When creative directors Humberto Leon and Carol Lim sit down to think about the kind of projects and ideas to create for Kenzo, they don’t just ponder what will get people to buy the fashion brand’s latest clothes. That’s not enough. See, for many people, advertising is a dirty word, at best an annoying distraction, at worst a form of visual pollution prone to give us mind rabies. But while 90% of marketing communications may fall under that categorization, there is a small window through which only the very best advertising becomes part of culture, that genuinely entertains us, makes us laugh, moves us.
That is what Leon and Lim are aiming for. And over the last month, together with an impressive collection of creative collaborators, the two have pulled it off not once, but in three different ways. First came a short film directed by Spike Jonze to launch the brand’s first fragrance, that may go down in the annals of advertising as the best perfume ad of all time. Then, a week or so later, came Carrie Brownstein’s directorial debut, a short film satirizing the hyperbolic world of social media and the pitfalls of modern idolatry, which also happens to be the brand’s look book for its fall/winter collection. A week after that comes the launch video for a collection partnership with H&M with no other than Chance the Rapper–perhaps the most buzzworthy artist in music right now–waxing creative on what inspires him.
“We always try to think of things in terms of–and this is how I work in general across Kenzo and Opening Ceremony–I try to think about things that have affected me over the years,” says Leon. “What are these things and why did they affect me in the way that they did? So when we have to work on these projects, I think about how people might look back on them and say, oh my god, remember that Carrie Brownstein video ‘The Realest Real’?”
For his part, Leon looks back like that on Jean-Paul Goude’s 1985 Citroen ad with Grace Jones driving into her own mouth, and the 1995 Spike Jonze Nike commercial where Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras play street tennis in San Francisco. “Those are mind-blowing, amazing, and memorable,” he says. “Even the old Air Jordan ads. These are all ads that stand the test of time, and at the time they felt really new and different. That’s the bar I set for myself.”
Most brands would be overcome with flop sweats at the prospect of such an output, but if you look back at Kenzo since Leon and Lim joined the brand–while still running their own business at Opening Ceremony–it’s clear this recent run is no fluke or anomaly.
“Ever since Carol and I have been working on ad campaigns and looking at how we can relate to some of these videos, prints ads, or whatever, it’s been exciting, and seeing them all at the same time like this gives you a really quick glimpse into our overall approach,” says Leon. “We try to do it in a way that feels super interesting to us, and at the end of the day we’re trying to talk to ourselves as consumers, and trying to make sure that people who see, watch a lot, and are huge fans of commercials, that we can measure our work and approach against that.”
The Culture Nerd Demographic
Just as Leon is trying to hit his own high standards for relevant creative advertising, it’s the idea of embedding the brand into culture to surprise and delight those, like himself and Lim, who get inspired and excited by brands just making really, really cool shit. It’s why they take this brand that’s part of the LVMH luxury fashion roster and pair it up with others a bit closer to the street like H&M, New Era, Vans, and artist Maurizio Cattelan’s Toilet Paper mag.
It’s also why they’ve focused so much of their marketing output on creating films with directors like Hala Matar and Sean Baker. Matar’s “Automobile Waltz” for the 2014 spring collection featured actors Anton Yelchin and Lydia Hearst, while Baker’s “Snowbird” last year was a 2016 finalist for Tribeca’s X prize for branded content.
“We’re cultural nerds and buffs, and it’s exctiting for us to tap into culture in any way we can,” says Leon. “Two years ago we said, ‘How can we do advertising that feels different?’ I came up with the idea to do short films and then do print ads that were done up like movie posters for the short films. Super simple idea. And it worked out really well for us. I’d just say, it’s not something other fashion brands have done, in terms of caring about narrative, and there are other details that differentiate us, and that’s exciting so we’re continuing down that path.”
When embarking on a new project, Leon says one of the key exercises they go through is to figure out what they don’t want it to be. For the launch of the new fragrance, that involved watching a ton of perfume commercials and fashion videos to see where they could find space to carve out their own voice. “For the perfume commercial, you can tell one of the common links people try to talk about is creating a powerful woman, but when you actually watch the film, I don’t see it or buy that,” says Leon. “So we looked at that and have honest conversations with each other, and with Spike. The exciting thing is, I think you really see his hand in the piece, and because we’re so close to our collaborators–they’re all friends, they’re all people we trust–these are true authentic conversations about what we don’t want to be, and asking how we make something that actually does make a women feel powerful, cool, and all the different sensations we want to see, but in a way we can relate to it.”
For Brownstein’s “The Realest Real,” the director told Co.Create at the time that Leon and Lim told her to put the fashion second and zero in on the story she wanted to tell. Leon says that if you’re going to work with someone like Brownstein, of course you have to put her talent and vision up front, which in this case meant the clothing got second billing to the narrative.
“We try to approach it to have little nuggets that have a lot of information, and that hopefully leaves you wanting more,” says Leon. “As creative directors, we have different places for different purposes, so by the time our commercial comes out you’d have been able to see the collection online, at the runway show, and these commercials have a life of their own. We give our collaborators the foundation story of the collection, but we’ll also tell them, ‘You don’t have to put the clothing together the same way it is on the runway.’ In fact, maybe we use some stuff that didn’t make it into that show–let’s take a deeper look and do what’s right for the characters. So we let our guard down, and ask ourselves honest questions because we want the project to feel authentic and real.”
A Simple Approach
As branded content and commercials go, sometimes you’d never know a particular director even had a hand in it. It exists outside the reality of that artist’s official body of work, a corporate detour between films for a quick paycheck, and perhaps a chance to test out some new equipment, cameras and techniques on a brand’s dime ahead of the next studio gig. But Leon says part of the reason for those honest conversations with collaborators is to make sure these projects, though branded, measure up to an artist’s entire body of work.
“When we talk about collaborating–which is almost an overused word–but it really is about having a partnership,” says Leon. “Spike and I always talk about what we can dream up. We’ll riff off each other–what if she did this, but what if that led to this–and we feed off each other. These are true conversations, starting from a really blank slate, and it’s really about people coming together and dreaming up stuff. There’s no storyboarding; there’s no looking at other videos for reference. It’s about trying to come into it with a pure eye, trying to figure out what we can do that would be really awesome, that we would get excited about and be jealous of. It’s a simple approach, and we really try to come at it like kids playing around. It also marks where we are as people, for us, for Spike, for Carrie. Where we are today and how do we do something that’s new for us that’s exciting?”
A brand is built by the accumulation of experiences, interactions and social behavior between a product, service, and company. Since a brand is considered as a whole and is not segmented into departments, your brand positioning strategy needs to balance your aspirations for the brand, your ideal customer experience, and your targeted market.
Every successful brand is backed by a carefully designed positioning strategy.
Positioning is the dynamic approach that adapts to ever-changing markets, customer behavior and content consumption.
Positioning is the fundamental concept in all branding, marketing, and social media touchpoints. A perfect positioning strategy is:
- Emotionally-driven, and
- Has a long-term outlook
Why Should You Bother With Positioning?
Positioning is only for the brands that are consumer centric. Positioning is conceived by keeping the customer as the focal point. A well-positioned brand speaks directly to the clients and breaks through the barriers of oversaturated markets.
If you are in the lifestyle and fashion eCommerce segment, you are in a crowded place with a lot of players competing for your ideal consumer’s attention.
The brand that understands their consumers the most and positions themselves as relevant, distinct, credible, and emotionally-driven with a long-term outlook, has the definite advantage.
How to Position Your Lifestyle and eCommerce Fashion Brand
Positioning is the successful amalgamation of price, product, promotion, and place – the dimensions that control sales.
- What – Category
- How – Differentiating characteristic
- Who – Customer demographics
- Where – Market geography
- Why – Customer need
- When – Underlying trend
These questions might seem trivial and dated, but if answered honestly there’s so much valuable information you can gather from them.
Start with the following steps and you’ll be on your path towards positioning your brand successfully.
Your lifestyle and fashion brand is an extension of yourself, your values, your views, and your story.
The first step to go in that direction is to define how you want your brand to be perceived.
This step is the phase where you must invest most of your time.
A strong brand is built on clarity of thought.
Pyermoss a relatively new brand has distinctively defined themselves, and it translates well in their products and visual communication throughout all their touchpoints – from their website to their packaging.
Who Is Your Audience?
You need to identify your audience, and know them well.
If your answer is your brand is for everyone then, in reality, it will be for no one.
Brands grow stronger when they narrow their focus.
Surveys are lazy, and focus groups lack intent. You need to go the extra mile, connect personally with your defined audience, ask questions, observe where they spend time, how your brand can benefit them, and you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.
Alison Lou has a crystal clear understanding of their audience; that explains their recent rise in popularity. A jewelry brand that’s competing with brands 4 times bigger than them.
“Because of technology, Millennials have a different way of communicating than previous generations. As a result, designers like Alison Lou Chemla, who uses emoticons as a jewelry theme, really speak to a Millennial audience.”
Source: Centurion Jewelry
What is Your Category?
Kenzo, the most fun, supporting in your face attitude clothing brand sells more than just clothes, so does Fendi, Luis Vitton, and Hermes.
All these luxury brands have evolved but in their initial days of gaining attention, they catered to only one single category.
Kenzo was all about fur. Fendi was about bright leather bags and so on.
Hence, you need to focus only and purely in one single category. Get to the essence of that category. Gain your audience and evolve from there but you have to narrow yourself to just one category and own it.
Gentle Monster has done what Kenzo did in their early years. They have crafted a niche category for their brand. This can be easily experienced through their digital presence and unusual glasses.
What is Your Value Proposition?
So far you have the brand’s essence, you understand your audience, and you have defined your focused category.
Imagine where does in this whole scheme of things you can provide actual value?
For instance, Zappos is for customer service, Volvo stands for safety, Lady Gaga is Madonna and Everlane is for radical transparency of present times.
So where can YOU provide authentic value to the customer?
Define your value proposition and own it!
Everlane – they have managed to own their value proposition so well with their classic looks that it disrupted the market and changed the way we see fashion brands doing business.
Define Where You Want to Position Your Brand
Your lifestyle and fashion eCommerce brand needs a goal, an ideal place, a perfect sweet spot where you want your brand to be.
You need to define that position clearly. Only through understanding and setting up a target you’ll be able to measure your progress.
Don’t try to position your brand too broadly. Single focus and owning that one place is what gets attention.
You must know where your current position is in the market and whom you must outwit to position yourself in the sweet spot which is not taken.
Everlane is a good example of that as they noticed the change in customer behavior and outwitted their competition in fashion eCommerce. They positioned themselves as a transparent brand with a clear conscious.
That’s where the majority of the brands fail.
It looks promising in the spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations but keeping it together through the execution is the ultimate test.
Your brand grows stronger the more you keep your processes streamlined with people accountable for each decision.
Especially in lifestyle and fashion eCommerce a minimal viable product with little to no brand strategy and positioning will fail to get any attention.
It’s your responsibility as a brand owner to assign the right people and create magic.
Create a structure for your team and brand guidelines that they must follow. Your website’s design, your checkout process, even the way you handle support – it all contributes to the way you position your brand.
Consistent approach firms your position in the customer’s eye, don’t take the customer for granted.
“Good design is a Good business.”
We have listed few questions that you need to ask yourself and take action to be able to position your lifestyle and fashion brand successfully amongst the competition.
1. Do you have a brand identity program in place?
An excellent example of a successful brand identity program is Uber’s new Brand Experience.
2. Have personally interviewed (at least 5 people) your target audience?
You can use a software like www.surveymonkey.com or Typeform, but the best interviews are done in-person. Talking to your customers face-to-face allows you to see through their body language and emotions.
3. Do you know where who you are targeting?
You can use HubSpot’s Make My Persona to organize and define your brand persona.
4. Do you know where they spend most of their time?
This where you’ll get more detailed info: Facebook Audience insights.
Facebook Audience Insights is an excellent starting point to understand more about your audience. Let’s say you’re running a women’s outdoor shoes brand, and your potential audience is women, hikers in the US.
You can quickly filter that audience using Facebook Insights and learn more about its demographic: their lifestyle, jobs, relationships, etc.
5. Have you defined a tone of voice to your brand?
You’ll need to create a perfect copywriting solution for this.
6. Do you have a focus category?
You need to focus on one single category of your business to position your brand well.
7. Which art movement best describes your brand?
Have you incorporated it in your communications?
8. Which genre of music best describes your brand?
Have you incorporated it in your communications?
9. Have you articulated your value proposition?
Your value proposition explains how your product solves customers’ problems or improves their situation (relevancy), delivers specific benefits (quantified value), tells the ideal customer why they should buy from you and not from the competition (unique differentiation).
Source: Conversion XL
10. Have you distilled your brand essence in one single tagline?
You need to have a strong tagline, describing your brand essence in the strongest manner.
Positioning your lifestyle and eCommerce business successfully is a hard but crucial job. If you want to survive as a fashion business, you must dedicate a significant time of your work to developing your brand identity, understanding your customers and your brand position. Otherwise, you risk drowning in a sea of fashion brands popping every month.
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