Catwalk lessons in blending stories with sales success

With readers becoming consumers at the tap of a ‘buy now’ button, the boundary between shopping and publishing is fast eroding. In the fashion industry, the brands with great content win sales as well as readers, offering lessons for other sectors.

At least the first 10 pages of any glossy magazine are adverts – beautifully shot and often creative, but adverts nonetheless. Readers don’t seem to mind this; fashion brands need the approval of magazines and bloggers to sell their wares, and – to pay the bills – magazines and bloggers need those same brands to advertise with them.

Perhaps because the fashion industry has been balancing this delicate relationship between editorial and advertising for decades, fashion retailers are producing some of the best content marketing around. In many cases publishers now follow their lead on content and in 2016, the editorial/sales boundary will be blurred even further when Condé Nast launches Style.com. The site will allow readers of Vogue and GQ to shop directly from the pages of the online editions of the magazines, as well as from Style.com itself. The partnership will eventually be rolled out to all Condé Nast titles, taking in sales of food, wine and travel as well as fashion.

Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet understood with stunning success the shopper’s desire for a style-savvy guide through the world of luxury fashion. The website (which merged with Italian rival Yoox in October, creating a €2.75bn luxury online retailer) offers suggestions for how to wear each item – with other clothes and accessories for sale on Net-a-Porter, of course – and sends a ‘this week’s most wanted’ email to customers, illustrated with highly-desirable items to click through to and buy. Ms Massenet is a former Tatler journalist and the ‘how to wear’ and ‘our picks’ articles are fashion magazine staples. Brands which began life on the high street and in catalogues, such as L.K. Bennett and Boden, have now taken up the Net-a-Porter approach and use their web content to hook shoppers.

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Another online fashion success story to embrace the power of content is Asos. Its youthful target market takes social media for granted and the company’s new loyalty scheme offers customers a reward every time they post a picture of themselves on Instagram wearing Asos clothes, using the hashtag #asseenonme.

Social media sites are also parking their tanks on the e-tailing lawn and have introduced various ways for users to shop directly from their sites without having to navigate away to a retailer’s own website. 2015 was the first Christmas that ‘social shopping’ made an impact, Marks & Spencer’s director of marketing and international Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne told the Financial Times in December.

So with publishers, retailers and social media companies all heading in the same direction – using high-quality content to drive sales – what can other industries learn from the world of clothes?

Fashion lends itself to good-looking images and people identify with the clothing brands they favour to the extent that they will sign up for emails, follow on social media and spend time reading content. This could be equally true for cars, bikes, drinks, books, food brands and retailers, holidays, property, homewares and anything to do with children, pets or sport. Certainly it’s harder if your business is selling gravel or offering IT services, but there are some universal lessons:

Net-a-Porter showed that online shoppers with plenty of money to spend are willing to be advised by a retailer, just as they would be in person in a boutique or department store. Provided the advice is good, it doesn’t seem to be a problem that the person dispensing it stands to make money from doing so.

Fashion also embraces occasions: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, summer holidays. Every business can produce content for their website that highlights forthcoming events or peak periods in the industry, and explain what they can do to help customers make the most of them.

To grab eyeballs, particularly on social media, making your online store an attractive and interesting place to be relies on high-quality images as surely as store design and branding do in the real world.

The industry has also been quick to seize on the ability to stream live to mobiles and desktop devices via apps such as Twitter’s Periscope.

Brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Jeremy Scott and Carolina Herrera ran live streams from last year’s New York Fashion Week. Ralph Lauren had around 10 million people tune into its stream. While a glance at the subscriber numbers for fashion brands on YouTube indicates how much appetite there is for video.

Some initiatives push outside of the sector. For example, in 2015 Burberry became the first brand to launch a channel on Apple’s new music streaming service. The Burberry Channel sits within Apple’s ‘curators’ section and features live performances and exclusive videos.

People are just as hungry for advice and information as they were when their only source was newspapers, magazines and books. The internet gives businesses the chance to tell their own story, using website content and social media, and done well it can translate into sales. As Olivier Breton, chief marketing officer for global e-commerce at Condé Nast, said when he was appointed: “Customers want a lot of content. It drives their purchasing.”

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