The fashion industry is by definition in continuous evolution, creating new seasons, as entirely new buyer personas every year.
For a fashion firm, the path to creating a long-term branding strategy is a hard one: there are so many choices to make and each could potentially make or break your business.
New marketing and management strategies are coping with this issue from two opposite perspectives: on the one hand, some companies are developing strategies which are heavily reliant on data. The so-called ‘data-driven-decision-making’ is on the rise, as it allows executives to make a decision on the grounds of hard evidence. On the other hand, some companies are leveraging some more intangible and qualitative elements of a buyer persona by focusing on psychology and cultural behaviours.
In this post, we are going to discuss the latter of the two approaches: one which is heavily focused not on creating a product, but on creating a habit. Habits are at the heart of digital (and physical) product creation. Here’s a breakdown of the post’s content.
- Why creating a habit is so important?
- How do you create a habit? The Hook Cycle.
- Why habit-forming products are so important in fashion? An opportunity to be sustainable.
1. Why creating a habit is so important?
Creating a habit which was non-existent is like creating a completely new market. Or in the perspective of the blue ocean strategy, is like sailing in an untapped blue ocean of opportunities. When companies are instead competing over already-formed habits, there is going to be a harsher struggle, one which will be focused on upgrading the customer experience by developing a brand experience (we discuss this topic in more detail in this article: How to Design a Bespoke Brand Experience).
If you are able to establish a habit, you are capable of leveraging a more irrational and compulsive behaviour that will convert your audience into leads and into paying customers by developing actions triggered by situational cues.
Harvard Prof. Clayton Christensen has already laid solid foundations to consumer behaviour through the development of the Jobs to Be Done Theory. According to this theory, consumers are out in the world in pursuit of products (or services) which help them solve a problem they are experiencing in their lives. Just like in SEO, being able to design a product that perfectly fits an issue is a key to success, as customers will be very likely to resort to your product when you become the first-to-mind solution.
Some companies are making a lot of money, plus saving a lot of money on paid advertising because they are able to reach their clients organically by being first-to-mind for their customers.
Think for instance: ‘What is the company I can resort to if I want to furnish a college student apartment?’
It’s likely that IKEA might have come to mind. And this is not by chance. IKEA designed its brand to be first-to-mind for a specific furnishing need, which is nonetheless experienced by a very wide target market. In this case, we can even see how, the product is not innovative in itself, it’s innovative in the use you make of it. This should be comforting as it suggests how in reality some minor changes can completely redesign the habits associated with our products.
We discuss this topic in greater depth in the post: Why Jobs to Be Done Matters for your Business.
All in all, this approach allows us to retro-engineer our brand. Instead of creating a brand and then matching it with our customers, we need to start from customer behaviour, or better yet from customer habits to create a fashion brand capable to become – in time – the first-to-mind solution.
2. Ho do you create a habit? The Hook Cycle.
As discussed in the book ‘Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products’ the creation of a habit is structured around four essential stages:
- Variable Reward
- A trigger. A trigger is a situational component that ‘ignites’ action. As this reaction is instinctual and emotional, in many cases the reasons why we want to tap into triggering our customers is to bypass their rational behaviour and tap into an emotional connection. Sales and discounts are a clear example of this. As we are exposed to a sense of contingency (Black Friday sales etc.) we are overridden by emotions and buy instinctually without considering more rational objections (whether we really need what we are buying).
- Action. Action is the result of a well-placed trigger. Getting to the stage in which our customers are compelled to action once a trigger has been placed is the hardest hurdle to overcome. At this stage, customers are on our app or are visiting our e-commerce store. In order to increase the likelihood of igniting action, we can work on two levels: the first is to create a persuasive risk-reward balance, by convincing our customers that ‘subscribing to our newsletter’ or entering their email is worth the trouble.
- Variable reward. If this was a predictable reward, we’d be only scraping the surface of consumer behaviour. On the contrary, the fact that we’re developing a variable reward, allows us to tap into the consumer’s desires, expectations and sense of wonder. If the consumer’s actions led to a predictable reward, once a single experience has been lived, it would be very hard to retain our customers. The variable element works wonders in terms of customer loyalty.
- Investment. The last phase of the hook model shifts the burden of work. If up until now companies had to channel customers and lead them towards the creation of a behaviour-brand connection, now it’s up to the customers to invest their time to create a vested interest by developing assets onto your platform. This can be done by inviting their friends to join, by providing feedback and improving on the brand’s experience and overall becoming a brand ambassador.
However, an objection comes to mind. This model was designed by Silicon Valley experts, and it could have some limitations when applied to the fashion industry. In the following paragraphs, we’ll address this concern by discussing how this model can find its own application in fashion.
3. Why habit-forming products are so important in fashion? An opportunity to be sustainable.
The next challenge then, on a more operational level consists in identifying new consumer trends and behaviours where we could position our brand. In the fashion industry, there are many opportunities in the area of fashion sustainability.
As fashion is an industry in a stage of heavy reform, under the close scrutiny of the lens of environmental sustainability, firms have an unprecedented opportunity to change the way in which they connect to their clients by developing new habits under the umbrella of environmental consciousness. The very essence of fashion sustainability ultimately involves the idea of changing consumer behaviour, by making end-users more aware of the environmental impact of garments.
An example? Think of Patagonia. Patagonia has developed its brand associations to include a more firm stance on the impact of fashion, by promoting services dedicated to repairing old clothing. By doing so the brand achieves two distinct goals:
- It strives to lead the reform of fashion towards more sustainable practices, by showing that investing in your stakeholders will benefit the brand.
- It positions the company in a whole new behavioural segment, whereby users will think of Patagonia the next time something tears down.
A lot of work is put by a new generation of companies into tapping into the new opportunities offered by fashion sustainability by catching the opportunity to create an innovative brand and to fight for the environment.
Designers, in the early stages of a fashion company, as well as established maisons can do so much in this area by looking into sustainable fashion design. We discuss this topic in more depth in the following post: Fashion Sustainability Through Design Innovation.
Once you will have created and reinforced your brand’s connection to your customer’s behaviour you are on your way to creating an addiction, or in simpler terms a strong lock-in with loyal and invested customers. Almost an unfair advantage.
As we’ve seen in this post, brands who are wishing to tap into the experiential market of fashion, or better yet create a trigger to connect with their customers need to think of themselves through the lens of a habit-forming company. By all means, we intend this approach to be used for good, and as a way to create companies who are really dedicated to bringing something innovative to the market.
To some extent, this is uncharted territory and many fashion firms are now hiring many more employees with a background in the social sciences, as numbers and data can provide only a partial dimension to the picture. As always, it seems that finding a balance between the humanities and the sciences is the way to go.