An Honest Talk About Branding a Fashion Label
I had a client come in for business counseling and the dialogue went something like this:
Me: What kind of business are you in?
Client: I own a fashion label.
Me: What kind of fashion?
Me: What’s Fightware?
Client: Mixed Martial Arts – You know, MMA
Me: MMA only, or do you include boxing, kickboxing, muy thai…etc.?
Client: It can be used for all of the above.
Me: So, you have designed special clothing for competitive fighting?
Client: Yes, specifically MMA fashion.
Me: I’ve never heard of Fightware before. So, you use engineered fabrics that enhance the fighter’s ability? Like a swimming speed-suit?
Me: Does is wick away moisture?
Me: Does it move or support in a special way to enhance the fighter? Like Under Armor?
Me: Hmm. Well, it must be made with a certain fabric cut or the way it’s sewn that is special?
Client: No, It’s a T-Shirt. It’s a fashion label.
Me: Ok, I get it, you are not actually cutting and sewing fabric to make your “Fightware”. Right?
Client: That’s correct – we don’t sew the fabric.
Me: You are in the business of designing and printing T-shirts that are used in MMA fighting?
Client: Well, I don’t print the shirts. It’s a fashion label.
Me: So, you are only designing the graphics on the T-shirts then?
Client: No, We don’t design anything. We go online and buy designs.
Me: You don’t even design the shirts?
Client: No, it’s a fashion label
Me: YOU ARE NOT A FASHION LABEL.
The Honest Branding Business of a Fashion Label
I explained to my young client that to be a fashion label you have to actually make fashion – make clothing. Just like Daymon John of FUBU, or Tommy Hillfigger, Calvin Klien, and Ralph Lauren. The problem is that we see it every day on TV. If you are a music star or just famous, you will see clothing lines begin show up. The big difference is that they are famous – they already have a brand. They just put that brand on the clothing they are selling; the clothing company puts their name on the clothing and the person on TV promotes it by wearing it. That can work, if you are famous. The problem is that my client is neither on TV or famous. Brand recognition is zero. In that case, you need a ton of money to start a fashion label. My client was also broke.
Honesty in Branding: Your Business Needs to Under Promise and Over Deliver.
If you want to be a fashion label, learn to sew and learn about fabrics. If you want to sell t-shirts, learn to screen print. It’s OK to be a designer that designs graphics for shirts. It’s OK to be a printer that silk-screens the shirts. The point is to pick a craft and be honest with yourself at what you are doing. Branding lives and dies with honesty. If your brand messaging promises gold and delivers plastic, your customers will not return. The old adage of “Fake it – until you make it” does not apply here. My client might have a golden opportunity present itself with an actual fashion label - Until they find out that he’s not even operating in the same area code. Also, my client might have an opportunity missed because a great collaborative partner (another t-shirt vendor) might feel that a fashion label is out of his league. Be honest in branding. Under promise and over deliver.
If you want consumers to think your product is the best of its kind, don't tell them that. A new study finds that brands that position themselves as "the best" actually set themselves up for failure.
The study by researchers at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management found that marketing managers who advertise their products as the best alternatives actually decrease the business' chances of success with consumers. Researchers call this problem the "maximizing mindset."
"If you're in this maximizing mindset, no matter how good the product is, [consumers are] going to be unsatisfied with it if it's anything less than the most amazing thing ever," said Neal J. Roese, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management and co-author of the study. "It's a hidden danger that marketers need to be aware of."
Roese and co-author Jingjing Ma use the example of a well-known brand to emphasize their point. Red Bull, the energy drink manufacturer famous for its larger-than-life advertising (one ad features a renowned skydiver jumping to Earth from outer space), avoids claims that its product is superior to other energy drinks on the market. By sidestepping such superlatives, the researchers found, Red Bull pushes consumers outside of the maximizing mindset and decreases dissatisfaction with the product.
Brands that don't follow Red Bull's example, and instead focus on why their products are better than others, can actually increase feelings of regret and dissatisfaction in consumers. The researchers found that people who think they've opted for the best are more likely to be disappointed after purchasing a product. And these customers, once dissatisfied, are more likely to switch brands.
Roese and Ma based their research on seven experiments that studied how consumers shopped for products when primed to adopt a maximizing mindset (i.e., told to look for "the best" product) versus a "satisficing mindset" (i.e., told to look for a product that was "good enough"). The researchers also measured how satisfied these two groups of consumers were after they made a purchase.
Across all seven experiments, the researchers found that participants who adopted a maximizing mindset made purchasing decisions by working harder and searching more widely and thoroughly to find the best outcome. While such a result may not bode ill for marketers, the researchers subsequent discovery certainly does.
The study authors found that customers with a maximizing mindset were more likely to feel negatively about a product after they purchased it. Because they thought they were getting the best deal, customers who had adopted a maximizing mindset were more prone to feelings of regret or disappointment if the product failed to meet their expectations.
So if touting your brand's products as "the best" doesn't work with consumers, what does? Ma and Roese discovered that brands need to change the conversations they have with customers about products. Drawing on the example of Red Bull, Roese said that brands should focus less on superlatives and more on cultivating product experiences for their customers.
"The more experiential you can make the product, the happier people are," Roese said. "Experiential purchases push people out of a maximizing mindset."
Roese went on to say that taking materialistic items and putting them in the realm of experience will push buyers away from comparing similar models, and "give a brand a special glow."
This is where companies like Red Bull have succeeded. By focusing on the experience of using their product — guzzling an energy drink prior to jumping out of an airplane or hitting the basketball court — Red Bull encourages customers to buy an experience, not just a product.