Fashion brands should avoid falling into the trap of functionality.
Building brands is part art and part science and there is no one-size-fits-all formula in any category. Every category is unique in terms of its relationship with its customers and the meaning brands evoke within them. Think of a girl who is about to get engaged and has lots of uncertainties about the ensuing relationship. In such a scenario, the reassurance of a lasting relationship, such as De Beers’ Diamonds Are Forever, has a specific meaning for her. Contrast this with a housewife struggling with growing irritation to remove stains from her children’s clothes. A gentle reminder that Dirt Is Good by Surf Excel will help to lessen her irritation and make her feel good about the fact that her children are learning something even if it means that their clothes get dirty.
The meaning brands evoke among their customers stems from the unmet needs they experience. In their book, Advertising and Promotion Management, Larry Percy and John R. Rossiter write about two broad categories of needs: negative needs and positive needs.
Negative needs are those that customers feel when they experience a state of deprivation and something needs to happen to relieve them from such a state; for example, they may be experiencing a real life problem (problem removal); anticipating a problem to surface (problem avoidance); taking action to solve their problem but not achieving the full results (incomplete satisfaction); getting results but with side-effects (mixed approach avoidance); or they may just have run out of stock (normal depletion).
Positive needs are experienced by consumers when they are not in a state of deprivation. They are satisfied with the status quo but want to achieve a higher level of satisfaction; for example, the basic need for mobility can be achieved with an ordinary motorbike, but someone wants to experience the heady feeling of freedom that comes from riding a Harley-Davidson – something they will be able to talk about with their friends (social approval). Someone else may be bored eating home-cooked food every day and wants to enjoy a Hardee’s burger with French fries and a Coke (sensory gratification) or they may want to travel to archaeologically-important sites (intellectual stimulation).
The job of consumer insights is to bring to the surface a consumer problem which the product can help resolve, ranging from the functional to the psychological. For example, Coke universally stood for ‘optimism’ and this was brought to life via communications aimed at helping resolve people’s inner tensions arising from social and racial conflicts. Sharing a bottle of Coke was a gesture of ‘solidarity’, helping people to heal their wounds.
Most Pakistani brands, particularly fashion brands, forget to take note of these factors and market their brands in the same way FMCGs do, by projecting their brands as meeting negative needs. Yet, fashion is not about a problem (real or psychological); it is about aspiration, desire, indulgence, admiration and self-expression.
The starting point for FMCG brands is to uncover an underlying consumer need that will make them want to use their product (a state of deprivation where some action to satisfy it is necessary). Here, the job of consumer insights is to bring to the surface a consumer problem which the product can help resolve, ranging from the functional to the psychological. For example, Coke universally stood for ‘optimism’ and this was brought to life via communications aimed at helping resolve people’s inner tensions arising from social and racial conflicts. Sharing a bottle of Coke was a gesture of ‘solidarity’, helping people to heal their wounds.
By adopting such an approach, fashion brands become functional, just like FMCGs. For example, Gul Ahmed are known for their excellent designs, comfort, reliability and the attractiveness of their promotional offers. All these strengths make Gul Ahmed a functional offering – a fabric brand rather than a fashion brand. In last year’s #MeinPerfectHoon campaign, they addressed their customers’ anxieties about the flaws in their appearance by reassuring them that they were perfect with these imperfections (Gul Ahmed’s designs and colours will not let anyone notice your flaws) – a kind of therapeutic proposition. The issue is that the communication message addressed a consumer problem (an emotional one); that of being conscious of flaws in one’s appearance (a disturbing thought) and therefore, falls in the category of negative motivations. As a result, the execution had to say a great deal to make the point thus, evoking a ‘thinking’ response (“it’s true, I shouldn’t be bothered about these little flaws in my looks”). When a brand proposition is linked to a positive need, the execution evokes a ‘feeling’ response (for example, feeling trendy or on top of the world). Fashion brands should adopt the latter approach.
The same applied to Alkaram when their Spring Collection 2017 #BelieveInYou campaign highlighted Mahira Khan’s journey to get to where she is. It subtly underlined the lack of self-belief that often hinders one’s path to success and suggested that by opting for Alkaram lawn, customers would feel more confident – again making the link to a negative motivation and ‘problem solution’. Alkaram’s later communications took a different direction and were better, although one should not forget the two most important mantras of marketing: simplicity and consistency. When a brand gets one campaign wrong, it takes a lot of effort and investment to get it back on track.
Fashion branding is a lot more than just ‘look left’, ‘look right’, ‘look up’, click, print a catalogue and distribute. The starting point for fashion brands (as it is with other categories such as luxury, beauty, tobacco and travel) is essentially the same as it is for FMCGs, but with a slight difference. In this case, consumer insight mining would not search for an area of deprivation; rather, it would seek to identify ‘higher order needs’ such as, wanting to command respect, being looked up to, being confident and perceived as a leader. And here it is vitally important that the brand communication aligns with the brand essence. In the case of Zara, the Spanish fast fashion retailer, their key values are style, individuality and uniqueness. The brand personality is projected as confident, mature, aggressive and unpretentious, and this is consistently projected across all touchpoints. In the words of Daniel Piette, Louis Vuitton’s fashion director: “Zara is possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world.”
Fashion branding is a lot more than just ‘look left’, ‘look right’, ‘look up’, click, print a catalogue and distribute. The starting point for fashion brands (as it is with other categories such as luxury, beauty, tobacco and travel) is essentially the same as it is for FMCGs, but with a slight difference. In this case, consumer insight mining would not search for an area of deprivation; rather, it would seek to identify ‘higher order needs’ such as, wanting to command respect, being looked up to, being confident and perceived as a leader.
This is not to say that all local fashion brands have got it wrong. Sapphire communicate a cutting-edge image along with being smart, contemporary authentic and daring. Sana Safinaz communicate glamour, confidence, style and an attitude. J. communicate a modern Muslim identity aimed at audiences who are trying to balance ‘both worlds’.
Although the basic principles remain the same (identifying a higher order need and aligning the offer with it), there are subtle differences in how brands express this in relation to the segment they compete in, such as haute couture (exclusive custom-made clothes), runway (high-end fashion displayed through fashion shows), prêt-a-porter (ready-to-wear), high-street fashion (mass market retail) or value retail (low-price outlets). In the end, regardless of the segment, it is how effectively brands answer these three questions from the customers’ perspective that will make or break it: “What image of myself will the brand project? How will it make me feel and what are the key values of the brand that I care about? In short, it means evoking a ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking’ response.
Khalid Naseem is Head of Strategy at Firebolt63. email@example.com