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Editor's pick Podcast product Retail sustainability

Meet 5 disruptive direct-to-consumer brands

Ask any direct-to-consumer brand and the answer is clear: the death of retail is greatly exaggerated.

Throughout the year, the Innovators podcast by TheCurrent Global spoke to some of the top businesses disrupting the markets they’re in to uncover the secrets to their success.

The one thing they seem to have in common is finding an industry that has long been left untapped, and focusing on a single product category – whether it be shoes, luggage, underwear and more. But they’re also winning by bringing in strong elements of community, having a sustainable story at their heart and launching into physical retail.

Here are our top ones from this year’s podcast episodes:

HEIST
Heist’s Toby Darbyshire and Rachel Arthur

In April, TheCurrent Global spoke to Toby Darbyshire, CEO of UK-based hosiery brand Heist Studios, on how the brand is innovating such a traditional category. “It struck us that in the age of Harvey Weinstein, the fact that my wife, who is a pretty modern woman, walks into Selfridges’ underwear section and it says ‘listen love, put this on – one of sort of four or five societal normalized views of sexy – and then you can fulfil your purpose’. That seems like an industry at its fundamental that is both broken from a brand point of view but also totally out of kilter with the cultural discourse,” he said at the time.

Heist plans on fixing the industry by placing a large focus on its product development, which begins at the customer and how they feel about tights, to product innovation that takes cues from other industries, such as sports, to better understand the performance and wear of textiles. 

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CASPER
Liz Bacelar and Casper's Eleanor Morgan
Liz Bacelar and Casper’s Eleanor Morgan

Mattress brand Casper is arguably one of the category’s biggest success stories, said to be worth over $750m today, with plans to open over 200 retail locations over the next three years. Today, brands should be deploying three different tools to achieve a successful retail experience, said chief experience officer Eleanor Morgan: trial, service and entertainment.

The brand, which introduced the mattress-in-a-box experience to American homes and beyond in 2014, now paves the way for digitally-native brands that are transitioning from online to offline spaces. Its stores, most recently the Dreamery space in NY, don’t focus on inventory availability and convenience. Instead, the focus is giving customers the ability to enjoy moments with the brand, which involves more practical elements such as try-on and expert consultation.

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NADAAM 
Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam
Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam

Cashmere brand Nadaam has built its entire business on relationships, said founder Matt Scanlan. “There are fundamental shared experiences across the human experience that we don’t think about when we’re making clothing; that we don’t think about when we’re trying to look nice” he told co-host Liz Bacelar earlier this year. 

Since inception, Nadaam has focused on building a strong bond with the communities that trade raw materials that become its products. That was an important factor to establishing a more sustainable supply chain, and part of a plan to build the biggest platform he could in order to share his message. Consumers are ready for this, he said, which only helps drive his message forward. During the conversation, Scanlan also talked about why 100% sustainability is both fake and impossible, and the challenges of growing such a brand. 

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AWAY
Jen Rubio and Liz Bacelar
Jen Rubio and Liz Bacelar

Travel brand Away never wanted to be another Silicon Valley story that was showered with VC money and failed to deliver. In order to ensure longevity, it never pitched itself as a luggage company, but rather a brand aiming to make travel more seamless. Such was the approach that the business received its first round of investment before ever having a physical product.

These days, Away’s mindset of creating a lifestyle rather than a single-product brand is exemplified by a travel magazine called Here, several successful collaborations with everyone from model Karlie Kloss to basketball Dwayne Wade and a slew of physical stores that sell beyond the simple suitcase. 

Listen here

ALLBIRDS
Tim Brown of Allbirds with Rachel Arthur
Tim Brown of Allbirds with Rachel Arthur

Footwear label Allbirds was conceived on the idea of creating a simple shoe that had two main focuses: sustainability and comfort. The aim was two-fold because according to co-founder Tim Brown, people don’t buy solely based on a brand’s sustainability credentials, but whether the product itself does what it says on the tin.

During this podcast conversation, Brown also honed in on the importance of businesses taking a responsibility in ensuring a greener future, rather than expecting the consumer to do it themselves. He also talked about the fact the brand has been making strides in product development that aligns with its ethos of sustainability: it recently launched a new flip flop range made with renewable sugarcane soles, the “recipe” of which is open source so other industry names can join in.

Soon after the episode was initially published, Allbirds took its mission online with Meet Your Shoes, a platform that showcased the provenance of the wool and tree styles. For wool, for example, users can read the ‘sheep dossier’ and even pet individual sheep as they stroll across the screen in a video. 

Listen here

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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business Editor's pick Retail

Community and causes: Highlights from the Fast Company Innovation Festival

Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.
Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.

Experiences that attract young customers, engaging with the community and taking a stance on social issues were the major topics of conversation at this year’s Fast Company Innovation Festival.

Speaking at the conference, brand experts highlighted the growing importance of listening to their consumers, and reflecting their lifestyles and values.

Shopping as an experience

“Experience today is a younger generation’s currency,” said Daniella Vitale, CEO of Barneys New York. “They’re less motivated by money and more motivated by an authentic experience.” At a panel about the company’s strategy for reaching young customers, Vitale mentioned the success of “The Drop”, an elaborate, experiential program that involved a retail model inspired by streetwear, as well as parties and workshops. “We were willing to forfeit profitability and sales for an incredible experience.”

Vitale stressed, however, that the program ended up generating a huge return on their investment by converting visitors to repeat customers while retaining the ones they already had. ”The Drop is way beyond merchandising. It’s about working with large-scale brands on creating exclusive projects.”

Companies as communities

Tina Sharkey, CEO of FMCG startup company Brandless, says the company thinks of itself less as a company and more like a community, which includes constant communication with its customer base.

Social networks are its go-to channel for those conversations. “We are constantly asking what do they think, what we can do better, what they are looking for?” Sharkey said. “People want to answer these questions because people want to be seen. It amazes me that direct-to-consumer companies think of [social media] as a channel as opposed to a direct relationship.”

For Sharkey, the brand becomes a platform for customers to be heard and for products to tell their own stories. For instance, Brandless does weekly Facebook Live events with its buyers so that customers can ask questions in real time. “Companies shouldn’t be creating false narratives around the products. The products need to be able to speak for themselves. Therefore the quality of the product is foundational.”

Brands weighing in on activism

For Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co, countries are so politically divided at the moment that CEOs have a great obligation to weigh in on causes. Recently, the company pledged $1M to gun control organizations, as well as signed a letter asking Congress to pass the bipartisan Dream Act. It has also also teamed up with over 200 brands, including Patagonia, in the “Time to Vote” campaign, which grants employees time off to vote.

Levi’s isn’t afraid of losing customers, Bergh said. “When we took action on gun control, I got lots of emails of people saying they would stop buying Levi’s, but I also got thousands of other ones from people saying they would buy even more from us.” The risk seems to be paying off, however. “We’ve had four quarters of double-digit roll growth. That’s on top of last year’s 8% growth. So our business results are actually accelerating.”

Bergh also said that becoming political was never an issue for the talent the company works with. “Having the courage to stand up and take a stand has always been a part of our lifeblood, and it’s who we are. And our employees expect it.”

Are you thinking innovatively enough in your brand messaging? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Podcast

How luxury can learn from streetwear’s hype culture

Bia Bezamat and Ferdinando Verderi
Bia Bezamat and Ferdinando Verderi

Luxury has a lot to learn from the way streetwear brands trade on creating desire, says Ferdinando Verderi, co-founder and creative director of NY-based agency Johannes Leonardo, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

As the creative lead behind the adidas Originals and Alexander Wang collaboration, his experience shows that relevancy in today’s market is all about bringing the customer close, but keeping products scarce.

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS

Accordingly, tapping into a mentality of belonging is at the heart of what makes the streetwear industry so successful and as a result, a strategy that luxury is keen to follow, he explains. “It’s easy to forget how the streetwear phenomenon started. [It] started with the will of people to belong to a real community that has a point of view that is different from others,” he says.

His award-winning work for adidas Originals has involved unpicking what creativity stands for, and how a sportswear giant can challenge the status quo. This has meant ideas like crossing out the brand’s iconic three stripes, expressing the importance of being a work in progress (see “Original is never finished”) and even turning the brand’s logo upside down.

When the agency helped broker adidas Originals’ partnership with Alexander Wang, it consequently ended up almost laying the groundwork for what luxury-meets-street collaborations, now popularized through many other deals, entail.

The collab was built on the concept of purposively disrespecting industry rules, says Verderi. Over three seasons they have done everything from a reseller-inspired retail strategy to analog marketing activity that involved text messaging.

During this conversation with TheCurrent’s innovation strategist, Bia Bezamat, Verderi dives into what all of that has meant, all the while also talking about why brands need to think like publishers in the way they drop content over product, how another movement will come to replace streetwear now that it’s become so mass, and why distilling a point of view needs to be done in a very careful way.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Retail

Depop opens physical store that teaches community how to sell

Depop in NYC
Depop in NYC

Depop has opened a physical outpost in NYC that aims to strengthen its connection to the community by offering advice on how to sell.

The store features a photo studio where sellers, or the marketplace app’s trained professionals, can photograph their items against clean backgrounds, as well as receive hands-on advice on how to brand an online store and how to navigate the postal system.

“The whole purpose of the space is to strengthen our connection with our community, and to experience Depop in real life,” said Maria Raga, Depop’s CEO, to i-D magazine. “Different styles, different subcultures, and introducing different designers in a new light is really important to us. It’s fun for our community too because they get to be inspired by the possibilities of what they can do with their Depop shops.”

To reinforce that purpose, the store is not fully stocked, but rather currently carrying a curated selection dedicated to NYC called Depop Loves New York.

At the moment, shoppers can find items by the likes of seller Venus X, who recently closed a vintage store in the city, and Luke Fracher, who provides a selection of rare shirts from local sports teams like the Yankees and the Mets, by Fracher. Meanwhile NYC-based designer Sandy Liang reworked vintage pieces, while Queens-based artist Slumpy Kev painted on vintage Levi’s and Dickies garments.

Depop in NYC
Depop in NYC

“Our community is just a little sponge of very thirsty entrepreneurs, and creative entrepreneurs at that,” continues Raga. “I think it’s just getting that first taste of what it is to make your own wealth, while having fun and creating your own brand.”

This is Depop’s second physical outpost, with the first one opening in Los Angeles in March. The store holds a similar purpose to its newest iteration, and is also inviting top users to host their own pop-ups within the space.

Depop’s foray into brick-and-mortar, as well as its core purpose of giving its community the tools and exposure to succeed, serve to further emphasise how brands can enable the young shopper’s behaviour of having a ‘side hustle’, and increasingly seeing themselves as entrepreneurs.

Stores with little merchandise but a loud message are also an effective marketing strategy for making use of physical spaces that don’t need to sell, but act as gateways to online experiences. Last year,  Nordstrom launched its Local concept  tapping into service and convenience over merchandise per square foot.

How are you thinking about retail innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Retail technology

Cannes Lions 2018: Apple’s Angela Ahrendts on the human side of retail

Angela Ahrendts of Apple at Cannes Lions
Angela Ahrendts of Apple at Cannes Lions

“We decided it was important that the largest tech company in the world, makes the largest investment in humans in the world,” said Angela Ahrendts, SVP of retail at Apple, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week, with regards to her ‘Today at Apple’ initiative.

The scheme, which picked up the Brand Experience & Activation Grand Prix at the festival’s awards last night, sees 18,000 events held in Apple stores around the world every week. The focus particularly is on education, both in terms of helping consumers understand technology, but also the creative or liberal arts.

This links back to something founder Steve Jobs said in 2011: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

As a result, the teams at retail had to evolve too. While Ahrendts has been leading a mass redesign of the stores to what are now referred to as “town squares”, in a bid to drive a sense of community, she has also been rethinking who services those spaces.

The renowned Apple Geniuses continue to exist, but so too do new “creative pros” as a result. These are to the liberal arts what the genius is to technology, she explained. Today there are 3,500 of them worldwide, who all teach everything from photography to art, music and design skills in store.

“These people are our secret sauce,” Ahrendts explained. “This is something Apple has, and Amazon or Alibaba doesn’t: people on the front line.” What’s key is that they are hired for their empathy, rather than their ability to sell. In fact, no one who works at Apple is on any quotas or commission, which is also something that goes back to Steve Jobs’ original vision.

“He told all of the original employees when he opened the first Apple stores, that they weren’t allowed to sell, that their job was to enrich lives and they had to do so through the lens of education,” Ahrendts outlined.

That objective is currently rolling out worldwide, with Apple upping the size of its retail footprint (doubling and tripling some of the existing ones in the process) in order to make space for the boardrooms and educational forums accordingly. Upcoming new openings include a legacy theatre renovation in Milan, a five-storey flagship on the Champs Élysées in Paris, and a reworking of the Washington Carnegie Library in DC.

Retail isn’t dying, said Ahrendts, but it’s evolving fast and it’s only through focusing on human needs that you can today survive. Apple dedicates 40% of its staff hours to service and support and a third of its square footage, she noted. All of that is aiming to cement the notion of the company being primarily a “human” business.

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business digital snippets e-commerce film mobile social media technology

What you missed: AI for retail, the selfie’s influence on fashion, last mile challenge

AI is not optional for retail
AI is not optional for retail

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech industry news over the past week.


TOP STORIES
  • AI is not optional for retail [VentureBeat]
  • How selfie taking has influenced fashion [Edited]
  • In global e-commerce, the race to solve the ‘last mile’ [BoF]

BUSINESS
  • Avenue32.com confirms closure [The Industry]
  • Matchesfashion in £600m sale talks as buyers circle [RetailWeek]
  • Alibaba uses its shopping leverage [Bloomberg]
  • Amazon’s private label business is booming thanks to device sales, expanded fashion lines [TechCrunch]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • This influencer marketing shop created fake accounts to prove that the industry is full of ad fraud [AdWeek]

MARKETING
  • How the sisters behind cult clothing brand Rodarte mastered fashion and film [FastCompany]
  • Sephora is creating the world’s largest beauty forum [The Cut]
  • The all-woman agency team on Nike who ‘Just Do It’ [AdAge]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Nordstrom and Macy’s: A lesson in surviving the retail apocalypse [RetailDive]
  • ‘Retail isn’t dying’: How brands are competing for brick-and-mortar space [Glossy]
  • 4 things American department stores must do to survive [BoF]
  • What if stores charged admission? [BoF]

TECHNOLOGY
  • The virtual revolution of retail [Medium]
  • Do your customers actually want a “smart” version of your product? [HBR]
Categories
business digital snippets e-commerce film social media Startups sustainability technology

What you missed: The sewbots are coming, retail automation, bots to buy Supreme

Sewbots - The rise of the "sewbot" marks a new industrial revolution in garment manufacturing
The rise of the “sewbot” marks a new industrial revolution in garment manufacturing

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech industry news over the past fortnight.


TOP STORIES
  • The sewbots are coming! [BoF]
  • Nearly half of all retail jobs could be lost to automation within 10 years [Fortune]
  • The botmakers who rule the obsessive world of streetwear [Wired]
  • The ugly problem of pretty packaging [Racked]

BUSINESS
  • New Ralph Lauren CEO has work cut out for him after dismal year [Retail Dive]
  • Is British fast fashion too fast? [Racked]
  • Why the rout in retail shouldn’t be a big worry for US economy [Bloomberg]
  • Zara and H&M back in-store recycling to tackle throwaway culture [The Guardian]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Publishers are using Facebook video to drive commerce revenue [Digiday]
  • Bringing retail to ‘the speed of feed’: Facebook’s quest to court luxury brands [Glossy]
  • Instagram launches selfie filters, copying the last big Snapchat feature [TechCrunch]
  • Sales of this L’Oreal product rose 51% after ‘everyday influencers’ promoted it heavily on Snapchat [AdWeek]

MARKETING
  • Why there’s no yoga in Lululemon’s first global campaign [AdAge]
  • Community is core to next-gen brands [BoF]
  • Bill Nighy asks ‘Why would anyone shop at TK Maxx?’ in retailer’s zany TVC [The Drum]
  • Selfridges leverages Positive Luxury’s Butterfly Mark to up transparency [Luxury Daily]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Inside 24 Sèvres, LVMH’s new multi-brand e-commerce play [BoF]
  • J Crew on underestimating retail tech [WSJ]
  • ‘Ultra-fast’ fashion players gain on Zara, H&M [Retail Dive]

TECHNOLOGY
  • Fashion and technology will inevitably become one [Engadget]
  • Is the ‘RFID retail revolution’ finally here? a Macy’s case study [Forbes]
  • How brands are using AI to find influencer matches [AdAge]
  • Mobile tech, digital platforms, AI among key topics at Decoded Fashion London Summit [WWD]
  • Why Amazon’s delivery-drone team is obsessed with geese [Bloomberg]
  • Google touts Assistant’s new e-commerce features [Retail Dive]

START-UPS
  • Miroslava Duma launches fashion tech lab with $50 million to invest [BoF]
  • Why do so many big fashion and beauty brands want to support start-ups? [Fashionista]
Categories
business Editor's pick Startups technology

One year on: How Westfield Bespoke, the retail tech space piloted in San Francisco, is winning

Westfield Bespoke
Westfield Bespoke

100,000: that’s the number of additional customers Westfield Bespoke is estimated to have brought in to the Westfield San Francisco Centre since it opened last year. In the grand scheme of the millions of shoppers who visit the mall annually otherwise, that’s may not seem too much – but this was initially a mere experiment by the company.

Bespoke is a community based on those exploring how shopping evolves at the hands of technology. Situated on the fourth floor of the centre, it offers a trifecta of co-working space for retail tech start-ups, event space for numerous partners to use, and demo space to make testing of retail formats and new tech all the more possible with real world consumers.

It not only helps brings in extra traffic, therefore, but more importantly enables the company to better understand the technologies its retailers needs to be aware of in the future. Indeed the Westfield Corporation has shifted from landlord to broad retail partner. It now goes above and beyond offering tenancy agreements, to helping shape more successful commercial businesses with those it houses in its malls worldwide.

Head over to Forbes to read the full interview with Lindsey Thomas, VP of marketing and communications at Westfield Labs, the group’s digital lab under which Bespoke falls. She uncovers more about the past year, how the new space is evolving and the plans to work with additional start-ups under its Connected Commerce Accelerator in collaboration with R/GA Ventures.

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business Comment Events fashmash

Redefining legacy: why fashion brands need to focus on meaning and values to win

FashMash Live
#FashMash Live

The way the fashion industry approaches innovation today is akin to leaving the house without trousers, said Pia Stanchina, former industry manager for fashion and luxury at Google, now independent start-up advisor and consultant, at the inaugural #FashMash Live discussion held at Huckletree in London last week.

It’s an oft-used analogy, but one that seems highly appropriate to a market primarily driven by PR headlines over lasting returns. To explain it in more depth, Stanchina said: “Most fashion brands think of innovation the way that women think of earrings – they do the sort of things that are really jingly and sparkly, offering short term wins, when what they need to do is think of the sort of strategy that’s like the trousers of the outfit – the long term business objectives. The point is, you can leave the house without earrings, but you can’t without trousers.

“Most brands are leaving the house without trousers… they’re saying look at this amazing campaign that we have, but actually there’s no real meaning to it and it’s not unlocking any sort of value for the brand.”

Of course the fashion industry is not alone. A recent study from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising showed that campaigns with a short-term goal grew from 7% to 33% between 2006 and 2014. This idea of short-termism, where the aim is to activate sales over less than six months, is considered significantly less effective than those with long-term, brand-driven growth in mind.

Coupled with that increasingly narrow view is the advent of ad blocking. Nowadays, consumers are increasingly able to tune out and turn off. The most recent survey from the IAB UK, for instance, shows 22% of British adults online are currently using ad blocking software – a rise from 18% in just late 2015.

In other words, advertising at large is currently focused primarily on quick wins and doing so in such a saturated market that the audience is increasing looking for ways not to have to receive them.

The average consumer sees 6,000 brand messages per day, Wendy Clark, CEO of DDB Worldwide North America (and former CMO of Coca-Cola) said at this year’s Cannes Lions. “If that’s the case,” she added, “more [content] is not an option. It needs to be more good.”

FashMash Live
Rachel Arthur, Nicolas Roope and Pia Stanchina speaking on the #FashMash Live panel

In an age of too much noise, marketers need to be thinking about the sort of long lasting messages that achieve cut through, she added. They need to be building legacy in order to create brand equity. So they need to be thinking about trousers, more than earrings, to return to Stanchina’s reference.

And if trousers are strategy and legacy, then the belt to them has to be relevancy, and that’s also something often missing in fashion marketing.

“Most people in luxury brands today haven’t really thought about what makes them relevant anymore, it’s always harking back to where they came from, and not to what people who buy from them actually care about today,” Stanchina explained.

She used the example of heritage – something that many brands have latched on to in order to try and achieve storytelling. We see countless videos of craftsmanship in the ateliers of big fashion houses, showcasing the little hands, or “les mains”, at work for instance, she explained. But this is becoming a tired view, not to mention something that doesn’t work for digital as much as the industry seems to hope it will.

Take Chanel’s couture show in Paris just last week, which was set inside its atelier, showcasing the couturiers as they constructed the garments. “It was probably an amazing experience if you were there… really magical,” Stanchina commented. “But if you were watching it on Instagram, it was really dead. It was a complete anti-climax. It didn’t translate well to digital at all.”

Stanchina also talked to the idea that luxury has long traded on friction in order to create desire – from limited distribution to high price points. Both of those things would have once been considered pillars of the industry (along with craftsmanship), she said, but they’re crumbling away; they’re not relevant anymore. What is, of course, is still that sense of desire, but it has to be done in a way that is more meaningful, she added.

When it came to meaning and value, Nicolas Roope, who joined the discussion from creative agency Poke, where he serves as both ECD and co-founder, said this has to be baked in from the start in order to be successful with digital today.

“The reason [brands like Ted Baker, Reformation and Redbull] are digital first is not because they sat down and decided they were going to be digital first, it’s because they have that natural spirit and they’ve built their business and the way they operate around it. They were perfectly ripe for becoming digital because they were already clear about what they stood for from the start,” he explained.

Indeed the technology, or setting the platforms up to enable full digital integration, is the easy part, he added. “The hardest thing is to help [brands] to understand being digital first is about having clear direction; something to offer that’s really valuable and that’s defensible.”

Stanchina agreed, adding for those just starting out in the industry: “We’re in a very specific moment in time when starting a company is easier than it ever was before, but it’s also the most competitive time it’s ever been to do that. [Success] is about understanding what it is your company is doing, what you create, what makes you defensible and different in the marketplace, why there’s a need for your company in the first place, and then really going after it.”

For those back in established brands, Roope noted how difficult it can be to drive change or indeed value tied to digital if there isn’t yet full leadership support internally behind it.

In a bid to seek a pair of trousers that have long lasting value, over that pair of sparkly earrings, he advised brands to try and find a middle ground – a low risk environment and some steady gains to prove the change you can effect through innovation done in the right way. “Most organisations are very respectful of success, so how do you get to success in the smallest, cheapest, most risk free way is your aim, and once you have it think about how to celebrate it and build momentum around it to move it upwards,” he added.

Categories
business e-commerce Editor's pick social media

Digging in to Reddit: does it work for fashion brands and retailers?

reddit

Late last week, Intel’s Sandra Lopez teamed up with Rebecca Minkoff for a conversation on social news site Reddit. The “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) encouraged users to pose questions about the roles of fashion and technology intertwining, as well as the opportunities for millennial women in STEM fields.

It was a strong example of something that worked on the platform – native to how its users operate, and filled with personal responses (from how Lopez and Minkoff got started in their careers, to how they managed their work/life balance, and why men never get asked that question).

Self-proclaimed as ‘the frontpage of the internet’, Reddit has a reported 202 million unique visitors a month. During 2015, it saw 82.54 billion page views across 88,700 active subreddits (sub forums). There were 73.15 million submissions, with 725.85 million comments made by 8.7 million total authors.

Risky business

The Intel/Minkoff example is one of many AMAs, but it’s still one of few of fashion brands and retailers really getting involved.

The uncensored and unpredictable nature of the site goes some way to explaining why. The platform was designed to be a space where like-minded individuals communicate without interference. Reddit is open source and moderated by unpaid volunteers. Users, known as “redditors”, create threads called subreddits, which other members with similar interests can join.

Initially the company had just five rules: “Don’t spam; Don’t ask for votes or engage in vote manipulation; Don’t post personal information; No child pornography or sexually suggestive content featuring minors; Don’t break the site or do anything that interferes with normal use of the site.” The lack of rules and regulations, fostered an “anything goes” culture that still defines Reddit today.

For a brand, therefore, entering a community like Reddit can be risky.

RedditAMA_Intel_RebeccaMinkoff

Frequent changes of senior management has done little to improve Reddit’s volatile reputation. Three different leaders have been in place over the past three years: Yishan Wong, Ellen Pao and Steve Huffman respectively, all with very different objectives. Pao’s 2014 strategy to clean up the darker side of Reddit and remove the less savoury elements for instance – like banning subreddits “fatpeoplehate” and “hamplanethatred”, which focused on shaming overweight people – angered core members who felt Poa’s intentions went against the free-speech ethos of Reddit.

But needless to say, this did make it more appealing on the brand side. Around the same time, Nordstrom created Nordstrom1901, the official Nordstrom subbreddit, to communicate with customers after noticing increased activity surrounding the brand on the platform. Nordstrom’s first post encapsulated the relaxed, genuine attitude Reddit users appreciate. “We are Redditors at heart and can’t wait to get to know the communities better. We’re here to help so questions, comments, etc. are all welcome,” it read.

Focusing on service and avoiding aggressive marketing, Nordstrom received a warm Reddit welcome. AMAs proved particularly popular. Real-time feedback also allowed Nordstrom to navigate any minor issues before they escalated into larger problems. Their venture onto Reddit appeared fruitful, so it’s unclear why Nordstrom1901 has been abandoned (the last official Nordstrom1901 post was 11 months ago). Often such moves come down to the advocate for a specific platform no longer being in the business, but it’s also likely a change of strategy was at play; if ROI wasn’t proving fruitful from the platform, resources could easily have been allocated elsewhere.

Ensuring authenticity

One brand that has converted conversation into revenue through Reddit is Uniqlo. Speaking to Marketing Land, Uniqlo’s e-commerce manager, Arielle Dyda (who manages the retailer’s Reddit involvement), explained that it now drives more traffic and revenue for the retailer than any other social channel.

Its efforts started on the platform in 2012 after traffic from Reddit crashed the soft launch of its e-commerce site. Today, 5% of its referral traffic comes from social media, with 64% of that from Reddit. Of the 3% of monthly sales from social media, 64% is also from Reddit. On a day when Dyda posts about a special deal, it can drive up to 20% of their online sales.

One particular subreddit – r/MaleFashionAdvice – is particularly fruitful, and Uniqlo isn’t even the most mentioned brand on there:

Reddit_malefashionadvice

The key to Uniqlo success surrounds authenticity, transparency and excellent customer service, says Dyda. She focuses on being real, but also on being playful. It helps that she uses her personal Reddit account, midnight1214, tagged as an official company representative.

“So just being able to be a genuine person is important. I joke around with them, I post memes. I’m savvy with the Reddit lingo and that makes me one of them. I’m not just Uniqlo, I’m midnight1214, and I understand the jokes and I understand frustrations, but I’m going to be here to help you when you need it,” she explains. She also leans on the community’s moderators for help so as not to seem too promotional at times.

Spending time getting to know the platform, answering questions and contributing, without imposing corporate strategies or marketing campaigns, distinguished Uniqlo from other companies entering Reddit. Dyda adds: “I think if another band wants to jump in, they really have to take the time and learn and understand first of all what are people saying about your company [on there].”

By comparison, US-based, outdoor apparel company REI, conducted insufficient research when they attempted to join the platform. Misjudging the importance of authenticity, CEO Jerry Stritzke started the conversation by highlighting REI’s decision to close on Black Friday. Seemingly unaware of the distain of brands using the site for advertising and marketing, he wrote: “Hi Reddit. I’m Jerry Strizke, CEO of REI. You might have heard about us recently when we announced that we would be closing all of our stores on Black Friday this year. We’re paying our 12,000 employees to take the day off and we’re encouraging them to opt out of the Black Friday madness and spend the day outdoors with loved ones…Ask me anything!”

His comments were interpreted as a publicity drive, prompting a dramatic backlash of negativity. Redditor phD_in_Random said: “I’ve never even heard of this company and I hate it already. We don’t have one in my city and I hope we never do.”

Strizke also missed a number of contentious questions from current and former employees surrounding a membership sales scheme the company runs. Strizke failed to grasp that leaving the discussion early, didn’t mean the conversation was over, but rather gave the impression he was avoiding tougher issues. One comment in particular got so blown up (there were some 5,000 responses on the AMA in total), that he had to return to Reddit later to address it.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been no further activity on Reddit from REI.

Native advertising

Steve Huffman, one of the original founders of Reddit, returned as CEO in July 2015, shifting the focus from imposing a level of moral decency to expansion. He is in charge of the business side of Reddit, while co-founder Alexis Ohanian concentrates on editorial aspects like Upvoted, Reddit’s new publication.

Here, a small team of editors sifts through the most interesting posts, rewriting stories worthy of further development. It aims to put a spotlight on all the hundreds of conversations that otherwise get lost in the noise of the platform. It also proves an opportunity for Reddit itself to monetise, by offering brands a safer way to enter through its native advertising scheme.

Sponsored posts are likewise written by the editorial team, and designed to fit with the nature of the content rather than through traditional advertising banners. In the interest of transparency, Reddit made its intentions clear from the off: “We will be working with brands on sponsored content, all of which will be visibly distinguished as such.”

Going forward, the introduction of Upvoted reflects the positive changes at Reddit. There’s a deeper understanding that if the site is to reach its full potential, management must act responsibly. Initiatives like providing a help section with advice on “Brandiquette”, for brands thinking of advertising, makes the site much more approachable.

Brands in other industries including food, literature and music have accordingly reported positive results (case studies available). With that in mind, fashion brands and retailers will also look to consider Reddit as a suitable advertising partner in the future.

Needless to say, for any brand thinking about stepping into the Reddit world in the meantime, operating within the context of the site is paramount. With such a large audience available to tap into, and proven revenue drivers at play when handled correctly, the opportunity is almost too good not to.