Understanding How To Build a Sustainable Fashion Brand we can see how many companies, once they have acquired a customer, are able to leverage the power of the community to pursue greater social goals. These goals create a sense of belonging and unity with the brand, eventually resorting in more sales as they tap into the customer’s lifetime value.

In business terms, we call this a value net, or a ‘net’ capable of capturing not only the value of the product that a company is bringing to the market but the value of the relationship which is fostered with a firm’s stakeholders. In times like ours, afflicted by an environmental crisis, one cannot but appreciate the effort of those companies who are using their influence over their customers to spread values which are associated with sustainable living.

2. All the roads lead to storytelling, creating a transmedia narrative.

The Clue Train Manifesto was the first to say it: all markets are conversations. Just like in a normal conversation we are able to jump from a topic to the next, in a similar way a brand story should be able to be told while moving across different media.

In a world of short attention span, no company can strive towards memorability if not by connecting to their customer because of a more profound and authentic identity. Whether we like it or not, fashion brands are constantly personified. They may be associated with a firm’s designer, with its models, with its creative director, but a person nonetheless.

Experiential branding in this sense is the ability of a firm to provide its customers with the perception of knowing this person, at some level. This is something that usually gets done because of the creation of a brand narrative, or -we could call it- a backstory designed to connect a product to a bigger meaning, or a wider significance than what it would normally represent.

In this sense, the product is not the post: Experiential Branding and the Future of Fashion Retail a product is not a product, but a means to access a wider network of brand values, which reflect on the customer.

Once a firm has been able to devise a brand narrative which simply captures the human and professional beliefs of a firm, the next stage is represented by understanding who will be in charge of delivering this message.

The first and – most obvious – approach is to use a firm’s web presence to amplify the reach of the firm, but this is not always the most effective way to approach communication. Conveying a brand narrative only through a firm’s owned media is a lot like putting an ad on TV: many people will watch it, some will be entertained from it but only a few will actually believe it.

Firms need to ‘tell their stories’ through three distinct sets of media:

  • Owned Media. To create a brand-building effect on its audience.
  • Paid Media. Because exposure is still a necessity.
  • Earnt Media. By creating relationships and connections with other firms and public influencers that are aligned with your firm’s message.

Because of the need for third-party validation fashion firms are now heavily investing in influencer marketing. Influencers are people who have their own following and are able to provide an authoritative viewpoint on a particular niche of expertise. Over time, however, firms have resorted massively to influencer marketing, and influencers have been so responsive to commercial opportunities to monetise their influence, that over time, they too have lost momentum.

More recent trends in fashion marketing show that fashion brands are once again changing direction, and using more authentic spokespeople, the so-called micro-influencers or personalities with approx. 5,000 followers. Over these smaller, communities brands are perceived as more transparent and are able to penetrate their audience more effectively.

The next challenge is now to find new ways to actually monitor the success of the social marketing campaign pursued in fashion, as in terms of metrics, there is still some confusion regarding the way in which a certain number of followers actually converts in sales and engagement.

3. E-Commerce platforms lead the way to a new physical retail experience

E-commerce platforms have been able to completely revolutionise the way we think about retail. The way e-commerce websites were able to achieve this goal was through a simple rule: focusing on their strengths.

As many critics were pointing out how these platforms would never be able to replace the physical experience of entering a store, entrepreneurs took the opportunity to re-imagine and re-design the way in which the sale system worked, by putting the customer at the center of each process.

This was a dire necessity, as any non-user-centred activity posed high risks of traffic bounce.

As a result, e-commerce platforms pursued a strategy which is commonly known and backwards integration. According to this approach, the client-facing component of the platform provided developers and e-commerce managers with the opportunity to process on-site interactions and understand how the rest of the fashion pipeline had to be planned, managed and monitored to achieve better conversion rates.

Once this customer-centred mentality took hold of the technical and digital infrastructure, then many other challenges could be tackled. Some of these related to shrinking screen real estate and the advent of mobile commerce (we delve into this topic in greater depth in this article:Use Mobile UX Design to Grow Your Business), others had to do with the growing demands of omnichannel distribution.

One of the ways e-commerce platforms were able to address these new paradigms in customer shopping experience demands was because of their fluid structure, or better yet,  lack of fixed organisational structure. As e-commerce is a fairly young phenomenon led by fairly young companies, addressing these technological earthquakes during a stage of flexibility allowed them to better manage uncertainty. Moreover, the lack of fixed roles helped CEOs to have a direct connection to their customers, without being filtered out by layers and layers of vertical retail management.

This should be of assistance for physical fashion retailers, who might be able to see how, a more customer-centred company culture, echoed by a similar organisational culture would allow each employee to align towards understanding what is it that makes your customers experience an emotional connection to your work

4. Conclusions

As we’ve seen in this post brands need to create a brand experience capable of guiding customers through both a digital and physical customer journey. Designing the logistics of distribution, or a company’s web presence is challenging on its own but creating a perfect managerial synergy is something that only a few companies are able to master.

In creating a “phygitall” experience (half physical and half digital) we have to remind ourselves not to focus too much on the tangible, or on the intangible.

A brand needs to realise that designing an experiential marketing strategy is not a process of self-glorification, but more a process of discovery of those details which makes our customers feel special.

As with many other projects of discovery and experimentation, it’s always a good idea to leave our ego at the door.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Fashion Industry, don’t hesitate to take a look at our course “The Fashion Industry: Explained. Our in-depth class covers a wide range of topics spanning from understanding fashion customers and markets to developing immersive retail experiences for your customers. Here’s a link to the course, if you use the discount code BLOG20 you can access a 20% discount. Enjoy!

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Experiential Branding Through Physical and Digital Retail Fast fashion companies are not only changing the way we shop, but are also altering the way clothing is designed. Let's look at how creativity is impacted.
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