Fashion, social media and the key to brand engagement

burberry London Fashion Week catwalkWhile social media certainly has its place as part of an overall marketing strategy, fashion brands need to look beyond the medium’s ability to simply drive short-term sales. Social media has proved itself to be a very powerful tool in some circumstances, but when it comes to clearing clothes rails its effect on our immediate purchasing decisions may be less powerful than commonly assumed, while its real potential remains overlooked.

Of course, popular brands will continue to clock up followers and endorsements on social media – ASOS is particularly good at this – but many of these individuals will be looking for opinions, reviews or customer service, rather than opportunities to make purchases. As such, a social media strategy designed purely to drive sales is going to deliver relatively poor ROI. Assessing the commercial value of a ‘fan’ on social media has long vexed digital strategists. How can you measure the value of different types of consumers – is a dedicated follower of fashion worth more or less than a fan of a specific brand?

The answer is to accept social media for what it is: a brand-building mechanism which opens up a conversation between fashion retailer and follower. This can work particularly well for product awareness, queries and customer service issues, but cannot be relied on as a path to purchase.

What’s needed is a different kind of mobile-based social connection which maintains the personal aspect while also offering all the benefits of sharing and reviewing with family and friends. Just as there has been a shift towards more personal ‘closed’ mobile social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook messenger (particularly among 16-24 year olds), digitally-smart fashion retailers have used customer information to establish personalised, app-based activity which allows the consumer to access wishlists, relevant promotions and shareable brand content.

Closed networks are also playing an important part for in-store staff, allowing them to share knowledge and information, tapping in to previous purchases, likes, dislikes and more to provide a better and more profitable customer experience.

It’s all about relevance – in contrast to the large social networks’ one size fits all approach, sharing the right kind of information with customers in a targeted, personalised and timely way has been shown to have an effect on the bottom line. And, despite a few lingering misgivings about the intrusiveness of this service, there’s evidence that if the data is handled sensitively and appropriately, the objections are easy to overcome. According to the IAB, personalised time and location-sensitive offers delivered by mobile are redeemed by 57% of users on the spot, proving that people don’t see mobile notifications as intrusive as long as they’re personally relevant.

By focusing too heavily on sales, many brands are taking a one dimensional approach that immediately detracts from the real value of social. These networks are fantastic for creating awareness and interest; however, when it comes to actually shifting goods they are no substitute for a solid, personalised mobile-first strategy.

Dan Hartveld, chief technology officer, Red Ant