Gill Linton: Does the Fashion Industry Know What a Brand Strategy Is?

Gill Linton: Does the Fashion Industry Know What a Brand Strategy Is?

For all the talk about timeless style and designs, the fashion industry can't help but chase the latest trend. There are those who genuinely create them and those who shamefully knock them off, but when it comes to marketing, they're equally stuck in a rut.

Gill Linton
  • 21 september 2009

Now that fall fashion marketing is here and the industry is working on what’s next, what should fashion brands do differently to make up for a terrible fiscal 2009?

Everyone’s a brand strategist these days, including people in the fashion industry whose core business is to produce fashion shows, generate publicity and create ad campaigns. In which case you’d expect fashion brands to be more distinct from each other, wouldn’t you?

Considering fashion is all about change, the fashion-marketing model is really old fashioned. It took a recession for people to accept that the selling cycle doesn’t work, and although advertising isn’t as effective as it used to be, brands still invest heavily in formulaic print ads, along with the same old sponsorships, trunk shows, pop-up shops, collaborations and now blogs, videos and social networking.

The fashion advertising model. Broken?

Does the Fashion Industry Know What a Brand Strategy Is-2

The fashion-marketing model has its place and it’s cost of entry – tactics mostly differentiated only by the aesthetic and personality of a designer/retailer and their collections, which, for a lot of mainstream brands isn’t actually that different. Brands can pr, collaborate and twitter all they like, but without a differentiating brand strategy that creatively frames a different way for consumers to think about them, beyond a cool image or shinny mobile app, brands will always be focused on outdoing their competitors latest tactic.

Daniel Chu, Executive Creative Director of marketing agency Momentum, who has worked with brands like Nike, Thom Browne, Kenneth Cole and Target, points out that,

“In fashion, we create mystique, and that’s the strategy. The mystique of creative collaborations, the mystique of pop-up shops, the mystique of photography – these are the tools to reframe the context of a fashion brand within culture. To make it more complex, fashion is a culture that thrives on itself, at its root, fashion is and always will be about itself. It creates to impress itself. In other product categories, strategy avoids mystique and relies on clarity. Strategy provides a clear consumer message, or emotional benefit, to products and categories which have no emotional or generational resonance.”

I understand that in respect of brands like Margiela where the mystique and creativity of the designer is the brand, and he is uncompromised in delivering it, but that’s one strategy for one brand, and the point of marketing is to create difference. Chu goes on to say, “Obviously as demand increases, fashion becomes a populist commodity.” My point exactly.

Does the Fashion Industry Know What a Brand Strategy Is-3

Donna Karan’s iPhone app.

Before starting her own brand consultancy Vernon Company, Kim Vernon was CMO of Calvin Klein. Kim points out that the biggest change in fashion right now is that brands are trying to adapt their take-it-or-leave-it aspirational marketing to involve the consumer online.

“We are right now seeing a quick shift in fashion brands jump into the SMM [social media marketing] pool, DKNY, Diane Von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta etc have put their foot, not toe in the [SMM] water in past months. Many companies are hiring partners to develop a strategy that goes beyond fashion shows and fragrance ads online. The first and most powerful companies with big SMM strategies have a goal to reach many people in a general target and fashion brands are going to teach agencies how to view brands online in an even more particular way. It is an exciting time for SMM as the image and great product brands won’t fear the medium but have fun with it and have conversations with the customers in a way not possible with a page in Vogue, or a billboard on sunset or even a simple e-commerce website.”

Which is great, given that digital is just the world we live in, but isn’t building the future of a business around SMM as tactical as placing an ad in Vogue? I recommend reading ‘Impatient CEO’s are all of a Twitter, but it doesn’t work like that’.

It’s not that the fashion industry isn’t strategic, of course it is, some of the most revered and successful brands in the world are in fashion. It’s that the words are misused and tactically thrown around so much that anything and everything is a ‘brand strategy’ when it’s not.

A good brand strategy creatively reframes what the brand stands for in culture beyond a product description and tactical marketing ideas. It’s a directional creative idea that drives everything the brand does, and goes much deeper than the surface aesthetics of the fashion business. One of the best brand strategies that I know of came from a road side recovery service in the UK, that became market leader after reframing their brand as the fourth emergency service alongside the police, ambulance and fire services – brilliant because no other brand could ever literally or emotionally replace them.

The fashion industry thinks they already have issues with replicas. They don’t know the half of it.

Gill writes about the business of fashion for Mpdclick – a leading commercial online fashion trend forecasting service. To discover more, please visit She is the co-founder of The Joneses a creative brand and communications company in New York. You can contact Gill at


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