By Adriana Usvat, Managing Partner of FLC Group
There are but a few industries that require companies to stay as agile as the fashion and beauty industry. While ‘setting trends’ remains the primary reason for fashion and beauty brands to stay ahead of the game, the rules of shopping have completely changed when compared to a few years ago. Consumer habits, needs and demands are constantly evolving. Today’s consumers not only want a unique product, but also expect a unique shopping experience.
Developing a meaningful and long-lasting relationship with consumers is more important for fashion and beauty brands than for other retail brands, because clients of such brands are always first in line when it comes to trends and living high profile experiences.
These consumers are extremely savvy and expect exciting, innovative engagement strategies as well as personalized experiences across all touch points.
So how do brands enhance the shopping experience for their consumers? Fashion brands should first focus on value creation for the customer.
They should also think and act digital, mapping a customer journey that connects mobile presence with the retail store.
While at it, build a sense of exclusivity throughout the entire experience.
As is the case across many industries, shoppers want brands to speak to them with the same level of relevance, whether they are browsing online or in store.
Seamlessly interacting with the customer, regardless of the platform or location is the key.
Let us try to understand what can be done at different touch points to better engage with consumers and enhance their brand experience, so that they keep coming back for more.
At the Retail Store
At the retail store the focus should be on personalized interactions, understanding consumer needs and their unique challenges, delighting the audience and making them feel special.
It is not only about needing this product anymore as there are several other brands selling similar products, but more about ‘what is in it for me as a customer’ or how ‘special that product makes me feel’.
There is a need to transform the store’s physical space into an experience that evokes sensation, feelings and behavioral responses generated by brand stimuli.
The store must shift from a place where consumers just ‘buy’ products, to a place where they ‘feel’ the essence of that particular brand.
It is therefore becoming essential for brands to start demonstrating their products, to have an engagement at the store level.
For example, NEO – the fast fashion label of Adidas, has equipped several of its European stores with interactive mirrors. These enable customers to take a picture when trying on a new outfit and posting the images on social platforms like Facebook for instant feedback from friends prior to purchasing.
Also, for example in fashion stores, having something as simple as a stylist that would be able to guide customers on how to combine different pieces or even as simple as advising on the color that best fits a person would make a difference.
Similarly for beauty brands, having a specialist who is able to demonstrate or give simple tips becomes important.
By enhancing consumer experience at the store level, brand owners have an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction, and generate brand loyalty and advocacy.
Having said this, we also should bear in mind that there are lots of consumers who know exactly what they want when they walk into the store, and have less time and disposition to spend trying different other products.
It is therefore that brands need to engage with the customer through outdoor activities in other locations where target audience are more receptive and available for engagement.
An example is Nestlé’s metro link campaign at Mall of the Emirates, which was an innovative way to increase engagement and generate high brand recall.
Welcoming metro users with a steaming cup of coffee, early in the morning as they walked towards the mall, was a great way to bring a moment of happiness and positivity into people’s lives, and connect with them.
Needless to say people did share their experiences on social media channels, and remembered the brand.
The Dove beauty brand is another very good example of excellent customer engagement both on-ground and online.
The brand is renowned for its controversial and out of box conversations about beauty. Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches is the most viral ad of all times, and, therefore, needs no further explanation as to why it is the perfect example of ‘meaningful’ engagement that gave the brand ‘top-of-mind recall and made it worth sharing for consumers.
Few other examples of engaging with customers would be creation of clubs for likeminded people, private events for the VIP guests and private viewings of the latest collections.
At a Digital level
Fashion and beauty consumers spend more time with those brands that provide them with engaging and valuable content.
Consumers use many digital platforms to get the latest information on trends, product/brand reviews, exchange experiences or compare prices. Within these customer journeys, social media plays a key role.
Instagram, particularly has become one of the most influential online tools for fashion and beauty brands. Carousel ads are becoming popular with brands like ASOS, Maybelline New York and Louis Vuitton using Instagram stories to create brand awareness around its products.
To be a successful brand on social media, you do not need to be a big beauty/fashion brand. In fact, some of the smaller brands might have an advantage over bigger brands as they have lesser guidelines to follow and they take decisions faster.
Here are few ideas when it comes to digital content strategy and how to better engage:
– Partnering with influencers
It is still highly effective to partner with content creators on influencer campaigns. Today viewers trust influencers more than they trust brands. It is however essential to choose the right influencer, the one that is authentic and credible when delivering the brand message.
The influencer should also match the personality and image of the brand. When the message comes from someone consumers follow and engage with on social media, they perceive it as receiving advise from a friend or an expert who has genuine interest in sharing something valuable.
– Creating engaging product tutorials
‘How to’ beauty videos earn higher audience engagement numbers and drive more page views on YouTube than 30 seconds commercials. In fact, around 45% of all YouTube videos are beauty tutorials.
If properly done, embracing the online tutorial trend means more engagement for the brand. Building the brand channel as a consistent source of beauty and lifestyle tips from beauty experts and vloggers, will always keep fans coming back.
– Involve your social media followers with your brand
Make your fans / followers feel that they have a word to say in developing new products, coming up with different names or packaging designs. The easiest way this can be done is by launching different contests where fans can participate and engage (for e.g. come up with the name of the latest limited edition lipstick, or with the tagline for a campaign).
– Repost on your social media channels
Reposting and sharing user-generated content shows customers they are valuable members of your online community who play an active role in your brand story.
– Listen to your customers
Listen and respond to customer complaints.
Technology plays a very important role for fashion and beauty brands. Be it at the store level or online, brands can use technology to build a sense of exclusivity and personalized experience that consumers look for.
In a perfect world, the customer should be able to describe the perfect dress and find the closest match, in a matter of seconds. Thanks to technology, this scenario will become a reality in the near future.
Artificial Intelligence-powered search engines will be able to track down the closest match for customers. This way designers, merchandisers and buyers could all work alongside AI, to predict what customers want to wear. There are a few areas that brands should consider improving:
– Mobile applications development
A digital showroom in 3D, applications that can show a customer how he would look in a certain attire, could be examples of choices that might help improve the fashion experience and engage emotionally with customers.
– Content that is context aware
This is a great opportunity that is rarely used. With the new generation of smartphones and the mobile connectivity, the Beacon solutions, geo fencing and localization can help in providing ‘right time, personalization’.
This helps in delivering content that is truly targeted and context based. Customers located 150 meters from a fashion store can receive customized messages with regards to a certain offer/new launch available in the store.
– Consumer behavior analysis
The toughest challenge when dealing with customers is identifying their behavior patterns and routines, so that brands can better understand their needs and wants. These customers want to be considered in their own singularity and refuse to accept readymade solutions.
Fashion brands, therefore, have just one way to avoid blind navigation, and that is using the power of data. There is no doubt that most fashion and beauty brands are compiling more and more customer data at all kinds of touch points – from user accounts to social networks to store level.
Connected devices produce all the information you need to know about your customers and the evolution of business, a crucial point in developing strategies.
However very few brands manage to process all volumes of data in real time, and even fewer use the data / knowledge generated effectively.
Customer behavior analysis plays a crucial role, as it is the interface through which human insight becomes actionable business intelligence.
This can act as the differentiator that adds a human element to a customer engagement strategy and make the relationship more than just a transaction.
Using the power of data, brands would be able to understand how often a certain customer is buying certain items for example, or personalize customer communication, be it auto generated happy birthday message, personal recommendations, a fitting tip and so on.
Amazon is at the forefront when it comes to recommendation engine. As consumers become digital consumers, brands need to adapt as fast as they can.
The industry has an opportunity in terms of innovating itself digitally, to create a convenient experience for the consumer.
Furthermore, building loyalty with a personalized experience by leveraging customer data should be key.
The views expressed by the author are her own and do not necessarily represent those of Gulf Marketing Review.