London Social Media Week: The Future and Impact of Social Media in Men’s Fashion

Heading out on a miserable Monday evening to brave the wet streets of a heaving Covent Garden is not a sortie I would usually relish. Last Monday, however, was different. It was the opening party to London Social Media week, a hugely successful 5-day bash of conferences and socialising that saw the hashtag #SMWLDN fired off 28,527 times into the Twittersphere.

This first-night introduction was full of fun, complete with free bar, red carpet, a graffiti battle, DJs and an endless stream of lobster-based goodies, prepared in a converted ice cream truck parked outside the venue. The rest of the week only improved and the Make It Rain team managed to get out and take part in a broad range of seminars, debates and lectures, from the future of Instagram to modern marketing in the alcohol industry.

Despite not being an aficionado in the sector, the event I particularly enjoyed was hosted and organized by SMWLDN veterans, Like Minds, with help from The Organic Agency. It dealt with the impact & future of social media in the men’s fashion industry.

I think it worked so well because it was a discussion rather than a lecture and ambled along casually, giving all participants time to get their points across and impart their knowledge. Topics could be steered, without resistance, in any direction to deal with ‘popular’ issues that could be sent in via Twitter, from the audience and people watching live at home.

The five experienced panellists, smoothly moderated by Gareth Scourfield, Senior Fashion Editor for Esquire Magazine, were knowledgeable and clear, covering the subject from a range of interesting angles and backgrounds.

These included:

James Nuttal, Digital Director at Starworks,

Zach Barfield of The Perfect Gentleman,

Richard Martin, the Marketing Director of Lyle & Scott,

and David Hellqvist, online editor of PORT Magazine.

The nature of the discussion makes it slightly tricky to summarise in a blog post; however, from my frantically scribbled and just-about-readable notes, along with further online research, I hope to touch upon some of the marketing principles and ideas that I found most interesting and that can be applied to a much wider range of sectors than male fashion. 

 

Traditional advertising always played an important part in the fashion industry: how are companies adapting to the new media?

British company, Burberryare widely considered to be the yardstick in terms of marketing clothing online. The brand was applauded by all the panellists as being the real digital pioneer in the fashion world.

Their Art of Trench campaign remains a benchmark of how to sell luxury-branded products through social media without eroding the image of exclusivity and high quality associated with the brand. With its class and style the campaign continued to appeal to its high-end customer base while luring in the new youthful fashionistas who would make up their future market.

Laura explained how, these days, the company’s whole marketing strategy revolves around digital. Photographers are instructed to make their images beautiful for tablets and phones rather than magazines and posters. They understand the voice of the brand and have a deep knowledge of those they are trying to reach, and this combination, something touched upon again and again, is the key to any successful marketing strategy.

Despite not being associated with the world of fashion, a company that was discussed at some length and championed as being a prime example of traditional media adapting to the online world with great aplomb was VICE magazine. Although dividing opinion like no other, their adventurous choice of subjects brings most readers back again and again. A quick scan of any article’s comment section reveals the split, defenders of the mag. attacking its critics in a melee of f-words and personal attacks. Despite the consistent negativity, the style of VICE remains unchanged. It is this unwavering steadfastness, their refusal to bend under criticism that makes them so popular. They know their voice.

Richard summed it up nicely:  They took a strong editorial standpoint, but they understood that extremity worked. They are the prime example of taking niche and turning global.

Benefits of Digital

When looked at next to traditional advertising the two most significant factors in favour of a digital approach are the lack of restriction, a benefit analysed at some length by James Nuttall, and possibility of interaction. Buying marketing space in the past was a hugely expensive affair and companies were often charged for their advertisements by the page or the word. These days, of course, unlimited memory with which to play and previously non-existent features such as drop-down menus and internal linking allow brands to present as much information as possible without overwhelming an interested browser.

Social media’s interactivity has turned marketing into a two-way street. Brands can home in on interested parties with remarkable ease as well as advising and responding to comments and queries. Customers – and men in a particular – find it remarkably encouraging to see others interact with their favourite brands, particularly, as I’ll touch upon briefly later, regarding positive comments, feedback and reviews.

 

What are the note-worthy differences between online shopping and high-street shopping?

Ultimately, both experiences have their positives and negatives.

The set up and presentation of certain mono-brand stores is used as a marketing technique with a powerful brand emphasis. A great example mentioned by James and discussed by the panel is the Ralph Lauren chain. Upon entering one of these high-end stores you are struck by the atmosphere and immediately assailed by a multi-sensory blizzard of images, music, colours, patterns and even smells – an experience impossible to replicate via a computer screen. Helpful store attendants dressed in trendy garments also provide encouragement, authority and eye candy. This, along with the touch and feel of high-quality clothing, is a huge part of visiting a store built from bricks and cement. Browsing the brand online comes nowhere near creating the same impact.

Obviously the most attractive reason for shopping online is simply the ease of it all. In a world in which we have less and less time to ourselves, the option of one-click purchasing, immediate personal recommendations and permanent shopping baskets is hugely appealing.

In terms of social media and digital marketing (rather than eCommerce), it should not be thought of as detracting from real-life shops at all. Online marketing is simply another arm of a big brand’s marketing strategy – a powerful Popeye arm. These channels should work hand-in-hand with traditional advertisements to bring in new customers, keep people interested and ultimately steer people to the high street to visit the stores in person.

 

The Fashion Industry: Is it vastly different for men and women?

As can be seen everywhere from TV to the high street, there has been an overwhelming tendency for retailers to focus on women’s clothing rather than men’s. The male selection in a department store is usually found in a secondary space, crammed in a back room or at the top of an endless series of out-of-order elevators. This is simply because women have always been much keener fashion buyers.

However, in recent times, particularly in trend-setting cities such as London, NYC and Berlin, men are developing a taste for looking good and ‘keeping it real.’ This increase in sartorial interest and spending has been gradually creeping up and has, of course, been noticed by the larger brands, many of whom, in recent years, have thrown their marketing efforts full-force at these ill-prepared but well-dressed male shoppers. It was also quickly realized that the perfect approach to them was the digital.

 

How effective is the digital approach with regard to men’s fashion industry and to men in general?

The panel agreed conclusively that digital marketing (and social media in particular) was a blessing when it came to men’s clothes shopping.

Ecommerce is helping to drive a boom in the men’s fashion market and research from earlier this year shows that one third of men are shopping online for clothes, a trend that is only likely to continue.

It also came out that, in Britain, 85% of men prefer to shop online – a huge percentage! This is certainly something I can relate to. Fighting my way through Oxford Street on a gloomy weekday evening to buy a pair of socks is my idea of hell, and the prospect of braving Westfield Shopping Centre any day of the week leaves me feeling traumatized and unwell.

However, the prospect of avoiding the shopping-mall warzone with its crying children stacked in layers is not the only consideration. Social media and the online environment are the perfect place for the male temperament and way of thinking. It’s all very visual. Products are accompanied by reams of comments, ratings, comparisons, reviews and stats. Also, with the constant innovations to make the process easier, both in buying and returning, it’s difficult to see any serious downside to shopping online. David even mentioned how ASOS (the international giants of online men’s shopping) are, in Australia, along with stamped, addressed and fully-prepared packaging, also providing tape strips to make the return process more simple. Yet another incentive to shop online. 

 

Is Social Media marketing an absolute must in the fashion industry?

Our five experts agreed that, even for small brands, it was essential to have a small website (so you can be found in search) as well as a Facebook page. These are the places where prospective clients will expect (or even demand) to see you in 2013.

If we are talking about men specifically, their social media penetration is less than that of their (perhaps I should say ‘our’) female counterparts. They are highly active on Twitter and Facebook but less so on networks like Pinterest and Instagram, platforms where women rule the realm. This is an advantage as, when targeting male shoppers, a narrower social focus is required.

Google+, on the other hand, is a very male-dominated space. With the all-encompassing search engine rolling out a series of wide-reaching updates, and generally tightening its grip, a representative and optimized Google+ Local page is also highly desirable for brands and physical locations, preferably complete with store information, reviews and photos etc.

Quantification

One of the problems with social media marketing is that its worth is very difficult to assess. Was all that time I spent, worth it?

The issue is, although you can tell through Analytics where people come from when they visit your site, social media is very much a pre-purchasing medium.

It whets the appetites of your fans – amuses their bouches – before they research the product elsewhere and make the purchase at a later date. Analytics usually shows that the majority of conversions come through paid visits. This is because the buyer has dwelt upon the product for a while, then completed the transaction via the quickest route possible after he/she has made a decision.

It was universally agreed by the panellists, along with the industry’s contemporary marketing big dogs, that social media is an essential marketing tool at the moment. It keeps your customers interested, brings in new business, and is great for pushing particular products, offers and information. Britain’s online shopping market is too valuable a pond to avoid, particularly if that’s where your competitors are fishing.

 

What are the most effective ways of marketing fashion to men online?

Well, in a manner similar to all online marketing efforts, content is king. Popular online stores like Crooked Tongues, despite selling only sneakers, kicks or trainers (whatever the kids are calling them these days), produce a steady stream of attractive content, magazine articles and blog posts which consumers can relate to.

This variety was highlighted as important during the discussion. Men, in general, are uninterested in endless pictures of clothes and shoes. We want stories and information. Richard told us that when he worked at Fred Perry, their policy was to release content revolving around relevant male culture and current events. Only 10% was to be directly related to clothes.  In this vein, Fred Perry have expanded into a new business venture called Fred Perry Subculture, dedicated purely to music and related culture.

David Duplantis, the president of global digital and customer experience at Coach, tells us that the key to reaching men is creating a digital message that focuses on heritage and lifestyle. 

As touched upon earlier, the key is to really know what your customer base wants as well as knowing your brand’s history and image down to the finest detail. Armed with with these two essentials, create stories around them that combine and merge the two. The tighter and more imaginative this process is, the better your campaign will be…. Simples!

 

Anyway…  It’s probably time to wrap this up.

During the seminar there was a lot more discussed than I’ve managed to recount here but I hope to have relayed some of the more general marketing elements to provide food for thought – nibbles anyway.  It was all hugely interesting and gave me a lot to think about.  The panelists were excellent and I would like to say a big thank you to them, Like Minds, The Organic Agency and Eve Sheperd for inviting me.  My only regret is that I couldn’t attend the whole series of Like Minds’ discussions.  I’m particularly gutted about missing the sessions discussing food and music – how cool do they sound?

I thoroughly recommend Social Media Week as a whole to anyone vaguely interested in the digital, media, advertising or marketing industries, as the variety of topics addressed, as well as the range of names and faces in attendance, will not be found in one place for a while.  All partakers from MIR  thoroughly enjoyed every event attended and the broad scope of subjects allowed us to explore new, unfamiliar territories in which we would not ordinarily set foot. We met a host of interesting and like-minded people and without question took a lot away with us, back to our waiting colleagues and grateful clients.

 Again, a big thank you and until next year!!

 

Images:

1: socialmediaweek.org/

2:@LoveJoyceH

3:uk.burberry.com/

4:retaildesignblog.net

5:fineartamerica.com

6:esquire.co.uk

7:facebook.com/FredPerrySubcultureOfficial