Why brand activation is the future of fashion

Fashion is a visually-rich, creative space that is a key component in how individuals illustrate their identity to the world. Embracing an experiential philosophy is not only beneficial in resonating with consumers and driving sales, it is a natural extension of the vibrance of the fashion industry itself.

The consumer experience in the fashion industry has evolved substantially over the last decade. E-commerce, while not responsible for the “death” of brick-and-mortar, has changed the way that brands interact with and sell to consumers. Retailers need to rethink their marketing approaches to get consumers through the front door and to differentiate their brands in the saturated fashion landscape. Yet, they also need to drive online sales, which means improving online and social media engagement.

For many brands, incentivizing in-person shopping and promoting a healthy online ecosystem has translated into an experiential retail approach. From transforming a flagship location into an experiential brand destination, to delivering a memorable experiential campaign away from the store, immersive brand experiences are the future of the fashion industry. They are bringing brands to life, creating conversations with consumers, and driving both in-store and online purchase.

The future of the fashion industry

Rethinking the brick-and-mortar retail approach

When a consumer engages with a product or service in an immersive way, not only are they more likely to purchase, they are also better able to  articulate brand attributes or differentiators. They are tuned into messaging, which makes the brick-and-mortar experience a valuable opportunity.

It’s important to note that a storefront is no longer about simply presenting clothing available for purchase. The disruption of retail is, at its heart, a refutation of a lacking approach to consumer engagement. It’s a call for fashion and other brands to differentiate themselves and prove brand value. It’s about offering a memorable experience that resonates with consumers and makes coming back irresistible.

The smart mirrors at Neiman Marcus are an example of a novel in-store experience that keeps people engaged and excited to do the most typical activity – try on clothes. Not only do customers want to see how the technology works, but they want to see the outcome and how it dramatically improves the in-store experience. And because it’s unique, they can’t wait to return and share the experience – this time with a friend.

Some stores aren’t incorporating experiential elements. They are turning the entire store into an experiential activation, often a flagship store in a major city. These retail locations are in turn transformed from a place to shop into a popular destination – a must-see experience. From New York to London, companies are building what can be described as “brand theme parks” inclusive of fashion shows, one-on-one games with athletes, and VR-experiences galore.

Topshop HQ in London got maximum impact with a virtual reality waterslide which took visitors on a rollercoaster through Oxford Street. The experience drew many into the store, and also allowed social media viewers to see the experience shared on Snapchat and through the #TopShopSplash hashtag. The campaign enticed them to continue engaging with the brand and boosted TopShop’s online efforts.

Outside of exciting shoppers, we’ve seen the best in-store experiential elements help brands facilitate lifestyle elements around their product that is beyond the fabric. It’s about ushering in the future of the fashion industry by transforming the experience of visiting the store into an entire afternoon of brand-fueled excitement.

Using brand activation (and influencers) to reach people where they live

But experiential retail doesn’t need a storefront. Fashion brands can engage with consumers where they live and work, seamlessly integrating the brand into their lives and offering them immediate value. Often these campaigns are not anticipated by consumers, wherein brands are also able to capitalize on a surprise and delight element that endears them to passersby.

One of the most powerful ways for consumers to experience fashion is at cultural events and festivals. Most recently, we discussed how H&M successfully aligned itself with the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. This festival strategy also eliminates the challenge of getting consumers to a specific location and uses brand activation to curate meaningful experiences. And due to the fact that attendees could purchase clothing onsite, these experiences can also be used to drive immediate purchase.

Speaking of Coachella, Revolve, a contemporary fashion brand that targets “young, fun and fashionable” consumers who “aspire to the better things in life,” deems Coachella a central part of their ability to showcase their brand – even more so than at a traditional event like New York Fashion week. But their strategy is different than H&M’s. Revolve uses Coachella as a spring board for its influencer marketing campaign, tying live brand activation to its digital marketing strategy. The brand dresses influencers at the festival and then has them promote the looks to their vast and loyal networks.

Some 78 percent of brands implemented influencer marketing campaigns in 2017, up from 65 percent the previous year. And for good reason. Influencers and micro-influencers provide access to a brand’s target audience, and through the use of digital discount codes that are unique to each influencer, companies can track how effective each is. This strategy allows fashion brands to fine-tune who their most valuable advocates are and continue drive online purchase.

Experiential is the future of the fashion industry

Through experiential retail at brick-and-mortar locations and away from the store, fashion brands can excite and engage their audiences to differentiate their brands and encourage purchase. Big bonus: experiential can drive digital, such as social media campaigns or influencer marketing strategies. The data has shown that most modern consumers prefer shopping with brands that have adopted an experiential strategy, and those companies that embrace this concept will reap the rewards.