Fashion industry chiefs, creatives and media socialites gathered earlier this month for the inaugural WGSN Creative Futures event, held in London over two-days to join the dots between creativity and commerce. Key themes included: phygital media, retail disruption, real-time social feeds and the important of experience by design. Here are my top six takeaways.
1. Entertainment is the new retail
Storytelling has become a key component of the Kate Spade brand equity. ‘Walking into a Kate Spade store is an experience,’ says Kristen Naiman, VP brand creative for the brand. ‘In comparison to shopping online you have to bring your brand to life as a living, breathing brand experience,’ she says.
But, the act of storytelling has to be holistic and true to the brand. ‘There’s been a shift in storytelling – moving away from just heritage to being more cohesive, bringing conversations to both on and offline,’ says Naiman. Now the customer has become a character in the story and she’s had a surge of autonomy. ‘It’s about telling the story in a universal way, so that people can relate to it and see themselves as that heroine. The true value of digital means now people can identify with a brand vision,’ says Naiman.
Kate Spade has taken on humour with its series of films featuring Anna Kendrick. ‘They tell the story of our brand with the central character as a mad cap heroine; women like Carrie Bradshaw, who came to NYC to find themselves,’ says Naiman.
Core customer service is at the heart of the brand experience in-store, says Lou Ashton, head of digital for Topshop. ‘There’s always a base level of brand experience to the customer when they visit our stores – the UX (user experience) is a high priority,’ says Ashton. For Topshop’s partnership with virtual reality specialists Inition during LFW in Feb 2014, the show was very much how we approach digital, says Ashton. ‘The Oculus Rift partnership showed how much we want to democratize fashion week for our audience. Virtual reality (VR) does have a place in retail, as an idea to start off something magical. We want to go to that crazy place, and work backwards to see if it can be sustained in the store,’ she says.
VR is likely to have a place in the store of the future. ‘We’re thinking about how that virtual shopping world could work in our locations. We like to be first with tech, experiment with it, and then make it more relevant commercially.
2. Phygital magazines provide a new seamless digital content experience
Tank magazine’s publisher Caroline Issa unpacked how the magazine world is turning phygital. Her mobile scanning app, Fashion Scan brings content on print pages to life with added layers of content, video and interviews. ‘ I want to integrate the physical and digital worlds of fashion magazines in the way oil mixes with ink – we live in an age of melting boundaries,’ she says.
After launching Tank 10 years ago, Issa launched the seasonal Because Magazine three years ago in conjunction with the Fashion Scan app as an experiment. ‘It’s like a pop-up book for grown ups where fashion shoots and ads are digitally enabled and content plays on your device,’ she says. The fashion app scans and recognizes current ads and acts as a diving board for the user to view further video content for each luxury or designer campaign. ‘Video and still campaigns can act in harmony together,’ she adds.
The luxury industry was slow to react to digital progress, especially in the traditionally print advertising medium. ‘It took grass roots momentum such as street style photography and blogs such as The Sartorialist or Tommy Ton, to up the scale of interactive content across magazines and their growing online platforms,’ says Issa. Mobile is the dominant platform now. ‘According to a 2014 KPCB report, video sharing on mobile devices is up 22% year on year and over the last 10 years, mobile and tablet sales have far outstripped desktops. I am in no doubt, the future of digital is mobile,’ she says.
Augmented reality, especially in advertising, hasn’t had a great response yet, it can be too gimmicky, says Issa. But it can work well as an extra layer of editorial. She cites a recent collaboration with Lush Kitchen as a good example of how layered, augmented content can provide a great boost to the storytelling behind a campaign. ‘Fashion Scan allows multiple touch points of content from each page. We have analytics to prove spikes in engagement and clicks that lead to sales online when specific products are mentioned. Our readers return to pages to scan content again and again up to six weeks after their first scan – prolonging the shelf life of the magazine and the ads inside,’ she explains.
Jefferson Hack, co-founder Another Magazine was the first publisher to produce a full LCD screen cover on a magazine. Explaining how he did it, along side the ‘go-to man of Silicon Valley’ Liam Casey of PCH, Hack says he almost gave up after nine months of research and just before he met Casey. The story of the cover video is that it has to be short agree Hack and Casey. ‘Readers have short attention spans, so you have to hold onto that aha moment, you don’t deviate too far from the immediacy of capturing someone’s attention. Rhianna made this work, she’s not just a cover model, she’s a performer, she can move and capture your attention,’ says Hack.
‘There is a prototyping renaissance happening in tech hardware right now. This type of interactive magazine opens doors for publishers to experiment with commerce, exploding the limitations of print and digital,’ says Hack, who adds he’s now looking at R&D in screen tech, ‘thinner and flexible screens are the way forward.’
3. Content to commerce is driving a new circular online retail landscape.
Amazon is a cold company when it comes to customer service. That’s the internal, accepted view according to Stephen Uren, creative director Europe. ‘Customers don’t mind that Amazon is quite a cold company, we’re not warm the way we talk to people, the UX is not great,’ he says. Now Amazon wants to understand who its customers are, in much more depth. ‘We are getting more editorial all the time. We want to talk to our customers. You can’t just be about product all the time,’ he says. ‘We are always looking at how consumer attitudes to shopping online are changing – they are evolving and becoming much more discerning.
Amazon wants to change from being a high-convenience brand to a high-fidelity shopping brand according to Uren. There are certain artisanal products on Amazon Fashion that have not surfaced yet, he says. ‘We don’t have the right tools to show them. It needs to be a much more curated and tailored shopping experience than it is now,’ he adds.
There’s a huge amount of convergence between publishing, e-tailing and retailing says Melissa Dick, new content director at Conde Nast e-commerce and past editorial director at ASOS. ‘It’s easier for retailers to produce content that it is for publishers to become retailers,’ she says. For Stylebop it was easier to invest in content than not. ‘Its less harmful to the brand, if it doesn’t work you can just start again, you can’t say that about holding stock or investing in merchandise,’ says fashion director, Leila Yavari.
Publishers have a responsibility to produce insightful content to capture the reader’s imagination. ‘The role of publisher is to understand your customer and to give them the confidence they need, through whatever content vertical you have available,’ says Dick. ‘That’s the same role for a retailer, understanding their customers’ needs and what they might want to consume next season.’ Yavari defines Stylebop’s editorial content strategy around the seasonal buy. ‘We need to create a message that is a luxury aspirational environment. If you don’t’ have a store then you can create the brand personality through the content.’
The brands that communicate well with their audience will be the content successes of the future, ‘the minute you slap a conversion table on your editorial team will be the minute you fail,’ says Dick. ‘Magazines have started with integrity – many editors are brand ambassadors or influencers now too – so retail brands need to have a similar approach, it’s the same principal,’ agrees Yavari.
Every publisher needs to think about new revenue streams in today’s crowded marketplace. ‘It might be entertainment, it might be experience,’ says Dick. ‘Publishers are looking into experiential platforms, they have amazing brands (eg Vogue Festival). Partnerships of publishers and brands will grow, we will start to see more hybrid platforms,’ she says.
4. Real-time social feeds win the connected consumer’s scroll time
Twitter’s real-time feeds and access to insiders are driving engagement, especially around key fashion events, according to the social platform’s sales lead, Georgina Parnell. ‘We’ve seen huge growth in the way people consume fashion content on Twitter around fashion weeks and events such as the Met Gala. Dedicated hashtags such as #LFW or #MetGala drive conversations. Brands have opportunities from all that passion bubbling,’ she says.
With 54m ‘I want, I need’ tweets per month – there is automatic activation around purchases. According to Twitter’s own research, users are 3.2 times more likely to feel up to date for fashion events. Twitter is real time and consumers love that behind the scenes perspective, says Parnell. She cites recent examples as the detailed multi-photo images from backstage at Matthew Williamson’s show or Burberry’s exclusive #Tweetcam content in real time from its LFW show, when the brand’s exclusive filters for personalized tweets felt very special for the users who participated.
Again during LFW, Topshop partnered with Twitter for a focus on real-time retail trends. When Topshop took live Twitter data from the dedicated #LiveTrends hashtag it monitored key trends such as floral/stripes/70s to link back to product available online and in-store. The results were immediately showcased in stores, where merchandise changed hourly and across all Topshop’s social feeds. There was a 34% increase in sales over the four day LFW period.
During the recent BAFTAs, sponsored posts by House of Fraser led to shoppable tweets for products online that had sold out by the Monday. ‘This closed loop campaign ensured everyone was on the same journey,’ says Parnell.
Twitter’s real-time experience is turning into a live one. ‘Now Periscope is changing the landscape,’ says Parnell. ‘It’s a broadcast app that makes whatever you are doing live to all your users. It has huge potential for fashion weeks.’ She gives the example of Davina McCall (TV presenter) giving a live red carpet commentary on Periscope for the Baftas. ‘Think about how fashion brands can include fans into content – now possible live and immediately on Periscope,’ says Parnell.
Early adopting brands have jumped onto Periscope to experiment with content for followers. For example, Urban Outfitters has broadcast live bands in-store via Periscope feeds and social media influencers including Tom Green and Eliza Licht have taken to promoting their respective latest film/book with live Q&As.
According to the same research, 56% of users say Twitter gives them access to influencers, while 47% of fashion and beauty fans buy from their favourite brands through Twitter.
Everyone has an app in them, but being the first British app to be included on the Apple Watch is an innovative move and something Justin Cooke, founder of music app Tunepics, is used to. Describing his music and pictures app, Cooke says ‘Instagram freed the photo, we want to free music.’ He says the Apple Watch association is a sign of how far Tunepics has come in just over a year, adding it will probably grow through gifting and personalized messages on the Apple device. ‘A social network is only 10% of where we want to be. We have to learn how to evolve the product – we have 2m live uses now, our aim is to connect the world through emotion plus music,’ he says.
5. Authentic (human) experience keeps tech in retail design, luxury service relevant.
Taking a wide view at how brands should communicate with tomorrow’s connected consumer, Jonathan Chippendale, CEO of retail technology specialist Holition says disruption is manifest. ‘Digital has disrupted the retail space beyond recognition, you can’t ignore it as the future,’ he says.
‘Lots of tech is easy to use but it fails to deliver on experience, especially if the retailer doesn’t understand what the engagement value is in the first place,’ he says, adding that so much of it lacks the cool factor in-store, because it’s usually built by technologists rather than people who understand consumer behavior.
‘We finally got rid of QR codes, now my bête noir is just screens. I want to banish them from stores. People already have a screen in their hand they don’t need another one when they look up,’ he says. But there are creative ways of using screens when they provide relevant entertainment, he counters, citing Holition’s visualizing data project in 2014 for Lyst. ‘We provided the God’s eye view, updating Lyst’s data in real time, showing the trends coming straight out of 30,000 purchases per second. We intercepted these pieces of data on their journey around the Lyst network and re-packaged it to provide a visual story.’
The beauty industry has found success with magic mirrors, first the L’Oreal app and now Holition’s own Face app, currently being promoted in conjuction with London College of Fashion and the Savage Beauty Alexander McQueen exhibition. Chippendale says this example personifies Holition’s approach to mixing analogue with digital, to engaging consumer in more personal ways and to move towards a more sensorial technology experience.
Best practice retail has always been about experience. ‘As retailers we walk our customers through five key stages on the journey to purchase,’ explains Guy Smith, head of design for Arcadia.
‘Firstly it’s about an introduction to the brand values; then it’s helping them to browse the store with textured, layered content to help them feel part of the brand; next is the validation stage, that moment when they’re thinking about buying something and you have to create a deep connection; then it’s securing payment, which is where things are changing the most and we are heading towards a mobile first purchase environment. This stage needs to be re-configured, where the current static (tills) model is disrupted and payment is merged with the fitting room experience; lastly it’s the sharing stage, when retailers need to encourage customers to share their experience with friends and the cycle begins again with someone new,’ he explains. He says there is much dispruption in the market and sometimes experimentation is difficult to guage in terms of ROI, but ultimately retailers need to make all of this seamless.
Experience design has to be about fun, says Smith. ‘Shopping is still a major pastime for consumers. Service design (with or without technology) is an integral part of experience design. The right kind of advice is key. It’s the validation part, so capitalize on people and personal service. Experiential design is critical – every time someone meets the brand it has to be perfect, anything less and the brand loyalty is gone.
‘True luxury is still centred on a personal in-store experience,’ says Patrick Grant, creative director of Norton & Sons of Savile Row. ‘The fashion world is increasingly in the business of giving people a total experience that connects them, physically, to luxury,’ he adds. Money buys the opportunity to experience genuine luxury and where human interaction and face to face engagement is required – flying in the face of ‘ubiquitous technology’ according to Grant who is in talks with Vertu to turn communicating via smartphone into a personalized, human experience.
6. Co-collaborators share partnership lessons
Who better to talk about the benefits of designer collaborations than H&M? ‘Our collaborations have a huge effect on the designers now, after 10 years, it puts them on the global map, says H&M’s global creative director Donald Schenider. ‘The result is that it’s changed the way people integrate with H&M. It has become acceptable to mix high and low fashion,’ he says.
The relationship between designer and H&M has to be organic, says Schenider, adding it’s a lot of teamwork and a well-oiled machine. ‘Ultimately H&M just wants to be a designer brand for the few hours each collection is in store – the idea is that it flies out quickly,’ he says. While most designers are usually nervous at first, they soon realize the scale of the collaboration. ‘We spend more money in a week than they would all year – and it will change their life.’ (It’s a shame Schenider didn’t spill the beans about the new Balmain collaboration, he was speaking just a week before the announcement!)
One of the fashion industry’s more surprising collaborations is Ekocylce, and the brand’s creative director Adam Derry talked about how the three way partnership between Will.i.am, Harrods and Coke has launched onto the fashion landscape with one agenda: to create innovation in sustainability through design.
‘We believe by leading through design it will be an epiphany moment,’ says Derry. ‘With Coke’s investment in providing post-consumer waste as a base cloth and Will.i.am’s commitment to redefining what sustainable design can look like, it’s up to us as consumers to affect change,’ he says.
The fashion industry needs to redefine waste and recyclable materials for the future. Derry says Ekocyle sees waste as a commodity and a new gold, where the brand plays to its collaborative brand strengths. ‘I love collaboration when its clearly defined, says Derry. ‘We have 130 products at Harrods – that’s a lot of noise about sustainability and design input from three power houses: Will.i.am, Harrods and Coke.’ Derry’s definition of sustainability today is a bulletproof trust record for the manufacturing journey – all practices around sustainability have to be 100% transparent to do it properly.