Luxury brands turn to mass trade
tactics to stay front-of-mind
by Anusha Couttigane
Senior Fashion Analyst
Kantar Consulting, Retail & Shopper Practice
Fashion is the world’s local language. It is one of the most cross-border cultures and, indeed, industries of our time. As diverse as it is dynamic, the fashion market is undergoing palpable change, at a pace driven by accelerating digital developments. The multitude of digital media that influences consumers plays a crucial role in the way brands are perceived. Today, those perceptions are being shaped by the potent relationship between value and values in the world of vogue.
According to the latest Kantar TNS Connected Life study, nearly 40 percent of global internet users indicate a positive response to reading or watching content from brands on social media. On Facebook alone, 79 percent of users read brand posts. So, clearly, brand awareness and dissemination are at an all-time high, even when consumers are not actively shopping. This is particularly true of high profile brands in the luxury space like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada, all of which have invested heavily in digital marketing over the last year, helping to boost awareness and engagement.
However, this brand awareness of luxury labels can be deceptive, convincing us that high end fashion is more accessible than it truly is. A volatile global market, and the clampdown on consumer spending that comes with it, has put the dream of owning a walk-in wardrobe worthy of Carrie Bradshaw firmly on the backburner for most fashion enthusiasts. In response, many high-end houses have resorted to creating cheaper sub-labels to lure in buyers on a budget. It’s a risky approach which, for some, has resulted in regrettable brand dilution. Despite this, it is a risk these businesses have been willing to take. Consequently, in recent years, we’ve seen an explosion of cosmetics and accessories ranges carrying the namesakes of some of the most exclusive couturiers in history.
Conversely, the last year has witnessed an inversion of trends between the luxury and the lower end of the market, with companies like Armani and Hugo Boss contracting their portfolio of brands as fast fashion players like H&M and Inditex (Zara’s corporate parent) expand them. By broadening their portfolios, fast fashion players are stretching their reach, both within the fashion sphere to more affluent segments of the market, and beyond the fashion space, into other lifestyle categories like homewares. This has resulted in a proliferation of brands that have flooded the market. Meanwhile, luxury labels that have suffered from over-exposure are refocusing on their brand DNA, revisiting their archives for inspiration to guarantee authenticity and reclaiming ownership over their premium positioning in the face of rising competition.
Race to market
The competitive nature of this highly saturated space, propelled by demand for instant gratification and online availability, has resulted in a race to market, particularly as the adoption of “See Now, Buy Now” strategies accelerates. This sees upmarket fashion players, historically adhering to a bi-annual fashion calendar, producing collections much closer to the season, making them available for immediate release the second they are showcased. For some premium players, this has solved a critical problem, enabling them to protect their design IP and get them to market before fast fashion rivals have a chance to groom the catwalks and appropriate the best ideas ahead of the new season. Others, like Moncler, are shirking the “season” altogether, taking the innovative approach of launching smaller capsule collections throughout the year that regularly introduce newness.
That noted, innovation is not the only fuel for growth. Consumers are increasingly prioritizing their own values and experiences when it comes to brand selection. What this means is that “new” and “fresh” is no longer the primary indicator of what’s fashionable. Instead, the most important question brands need to ask is: “What’s relevant?” More and more, fashionable lifestyles are being determined by the values that consumers buy into and this is transforming the way people shop.
The capacity for a brand to capture those lifestyle values now draws a direct correlation with spend value; in fact, Kantar Consulting’s most recent ShopperScape® data from the US indicates that 56 percent of shoppers would spend more on a product that reflects their values. Looking at fashion alone, 40 percent of apparel shoppers are willing to spend more on a brand that is ethically sourced. Far from being fluffy consumer sentiments, these behaviors signify a sea-change in attitudes across the fashion industry, with the likes of Gucci—one of the most successful luxury labels of our day—going fur-free as part of its 10-year sustainability plan, while simultaneously embracing diversity by introducing the hijab to its ranges. Brand success can therefore be measured by how well a brand empowers its shoppers to make statements about their personal values. Providing an engine to communicate the passions and principles of the wearer is the number one way to convert a fashion consumer into a brand advocate—by becoming a part of their life story.
Actions for succeeding
in the fashion space
1. Craft authenticity with conviction
Use meaningful marketing messages to educate the customer on the story of the brand. Always develop signature lines with reference to the blueprints of that brand DNA.
2. Collaborate to win
Ensure that partners and suppliers are also on board with brand initiatives to achieve shared ownership over success.
3. Cater to an audience of one
Take everything the customer tells you personally and embed their lifestyle values into your offer. Empower the shopper to make personal statements by buying your brand.