Why Fashion Needs Content Strategy
I am a Content Strategist. When I say this to people who work in fashion, I often get a quizzical look. In the tech sector of my day job, content strategy is an active community of practitioners. In the fashion world of my consulting life, content strategy barely exists, save a few content marketers here and there who may borrow some of its techniques.
In the age of digital and social media, trends come and go at a mile a second. With fashion and luxury brands already under the gun to produce collections six times a year, they also feel the pressures of a constantly-evolving digital marketplace that has forever changed the shape of product development, sales, and marketing.
These days, brands need to define an authentic digital identity, cultivate a customer-centric online shopping experience, and produce original content around-the-clock across platforms to feed consumers hungry for the latest sensation. In short, brands now must be content producers.
The flow of information and the instant gratification mantra of e-commerce are not going anywhere. So, if you’re a fashion or luxury brand, how do you cope when consumers expect you to be everywhere at once? As I tell clients, the answer lies in the art and science of content strategy.
What is Content Strategy?
To pull a definition from the government sector of my day job, content strategy deals with:
the planning, creation, delivery, and governance of content. Content not only includes the words on the page but also the images and multimedia that are used. Ensuring that you have useful and usable content, that is well structured, and easily found is vital to improving the user experience of a website. The goal of content strategy is to create meaningful, cohesive, engaging, and sustainable content. (Usability.gov)
As a field, content strategy is relatively new since it is a direct by-product of digital technology. However, its foundational concepts are in old and overlap with the basic tenets of good writing and visual design.
Content strategy comes with many misconceptions. Here’s a clear example: During a recent meeting with a potential client who works for a major fashion brand, I inquired about her existing content strategy. She pulled out a printed editorial calendar. I was a bit taken aback, but not surprised. I then gently explained the benefits of a tailored, omni-channel content strategy. Unfortunately, my client’s editorial calendar is pretty common among fashion and luxury brands. They simply do not know what they’re missing in most cases.
A well-crafted content strategy usually includes your brand’s content calendar across platforms. But, it is merely one tenet of a larger strategy to identify, organize, create, track, and maintain brand content. If you’re a brand content marketer, content strategy is a great tool to use; but, they are not the same.
The content lifecycle (nicely captured in the below graphic from Erin Scime) has five basic steps: Audit, Strategy, Plan, Create, and Maintain.
A big piece of content strategy involves governance. For newbies, content governance is “the system, a set of guidelines, that determines how an organization’s content gets created and published” (GatherContent). Whether or not your brand decides to create a documented content governance plan, my clients generally find a content model worth the investment. It is an easy way to get your brand messaging and marketing strategy organized and to ensure that they are consistent across platforms.
Content Strategy for Fashion
Like most industries, traditional fashion and luxury brands face heavy competition from newcomers, both in terms of fast fashion and digital native companies. It is challenging for any brand to try to balance a bricks-and-mortar presence, e-commerce, and social media content, along with print and digital advertising. Most big brands segregate these functions into different departments, which can create headaches when it comes to consistency of brand vision, tracking key performance indicators, and creating valuable, unique customer experiences.
Here are some interesting statistics from a recent McKinsey and WWD study:
In 2017, 40 percent of YouTube users turned to the platform to learn more about a product before they bought it. — Google
52 percent of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t make an effort to personalize communications to them. — Salesforce
Within six months after an omni-channel shopping experience, customers logged 23 percent more repeat shopping trips to the retailer’s stores and were more likely to recommend the brand to family and friends more so than those who used a single channel. — Harvard Business Review
According to the McKinsey study, brands that succeed in digital regularly do the following: leverage data analytics to develop concepts and plan products; prioritize speed to market; make use of a variety of data to glean consumer insights, including search data, social media, competitor scans, and product ratings. It should come as no surprise that digital native brands are at the top of the success list when it comes to digital.
The rise of e-commerce platforms like Farfetch shows the distinct advantages that digital native brands possess. As the McKinsey report authors note, “[t]hese companies have digital platforms and teams of data scientists equipped to optimize a different model. Ultimately, these companies have less to lose [than other fashion brands].”
While digital native brands offer many lessons, even these exclusively e-commerce sites require a solid, differentiated content strategy to make sure that consumers are getting as much out of a brand’s omni-channel content as possible. The growth of user-generated content and click-and-shop capabilities, never mind the explosion of influencer marketing and new social media platforms like Instagram TV, make customer experience and personalization more important than ever.
Furthermore, it is somewhat of a myth that luxury digital is by its nature different than mainstream fashion. After all, luxury consumers supposedly expect a rarified craftsmanship, a personalized customer experience, and an elevated price point that historically divide luxury items from fashion. Unfortunately for luxury, e-commerce and social media have changed all that. Luxury brands are now under the same pressures as fashion, if not more so, to have an authentic, unified brand voice across platforms and to be innovative content producers, creating memorable narratives for each individual product and inviting customer loyalty across platforms.
So, how does a fashion or luxury brand find the best content strategy solution?
There are different ways to find and implement a content strategy that is right for your brand. For enterprise-level content marketers, there are several decent pre-packaged content models, like Contently. However, fashion and luxury brands may benefit most from bringing a content strategist in house to create a bespoke content model that closely meets their specific vision, needs, capabilities, and audiences.
Finding a content strategist with a deep understanding of the ebb and flow of the fashion and luxury sectors is perhaps a different matter. This is in part why my business partners and I recently formed our startup firm. We want to help brands create brand, content, and marketing strategy solutions that are truly tailored but scalable. Fashion and luxury content is by its nature complex: big name fashion and luxury brands have the same comprehensive, enterprise-level content needs as, say, a financial services firm or government agency; but, they require the boutique approach of a smaller company to create, well, beautiful content that well represents the products they are trying to sell.
No matter what approach your brand takes, you will reap benefits from thinking about your brand’s current content strategy. Taking a step back to audit your content and to consider how your vision is communicated across platforms can help your brand identify gaps in your marketing and product strategies, integrate existing initiatives (like my client’s editorial calendar), and decipher new ways to track customer behavior, build brand loyalty, and, in turn, make sales.