The impact of social media is undeniable, the audience numbers speak for themselves. As at the end of 2017, Facebook users exceeded 2 billion daily, and Instagram having in excess of 500 million users daily checking their feeds. The sheer popularity of social media has spurned on a whole new career category of Digital Content Producers or more popularly known as Influencers. However, the question then becomes, is it possible to build a brand solely on social media with the help of Influencers, considering its almost completely virtual (i.e. no brick and mortar)? The purpose of the article is to unpack this question specifically when it comes to fashion, by looking at where it has it worked Internationally, what was the strategy and what is happening locally.
Where has it worked?
Internationally this has been proven true, I think at this point everyone knows of Fashion Nova, founded by Richard Saghian, the business almost exclusively operates online and relies on social media for marketing and advertisements (i.e. they have no TV, no billboards, no magazine appearances). The brand’s strategy since inception has been to make use of celebrities like Kylie Jenner, while building a strong network of brand advocates with lesser known Influencers. If one looks at the business growth, that strategy has paid off in spades. Within 18 months of launching sales were 400 million US Dollars and growing (please note that this number has been reported, on media platforms, but not disclosed by Fashion Nova).
And in October 2018, bringing the main stream social media-built brands, Revolve clothing which is also a well known fashion e- commerce platform, filed papers to become a listed company, on the New York Stock Exchange. What’s exceptional about their filing, the word influence was reported to have been used over 79 times in their submission. With sales as at end of 2017, totalling $399.6 million, a network of 2500 brand Influencers and partners, one can easily conclude that this has been a fruitful relationship.
Hot on the heels of Revolve and Fashion Nova, is Pretty Little Thing , which according to a poll done by online portal Hitwise, the e-commerce company was listed as the fastest growing online fashion company on the web. Its strategy is almost identical to its other competitors, by forging relationships with celebrities and reality stars as brand ambassadors to not only drive awareness, but sales growth as well. The brand claims it encapsulates and personifies the same characteristics as the celebrities on its adverts: ambition and confidence.
Influencer Marketing and E- commerce Platform Strategies
If you look at the above three examples, what has been key in the influencer-led marketing campaign is the following strategy
- Know the target audience target audience: Your target audience will determine the characteristics of the Influencer you need, the social platforms they use and the offers that would appeal to them. Research your target audience, understand their sentiments and know their consumption behaviour before choosing any type of Influencer-led marketing.
- Measurement of Success: It’s important early on to establish your method for measuring your campaign’s success. The most common indicators of return on investment, or ROI are: audience reach/impressions, engagement, follower growth, traffic increase, qualified leads and most importantly, product sales. This was recently displayed by Cardi B, who released a collaborative fashion line with Fashion Nova, the fashion line was sold out in a matter of hours.
- Influencer Due Diligence: Any Influencer worth its salt would know its audience, and would not sabotage its relationships by delivering content it doesn’t believe in. I.e. don’t associate your brand with Influencers who do not have a tangible relationship with your product.
- Speed: a key part of has been the platforms ability to the creation of new content and the display of new styles on an almost weekly basis, it has been reported that Fashion Nova adds well over 200 styles on weekly basis.
The Fashion E- commerce market in South Africa
On review of the South African market, one cannot name a single e- commerce platform that has made social media its sole source of advertising and engagement with consumers. In terms of E- commerce fashion platforms, there is Zando and newly merged Spree and Superbalist. Although these stores have grown insanely over the past few years, if you unpack their access to market campaign the popular view has been that social media (digital marketing) is part of a wider campaign that includes other forms of traditional marketing.
On the other side of the spectrum are smaller Instagram boutiques (i.e. sauviemaxia and newcomer Fashion Never), who are still very much miniature and are yet to operate at the size and scale of their overseas counterparts. For me personally, looking at where some of these brands are operating, and the fact that many of them sell the same merchandise as the likes of Fashion Nova / Pretty Little Thing, I think there exists a market to offer the same product offering as the overseas counterparts locally, but with the necessary scale and investment in order to offer a customer the exact same experience.
This is just a case study of the impact social media marketing has had a on a tiny fraction of the overall fashion industry, it doesn’t show the full story but merely provides tangible insights on how a business can literally go from zero to hero, as a result of an effective access to marketing campaigns built on social media Influencers.