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How brands are connecting with customers in lockdown

Reprinted from Vogue Business, 4.28.20 - By Kati Chitrakorn


We thought this was a fascinating article, and well worth sharing. Innovative thinking in times of crisis is always applauded, no matter the brand.

With non-essential stores closed and distribution limited across the world, fashion brands are reassessing their digital marketing strategies and are communicating with their consumers in new ways that keep them busy during forced isolation at home.


Social media platforms, once cluttered with advertisements for products, are now giving way to online conversations, styling games, drawing challenges, cooking tutorials and fitness classes — anything to make followers feel like they’re part of a community.


According to software company HubSpot, many of its clients weren’t focusing on marketing projects aimed at generating revenue or acquisition during an uncertain time. Instead, business leaders were budgeting for either immediate or long-term tactics.


For Farla Efros, president of North American retail consulting firm HRC Retail Advisory, this is happening quickly against the backdrop of two global trends: an increase in media consumption and a decrease in advertising spend.


The pull-back on ad spend will cut expenses in the short term, but could impact a brand’s resilience, she says. “This is a crucial time for brands to be able to ‘step up’ and that will go a long way with customers,” because once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, consumers will be loyal to the brands that they consider to be the most vital to them.


As many businesses fight to survive, how they connect with consumers will be an essential part of their recovery, says Nick Stickland, founder and executive creative director of Odd, an integrated creative agency specialising in consumer marketing for fashion and lifestyle brands. “Brands that can continue to communicate during these times will likely be the ones that are applauded and remembered in a post-Covid-19 world.”


Create spaces to connect amid social distancing


As consumers are social distancing and working from home, they’re spending more time online. In response, luxury fashion brands have gotten more creative in how they engage with audiences, taking more risks than they might have before the pandemic.


Brands like Chanel, Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen have been getting creative with their online presence and are acting as entertainers for their followers, from hosting musical performances to offering guided drawing sessions to creating Spotify playlists (more than 2,400 people have subscribed to the #McQueenMusic playlist so far). According to an email from Chanel, the live-streamed performance was “the first of its kind” and “other occasions for more collaborations of the kind might arise in the future”.

Barcelona-based fashion brand Paloma Wool hosted an online dance party on Zoom for its community; it lasted until 4 am and 100 people showed up. “It started as something we did within our team on the first Saturday of lockdown as a way to disconnect and dance together. We had such a blast that we came up with the idea of opening it up to our community,” says Paloma Wool's founder Paloma Lanna.

Bottega Veneta took the opportunity to create a more encompassing online world by launching a “virtual residency” that spans across Instagram, YouTube, Weibo, WeChat, Line, Kakao, Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud and features live performances, cooking and recipes, as well as Sunday movie night recommendations.


Meanwhile, Dior has virtually reopened its Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition, which was held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. From couture dresses and archival photographs to sketches by Christian Dior himself, the online exhibition takes viewers through the 70-year history of the French luxury house via its YouTube and Instagram channels. Within a week, it has accumulated over 350,00 views and more than 10,000 likes.)

Chloé, Loewe and Holzweiler are putting out new, more personal social media content that invites collaboration. Chloé’s live stream sessions on Instagram feature creative women considered to be #ChloeGirls, like writer Pauline Klein and artist Rithika Merchant; Loewe has leaned into creative director Jonathan Anderson’s interest in craft, featuring artists who have been alumni of the Loewe Craft Prize on their Instagram Live and Stories; and Holzweiler streams conversations with creatives on how they are coping in quarantine and their future plans.


This approach gives consumers access to a label’s universe without having to buy products, says Efros.


Engage followers with fun, viral challenges


Throughout April, Instagram has been overrun with viral challenges. As part of the Alexander McQueen Creators series, the British luxury brand recently invited its followers to submit their interpretations of the Rose dress that closed its Autumn/Winter 2019 show. There have been over 13,600 uses of the #McQueenCreators hashtag since it launched four weeks ago.


Shrimps ran a competition on Instagram, asking followers to post #StayAtHomeShrimps looks with the opportunity for one winner to receive a Shrimps bag of their choice. Fans who didn’t own products from the London-based fashion label were invited to sketch their dream outfit. “I have always found the Shrimps customer to be a really creative person, so to give them the option to draw an outfit seemed like a good idea,” says Shrimps founder Hannah Weiland.


Ganni has been encouraging its fans to take part in its #GanniWFH challenge since 18 March. Ganni creative director Ditte Reffstrup says it started as an internal initiative for the team to keep in touch and show off their individual setups and work-from-home outfits before the brand decided to open it up to its Instagram community.


Reffstrup says that it prompted enough submissions — over 500 posts on Instagram so far — that the label decided to run a second creative challenge, #HomeIsWhereTheHeartIs, asking followers to create artwork inspired by the theme. Selected works will be featured as part of the brand’s pop-up exhibition at Copenhagen Fashion Week in August, and the winner and runner-up will receive a €1,500 and €500 gift card, respectively.


After receiving a positive response to Instagram posts instructing and encouraging followers to create their own protective face masks, Coperni founders Sébastien Meyer and Arnaud Vaillant challenged followers to create a digital version of one of their top-selling bags using the hashtag #DrawMeASwipeBag.

“We wanted to rally our community to get together on a lighter and funnier project. The only rule was to draw the Swipe bag only with a phone because digital is 100 per cent part of the Coperni DNA,” says Vaillant. According to the designers, about 500 people took part, and they plan to host more interactive projects.


“We are staying optimistic even if the virus has strongly impacted our brand,” says Meyer, noting that pop-ups at Selfridges and Galeries Lafayette were cut short, and other retail activations due to take place in China and South Korea have been cancelled. “Having more time has given us the opportunity to connect with our community through social networks.”


Brand challenges like these work well because they encourage young people to create content while feeling like part of a movement, says Delphine Buchotte, who previously held chief marketing roles at Diane von Furstenberg and L’Oréal Paris before launching digital marketing agency Phidel with Philip Atkins, former vice president of Totokaelo. “This engagement is fuel for loyalty and long-term relationships. Many brands are engaging new customers who may otherwise have overlooked the brand, but they are seeing something now in this type of content that connects with them more deeply.”


“Today, people want to join a brand, not just buy from it. Conversation and interaction on digital platforms makes this type of one to one relationship possible, which is very powerful for both the consumer and brands,” adds Atkins.


Home is the new playground


With creative studios closed and social distancing requirements in place, it has been increasingly difficult for fashion brands to create quality content using traditional methods.


Zara and Entireworld have used images shot at home by models and influencers for their marketing campaigns and e-commerce sites, while Jacquemus released its new Spring 2020 campaign, featuring Bella Hadid and Barbie Ferreira in their own homes. The images were shot entirely via FaceTime, captured by the photographer Pierre-Ange Carlotti and creative directed by its designer Simon Porte Jacquemus.

Meanwhile, brands like Marc Jacobs, Moschino, Paloma Wool and Reformation have taken a page out of the American Apparel playbook and have turned to employees and customers of the brand for their marketing materials. “We had to cancel all photo shoots for new launches, so we reached out to our friends and community to give us a hand. Each person chose their favourite pieces and was given complete freedom with how they wanted to portray them,” says Paloma Wool’s Latorre.


“Reaching out to consumers at home adds a rare sense of authenticity. To see models or people in a neutral state, or behind the lights instead of in front of them, is a refreshing way to reposition the brand in a more attainable way,” says Odd’s Stickland.


Other brands have explored opportunities with at-home branded video content. Mandy Ansari, a content creator, says that she has recently accepted a sponsorship with a beverage company that requires her to post an Instagram story of her making a cocktail with the provided alcohol. Retailers like Sephora and West Elm have created Zoom backgrounds for users to download.


“Our homes are our new world for the near future. Today, our private spaces have become much more exposed and almost public, as they are now our places of work, classrooms, Zoom socialising spaces and virtual nightclubs,” says Alasdair Lennox, executive creative director of Fitch, a global retail and brand consultancy. “With this new public exposure, they have become a competitive landscape and creative playground for brands.”


In a post-coronavirus world, Lennox believes that consumers will continue to engage with brands in new ways. “Non-vital brands need to find a way to connect more emotionally. Luxury consumers may like their handbags that cost 1,500 bucks, but right now, no one is buying them,” he says. “Brands can’t go back to the messaging they had before all this. They will have to adapt. Even small actions can be a starting point for non-vital brands to re-engage with their consumers.”


Future insights:


  • Internal initiatives can work for communities, too. Companies are coming up with ways to feel more connected as teams work from home. Those activities – like Paloma Wool’s online team dance parties and Ganni’s WFH outfit challenges – can often be spun out to drive engagement with consumers online.

  • Making the extra effort builds stronger brand loyalty. Brands like Coperni that have been able to stay positive even as overall retail sales fall are building better relationships with customers at a time when they’re most receptive to brand communication done right. Thinking outside of the hard sell will be a lasting lesson.

  • Campaign production is in for an overhaul. The success of low-brow shoots and consumer-led imagery is set to change how marketing campaigns are shot and created. Figuring out how to ride this wave of relatable, at-home brand imagery will be key.

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