Finessing Fashion’s Influence: Marketing for a Digital Age

On Friday the 13th, a conglomerate of heavy hitters in the fashion industry presented their takes about a myriad of topics within it, ranging from supply chain optimization to consolidation of clothing lines. In each and every presentation, nuanced ideas and adroit thoughts were spoken to a collection of some of the brightest young minds in business and fashion. Finessing Fashion’s Influence, a panel moderated by Editor-in-Chief at GLOSSY Jill Manoff, featured Ashley-Brooke Sandall, (the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Council of Fashion Designers of America [CFDA]), John Mezzo (VP of Human Resources at Micheal Kors) and Meredith Paley (VP of Public Relations at Talbots). During this panel, a wealth of topics were covered ranging from the speakers origins to how the marketing of major labels is adapting to the social media era. The section of the panel that carried the most weight however was documenting the rise of influencer marketing as a viable form of advertising.

Influencer marketing, as the panelists explained, is a relatively new beast in its current incarnation. Throughout history, legendary altiers and tailors made garments for celebrities to wear in glamorous photoshoots and magazine covers. However, the rise of social media and image sharing platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook have intensified this form of subtle sponsorships by allowing influencers, and by association brand’s PR teams, to exponentially expand their reach. The reasons influencer marketing has came to dominate PR strategies for labels around the world are numerous. Long gone are the days of Don Draper when the average consumer trusted advertisements at face value. According to Meredith Paley,  the modern consumer, billboards, commercials, and sponsored events blend into the background and fail to place a lasting impression. Instead, we turn to our peers and those we trust to recommend products that they have personally experienced and endorse. Imagine the last time your friend told you about a trendy new restaurant with delectable food; that memory is assuredly more vivid than the last time you saw a Google banner for Taco Bell. This shift in approach to how we consume allows brands to skillfully curate and create content.

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During the panel, all three speakers and the moderator attested to the success of influencer marketing. According to Mezzo, influencer marketing for Micheal Kors makes up 39% percent of their domestic sales and 48% of their Chinese sales, a percentage that is no small feat. Influencer marketing offers a higher return on investment (ROI) for MK than other form of marketing. Influencer marketing has even become so effective that Paley believes bloggers can have both a larger and more potent pull than ads in traditional magazine formats. These convictions echoed by the speakers are not just hollow words. According to Tapfluence, 73% of marketers have allocated budgets for influencer marketing. 86% of female consumers turn to social networks before making a purchase (ION) and, on average, businesses generate almost $6.50 in revenue for every $1 invested into influencer marketing.

Obviously, the most important factor in achieving a strong ROI on influencer marketing is curating who endorses you and how those figures present the garments themselves. While some sentiments were shared between all 3 speakers, differences in their priorities of who to use for influencing exists. For Mezzo, his style of ascertaining the value of an influencer stems from their own individual passions and styles. Mezzo states “They must represent your brand, they have to be someone who inspires their followers… and their followers have to be someone who you want to wear your brand”. Continuing on this idea, the brand style of MK is at its core, is classical offerings with a twist. The most important takeaway from Mezzo was that you always want to have a brand who innovates, but you always want to be the ones who determine how that innovation will be shaped.  For Paley, her priorities for influencer marketing are based around the levels of authenticity that the influencer possesses. She spoke of disdain she had for an influencer who’s contract they were considering renewing when said influencer posted a photo of her simply holding up a sandal with no other context attached to the photo. A critical takeaway from Paley’s speech was the importance of the atypical influencer and the impact that they can carry in their followers. According to her, the most important influencer Talbots ever had was Michelle Obama, who happened to have simply worn a Talbots dress while on a plane years ago. Within a week, 2800 units of that dress were purchased, leading to a very profitable future in which Talbots personally dressed Michelle Obama almost 30 times.

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While both of these firms function as businesses looking to turn profits, Sandall instead operates in the non-profit space. This presents a series of differences in her approach to determining who will become influencers for the CFDA as well as how they are compensated as influencers. Unlike Talbots or MK, the CFDA is unable to pay tens of thousands of dollars to celebrities and socialites for an Instagram photo. Instead, the brand focuses on facilitating and instructing new designers themselves on how to conduct their presence on social media and how they can control the narrative related to their brand. By garnering a reputation as being one of the most powerful fashion development companies in the world, Sandall has positioned the brand in such a way that tastemakers instead come to CFDA in order to negotiate the opportunity to wear their clothes. An noteworthy aspect for the CFDA is that when the CFDA  looks for authenticity in a brand, they look backwards at existing relationships that CFDA has with associates or designers of the desired label. Much like how the standard consumer trusts their peers more than a poster, Sandall believes that the most meaningful relationships CFDA develops are from designers that she has had a personal relationship with in the past.

Through rapid developments in digital media media, the trajectory of influencer marketing is only going up. Looking to the future, the dominant market strategy of almost all labels will be based around peer to peer marketing rather than magazine full-pages. For better or for worse, we are as a society are moving towards a future in which our friends and trusted figures will be how we discover new products. With bright minds like these leading this push however, I don’t think we will have to worry about not seeing relevant and interesting products on our social media in the future.

eric terbushComment