1: Trust/credibility is everything
In recent years, our trust in traditional institutions has become weaker than ever. Today more people distrust than trust politicians, public institutions, journalists, and media, according to Edelman’s annual ”Trust barometer”. And even if brands suffer the same challenges, they score higher than the above mentioned. Swedish fashion designer Johan Lindeberg is famous for saying that ”a brand can be more powerful than politicians” and that ”a brand can transcend borders”. He certainly has a point. In the fashion world, trust can be translated into credibility. Every iconic fashion brand, every influential fashion editor, and every designer pushing the boundaries of our tastes, rely on their credibility to operate. If you don’t have credibility, you won’t have the trust, and you will fail. As a brand, whether clothing, retail or media, your strategy can be boiled down to this: gain the credibility from the consumer, and the rest will follow.
2: Believe in something — or go under
To gain trust you need to believe in something. To believe in something you have to have values. In the new retail landscape, connecting to the values of your consumer is what will make you stand out. According to a recent study by The Economist, 79 per cent of millennials prefer to purchase products from a company that operates with a social purpose. This was recently manifested when Nike released a campaign with the American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who became famous when he refused to sing the national anthem to protest police brutality. Nike got crushed by President Trump, but stated that they wanna be on the ”right side of history”. After the ad ran, they sold 61 per cent more merchandise than before. As a brand, if you don’t take a stand, if you don’t believe in something, you will not gain the trust of your consumers.
3: Don’t create consumers, create a movement!
In the wake of social media, brands became intoxicated by the growing size of their ”following”. But in the search for reach, the search for meaning will easily get lost. You start collecting consumers, rather than connecting with them. In the new retail landscape, this strategy is not sustainable. When trust moves from institutions to individuals, all you can do as a brand is to serve the connection between the consumers. In menswear, consumers are more informed than ever. They have done their research, read up on their favourite brands. They know what they want before they get it. As a brand or a retail outlet, you need to serve this movement with knowledge and storytelling. You can be a platform where the movement can meet, engage, and deepen their connection to each other. Only then will you earn their trust and your credibility.
4: Retail is media/media is retail
Retail has always been dependant on media, and vice versa. The commercial logic behind traditional fashion magazines was to promote fashion brands, to push the latest collection, to drive traffic to stores, and to sell products. As brands are less and less inclined to pay for a piece of paper on a monthly basis — i.e. advertising — and magazines are quietly eroding their credibility by promising more and more ”editorial” coverage for their advertisers, its become clear that the old model has done its time. What’s also become clear is how much brands need the editorial, the guiding voice, the authority of the editor. Retail needs media more than ever, and media — what’s left of it — still needs retail, and the two will be intertwined like never before.
5: Retail will fund journalism
When Mr Porter was born as a little brother to Net-A-Porter in 2011, it started a new wave of editorial content connected to online sales. They hired some of the industry’s best editors and writers, and started to publish editorial content that matched the likes of GQ and Esquire. Since then we’ve seen the rise of many online retailers with a strong editorial voice. Canadian fashion destination Ssense hired Joerg Koch, founder of Berlin-based magazine 032c as its editor-in-chief. Iconic 5th avenue retailer Bergdorf Goodman turned to ex-GQ and ex-Vanity Fair fashion director Bruce Pask to guide them into the future. One could definitely argue that a retailer or a fashion brand can service journalism better than any independent magazine, since they are sitting on all the knowledge, all the content. We say we’ve only seen the beginning of this model. What’s to say that an online retailer can’t publish serious social journalism? Who says a fashion brand can’t publish political op-eds? The global magazine Monocle certainly makes a case for how one can combine business and affairs journalism with lifestyle offerings like coffee shops and fashion retail.
6: Word-of-mouth is the best social media
The traditional one-way-communication — the lookbooks, the advertising campaigns, the corporate communication — is today only the starting point to a conversation that will continue inside the movement. According to Nielsen, 92 per cent of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of ad-vertising. Your job as a brand is to create content that will spark a discussion that will spread virally through the tribe that you serve.
7: The ”influencer” will become obsolete
The golden era of the ”infuencer” will be a short one. We’re seeing major fashion brands fleeing this paid form of alleged mass-communication. The reason? The influencer is poor on credibility, and does not provide the editorial filter that brands need to give their products gravitas. They are merely a mannequin in the feed, available for any brand with a digital ad budget to hang their merchandise on. Of course, we must differentiate between the ”influencer” and the influential person with proven credibility — the actor with a cause, the editor with integrity, and the local authority that is influencing its grassroots crowd. It’s ultimately better to build a movement. To reach 100 dedicated fans, rather than to buy 100 000 ”followers” of questionable relevance.
8: Tell a story — or go under
Whether it’s on a t-shirt or in the stories feed, through streetstyle photography or an online article, at an exhibition or in the pages of a coffee table book, or simply in the copy on the product page of your e-commerce website — you need to tell a story. You need to turn the consumer into a reader, to think of your target group as your audience. Like any music loving crowd, they will spread this story amongst themselves. They will trade information like baseball cards. In an era of omnichannel commerce, it is more important than ever to communicate a story, rather than a product. The appointment of master-communicator Virgil Abloh as creative director of menswear for Louis Vuitton is an obvious case in point.
9: Curation is king!
No-one wants everything, we all want THE thing. As a brand, you need to guide your audience through your offering. You need to tell them what’s right and what’s not, what’s needed and what’s nice to have. As consumers, we engage more if there is a careful selection, but we also expect a range when we need it. Retailers of today have an obligation to both serve their community with thoughtful advice, and service them with a a series of options. How to strike this balance depends on the knowledge of your tribe.
10: Create places to meet, not places to shop
The physical store is not dead. It has just shifted its purpose. Your movement still needs a place to meet. Your story needs a room to come alive in. In this era of digital communication, it’s more important than ever to touch and try a product, to validate the brand experience, and to connect with your peers. Many are the brands that can attest to the concrete correlation between raising online sales in the city of the strong flagship store. And let’s not forget, all this social media shatter needs to stem from somewhere. Posts need to be shot and stories needs to be filmed. If you can provide a place for your local community to share, and your international crowd to travel to, you have much to win.
11: What transaction?
In a near future, transactions will be seamless and almost imperceptable. Whether you do it walking through the store door, or exiting the online shop, payment will be the last thing on a customer’s mind. Millenials and Generation Z are the first truly cashless generations, for whom the bank is a website, the phone (or their face) is their credit card, and who never ever will accept standing in a checkout line.
12: Be kind, do good, don’t sell
When it’s all said and done, what really matters is to be kind to your environment, and do good for your community. Nobody will relate with a nonchalant, irresponsible brand. Today and tomorrow, it will be more crucial to offer sustainable choices, to encourage innovation, to promote equality. Brands need to change their mindset from ”push and sell” to ”engage and serve”, as formulated by Nordic IT company Tieto in their report ”Wisdom of the crowds”. We all want to be on a positive journey, towards a better world. And we all have a responsibility to try and get there.