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Could Social Media Storytelling Help Apparel Retailers Stave Off the Discounts This Christmas?

The Christmas trading period has always been a make or break time for apparel retailers, presenting a natural case for pulling out all the stops when it comes to their holiday marketing campaigns. While this has traditionally been a call for television spots featuring picture perfect families and festive jingles, it is evident that the nature of consumer engagement is changing as consumers are flocking to the internet retailing channel to make their holiday purchases.

According to Shop.org (the NRF’s digital division), internet sales are expected to rise between 13-15% to US$82 billion over Christmas in the US. Not only does the channel provide some welcome relief from gift-shopping in crowded store environments, but it also enables consumers to shop at their leisure around the clock. More importantly, the channel enables swift price comparisons and bargain hunting at a time when spending is necessary but consumers remain cost-conscious.

Festive Frugality Spurs Online Bargain Hunting

The fact is that price remains a primary concern, putting retailers in a precarious situation. Last year many engaged in a series of pre-Christmas discounting  and promotional activity, which both damaged margins but also brand credibility. To stave off a similar fate this year, strong marketing campaigns will play a key role.

As sales migrate online, it makes sense that a greater slice of the marketing budget is devoted to social media marketing campaigns. According to Deloitte’s 2013 Holiday Survey, nearly half of the US consumers surveyed planned on using social media to aid their holiday shopping process. Of these, 48% will use social media to research gift ideas, followed by 44% using it to find discounts.

It is possible that there is latent opportunity for brands to use social media to their advantage, to create a narrative which is both aspirational and personalised, ultimately ensuring that consumers look for more than sales or discounts when they are shopping online in the lead up to Christmas.

Asos Inspires Millennials Through Hashtags

During Christmas 2012, fashion e-tailer Asos ran an award-winning Twitter media campaign for its target demographic of twentysomethings. Centred on the hashtag #BestNightEver, the campaign partnered singers Ellie Goulding and Azelia Banks and model Charlotte Free, who promoted it across their own social media channels. The campaign was reported to have helped generate sales of over £5 million in the US and the UK.

Twitter’s appeal lies in its ability to share short and snappy real time updates. Brands are able to respond directly to consumers, fostering a more personal relationship. With Twitter having overtaken Facebook as the most popular social media platform for American teenagers in 2013, according to a Piper Jaffray study, it is evidently a crucial tool for brands and retailers targeting the digitally native millennial consumer.

Topshop Pins the Ultimate Gift Guide

British high street darling Topshop, another favourite among millennial fashionistas, has collaborated with social curation site Pinterest for its global Christmas campaign this year. Entitled ‘Dear Topshop’, the initiative is positioned to aid the gift inspiration process. The campaign has been integrated into Topshop’s website and even physical stores through the use of giant touchscreens and iPads in the brand’s London and New York flagships.

The instant appeal of Pinterest is that it is highly visual and sharable. Images uploaded by brands can be re-pinned by consumers onto their own boards, creating a multiplier effect. Topshop encourages consumers to pin items to their own boards with the hashtag #DearTopshop, which can be submitted as part of a competition.

Photo-Editing Sites the New Storytelling Platforms

While not having the same sharing and curation aspect as Pinterest, photo-editing apps have garnered a huge following. Michael Kors, a brand which lends itself well to the gifting process thanks to its affordable luxury positioning, was one of the first to have a sponsored post on Instagram this year. Despite initial backlash, the ad ultimately generated 33,985 new followers for the brand.

Gap has been on a roll with its digital marketing. After the success of its recent Back to Blue campaign, which saw the brand team up with emerging artists on the micro-blogging site Tumblr, Gap is turning to the photo-editing app VSCO for its Christmas campaign. The app has been known as the “anti-Instagram”, suggesting that Gap is appealing to the alternative in its bid to bring a sense of authenticity to its brand. The participants (once again, relatively unknown artists) have created content centred around Gap’s holiday clothing themes such as Fair Isle, plaid and texture.

Holiday Campaigns 2.0

While the monetisation of social media platforms themselves (S-commerce) remains a point of contention, they could well be the tools needed to encourage full-price shopping online during this crucial sales period. Social media is able to appeal to the individual, broken away from the collective, catering for individual tastes and engaging in a two-way dialogue with consumers, which is not feasible in the realm of traditional advertising.

Advertising through these channels can let brands capitalise on impulse buying. Arguably, the consumer journey between seeing something inspiring on a Pinterest board and clicking through to purchase is much shorter, and more reliable than viewing a Christmas advertisement on television and then visiting a store, searching for items and purchasing.

For all fashion brands, Christmas 2013 will be an important test of social media expertise, and the most successful campaigns will not only boost sales during the festive season but also provide a springboard into a positive 2014.

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