5 Strategies to Cultivate a Strong Fashion Community

Collaborative. Inclusive. Experimental. Fashion trailblazers stand with open arms and enthusiasm to welcome their communities, putting their customers at the heart of everything they do.

Brand communities: Propelling growth

Today’s social media and digital marketing enable brands to reach out to a broader class of audience, dissect it, and create a following in sync with their priorities and vision. This following, or “brand community”, stands for a group of people engrossed in a particular label, going beyond a transaction, and playing a vital role in building and establishing brand recognition and loyalty.[1]

“In the past, dialogue with your customer was through third parties: advertising, magazines, wholesaling your products to different types of retailers,” says Frederic Court, founder and managing partner at Felix Capital, a venture capital firm for the creative class. “Today, brands have this unique opportunity to engage directly with the consumer,” he explains.[2]

Similar to a collective, with a soul and beating heart, such communities reinforce a sense of identity to customers, yielding companies a better understanding of what their target audiences seek. Further fortified by shared stories, values and opinions, your fans become a solid foundation for the client-brand relationship — a much-needed survival kit in today’s volatile world.[3]

According to a 2021 study by IBM, 72% of top-performing brands today are consumer-centric. Placing your audience at the center of your strategy means considering their beliefs, their community’s desires, the customer journey, satisfaction levels, and genuine needs.[4]

“The most successful brands use their own communities to propel growth,” explains Jaclyn Crocker, brand consultant at Duel and Lululemon. “By building a powerful community around your brand, what you are really doing is equipping a group of people in a particular market — and most likely in multiple markets — with your story.”[5]

That may be, but brand communities are challenging to build and even harder to maintain. Thanks to countless offerings available at every price point, and immediate access through e-commerce platforms, customers demand more than just a great product and impeccable service for the price of loyalty. A LIM College poll showed a whopping 45% of millennials say that “nothing can be done” by fashion brands today to continue to retain their interest.[6]

Against this backdrop, expert advice becomes invaluable. We present a 5-step strategy framework based on extensive research and industry knowledge, paired with a real-life case study example at the end of the article, in hopes of helping elevate your community and cash flows through practical and actionable solutions.

Leverage to lead

Just like any relationship, that with your audience must have strong foundations so that it can support your growth, and your community’s ambition.

Step 1: Stay relevant

People rarely invest their time in something that fails to add value to their lives. No matter what brand community you create, make sure your value proposition is useful, practical, and relatable to your end consumers.

To avoid this pitfall, you must know your customers in detail, and even more so, what they like and dislike. Leveraging social media insights and web analytics to identify and understand your existing customers will help forge your niche, especially amongst your diehard fans. Tailoring communications for your audiences establishes common ground, a critical touchpoint for a fruit-bearing relationship.[7]

Transforming consumer insights into wholesome and compelling content means embracing creativity, trying out different approaches as you go, and weeding out those that fail to pique interest. These include helpful tutorials, interesting articles, live digital events, and co-created content with influencers your community loves. Such assets will form a unique follower base, where opinions and perspectives on your brand will come alive, come together, further strengthening identity and loyalty.[8]

Step 2: Engage through rewards

Brand communities are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Effectively engaging your band of followers will require talking to the variety of reasons they buy into your mission — whether this may be simply to contribute to the greater good, cultivate interests and skills, or even deeper, to find emotional support and encouragement.[9]

Retaining your audience’s regular engagement also requires reinforcement, which can be more abstract, or more palpable. Intangible, emotional rewards collect ratings, rankings, and point systems to give users a chance to get social boosts for engaging with your content. While tangible rewards, such as gift coupons, cash benefits, and free giveaways, amongst others, will gratify your customers when engaging with the community.[10]

Step 3: Share real stories

The quickest way to the heart of your members is to tell your own, personal narrative — through client and employee-led perspectives — in an authentic way. Your followers will appreciate that you celebrate their accomplishments and often respond positively to such recognitions.[11]

Spotlighting the people behind the brand and those running the show helps build trust. Backstage images and videos, interviews, reposts, and commentaries give the audience a deeper understanding of who you are and the work you do, appreciating the transparency along the way.[12]

Step 4: Use a more human approach

In the highly competitive fashion market, brands are looking to in-person, physical events, often with an educational or community-building tilt. The reason: they see it as an opportunity to forge long-lasting connections with shoppers.

Psychologically, this makes sense. In his book, Descartes’ Error, Antonio Damasio, a neuroscience professor at the University of Southern California, explains that “emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions.”[13] When people are faced with a choice, emotions from past, related experiences kick into gear and assign values to the options we are considering, determining our preferences.

In the same research, functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that consumers primarily use emotions when evaluating brands, and that positive feelings serve as a factor when it comes to brand loyalty.

Educational events are a long-term play for brands who want to build lasting relationships with their audience. The goal is to create moments that reinforce emotional and personal connections while providing an environment to share more about the company’s background, process and values. [14]

Will they be a quick driver of sales? Maybe not. But they will present a unique opportunity for brands to position themselves as community hubs and offer a place where like-minded people can congregate and feel part of a movement through shared experiences.[15]

Step 5: Eavesdrop on dialogue

Brand communities embody a symbiotic relationship. It forms a two-way communication and requires fashion firms to listen to feedback, observing conversations between fans. Today’s generation of shoppers, particularly Millennial and Gen Z consumers, are active, vocal and involved.

“They are choosing to vote with their wallets,” comments Alison Bringé, CMO at Launchmetrics, the leading brand performance cloud for fashion. “They are more engaged and more informed than ever before and can easily find the information they need to support brands that align with their values and abandon those who don’t.”[16]

Co-creation is a powerful manifestation of listening to consumer dialogue. This entails collaborating and actively nurturing the innovation process with a chosen community.[17] Whether you are showcasing user-generated content about your brand, involving fans in the design or launch of a product, or creating dedicated channels for customers to voice their ideas, the goal is to actively listen and turn conversations into brand actions.

Case Study: Matter Prints

Singapore-based Matter Prints — a sustainable clothing brand reimagining classical design techniques such as woodblock printing and Batik — has been putting all five steps to good use (Figure 1).[18],[19],[20]

Figure 1: Matter Print’s Five Steps in Action

This five-step framework is of course not exclusive, and therefore players will need to adapt it to their own needs and necessities. However, it provides for a do-it-yourself strategy to achieve the first cardinal of exceeding your customers’ expectations — knowing them.[21]

References

[1] “5 Ways to Build a Community for Your Clothing Brand.” Fashinza. Available at: https://fashinza.com/textile/tips-for-fashion-brands/5-ways-to-build-a-community-for-your-clothing-brand/

[2] “Community Is Core to Next-Gen Brands.” Business of Fashion. Available at: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/news-analysis/community-driven-brands/

[3] “5 Ways to Build a Community for Your Clothing Brand.” Fashinza. Available at: https://fashinza.com/textile/tips-for-fashion-brands/5-ways-to-build-a-community-for-your-clothing-brand/

[4] “Innovative Strategies for a More Consumer-Centric Fashion Brand.” Heuritech. Available at: https://www.heuritech.com/articles/fashion-retail/consumer-centric-fashion-brand-strategies/

[5] “Brand Communities Are the Answer to Engaging a New Generation of Consumers.” INC. Available at: https://www.inc.com/michelle-manafy/brand-communities-are-answer-to-engaging-a-new-generation-of-consumers.html

[6] “Community Is Core to Next-Gen Brands.” Business of Fashion. Available at: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/news-analysis/community-driven-brands/

[7] “How to Create a Brand Community: A Step-By-Step Process.” Social Media Strategies Summit. Available at: https://blog.socialmediastrategiessummit.com/create-a-brand-community/

[8] “10 Tips for Building a Community Around Your Brand.” PR Daily. Available at: https://www.prdaily.com/10-tips-for-building-a-community-around-your-brand/

[9] “Getting Brand Communities Right.” Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2009/04/getting-brand-communities-right

[10] “How to Build a Passionate Community Around Your Brand — Definitive Guide for Online Fashion Retailers.” Netgains. Available at: https://www.ilovefashionretail.com/fundamentals/how-to-build-a-passionate-community-around-your-brand-definitive-guide-for-online-fashion-retailers/

[11] “16 Ways to Build a Strong Community Around Your Brand.” Fast Company. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/90644446/16-ways-to-build-a-strong-community-around-your-brand

[12] “16 Ways to Build a Strong Community Around Your Brand.” Fast Company. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/90644446/16-ways-to-build-a-strong-community-around-your-brand

[13] “How Emotions Influence What We Buy.” Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inside-the-consumer-mind/201302/how-emotions-influence-what-we-buy

[14] “Why More Fashion Brands Are Leveraging Educational Events for Community-Building.” Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kaleighmoore/2019/07/24/why-more-fashion-brands-are-leveraging-educational-events-for-community-building/?sh=1d469ea93217

[15] “Why More Fashion Brands Are Leveraging Educational Events for Community-Building.” Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kaleighmoore/2019/07/24/why-more-fashion-brands-are-leveraging-educational-events-for-community-building/?sh=1d469ea93217

[16] “Consumers Mobilize to Hold Brands to Account.” Vogue Business. Available at: https://www.voguebusiness.com/companies/consumers-mobilise-to-hold-brands-to-account

[17] “6 Customer-Centric Brands Who Co-Create with Customers.” Chaordix. Available at: https://chaordix.com/resources/6-customer-centric-brands-who-co-create-with-customers

[18] “Matter Prints Brand Loyalty: Heritage & Community Building.” ReferralCandy. Available at: https://www.referralcandy.com/blog/matter-prints-marketing-strategy-community

[19] “Journal.” Matter Prints. Available at https://www.matterprints.com/journal/

[20] “Matterprints.” Instagram. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/matterprints/

[21] “Are You Meeting Customer Expectations?” PECB. Available at: https://pecb.com/article/are-you-meeting-customer-expectations

Authors: Naomy Gmyrek & Pietro Moro

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