by Macala Wright at Fashionably Marketing.me
Last week was a big week for my Mashable column. I launched a two-part series on the subject of branded content and the fashion industry. The original piece was over 4,000 words long and took my dear editors (Josh and Matt: I love you both) a week to sift through.
What you didn’t read there will be integrated into several posts on FMM over the course of this week, starting with the best brand blogs. On Mashable, I started with Nowness and I’m going to start with it here, as it was my top pick for best branded blogs, too.
#1: Louis Vuitton – NOWNESS
Since consumers were able to shop designer collections online, the brands that were most successful with e-commerce haven been those who have distinguished themselves with experiential stories. Those stories are crafted through packaging and signage, highly stylized display advertising photography for print, radio and television ads, translated then translated to the web, social networks and now mobile platforms.
Experiential storytellers keep their stories consistent across all medium, building upon their history while keeping a trained eye on the future. Fashion brand storytellers curating content around their brand’s story give consumers a way to participate and define themselves through the brands they chose to read and the experience they choose to participate in. In 2010, no one did this better than Louis Vuitton with the creation of NOWNESS. NOWNESS was the best piece of branded content produced by a fashion brand or retailer in 2010.
To understand why NOWNESS has earned this spot, you have to understand pieces of the luxury brands’ story. Speaking with luxury marketing expert Ruth Staiman, whose clients have included Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus, Staiman explains, “Before you can look at why NOWNESS is so successful, you have to take it back to the in-store purchase of Louis Vuitton goods. When you buy a Louis Vuitton Suitcase, you have purchased the promise of a life of luxury; maids pack your clothing and porters shuttle it quickly to your destination where it is unpacked. When a woman, or gentleman, buys a Louis Vuitton bag, they’ve been granted access to the high end of fashion, art, cinema, entertainment, culture, music, gastronomy, design and travel. Who could resist it?”
Staiman continued, “This entitlement and achievement was translated into NOWNESS, a site that promises the ultimate luxury, a life of ideas, creativity and technological avant-garde. Louis Vuitton has created so much quality branded content this year that its creativity exceeds mainstream magazine and web content as a Go-To for new ideas and inspiration. Louis Vuitton’s first venture into branded content came in PRINT the late 1990’s with the City Guides. They were small volumes of exclusive tips for the Louis Vuitton Lifestyle. Now, City Guide 2011 debuted on NOWNESS with whimsical YouTube videos touring “Paris: Le St. Honore”, “New York: The Big Apple” and “Berlin & Architecture”. The short films are packed with clever insights and tips on each city. ”
The Art of Travel Video on Louis Vuitton’s YouTube Channel enables all of us to experience it. The Art of Travel group on Facebook has 1,740,000 “Likes”. The YouTube Channel has 50 videos. Through NOWNESS, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Louis Vuitton has created a community who shares and resonates this content 24/7 globally to support the heritage of their brand and it’s new frontier of influencers. When you walk in to a Louis Vuitton Boutique or enter the web site, you’re officially a part of this world that others can still experience and aspire to.
If anyone can top Liz Goldwyn By Tommy Ton, I’d like to speak with you. And one day, who knows, maybe I, a girl who must have luxurious dreams, will be a contributor.
#2: LOFT – LiveLoveLOFT
LOFT’s Tumblr-powered fashion blog, curated by many a notable style blogger such as as Jessica Quirk of What I Wore and the people from its Lucky Style Spotter contest, was by far my personal favorite piece of branded content in 2010. The site created content, amazing videos and balanced all of the retailer’s “social components” perfectly. It’s okay that it’s gone; I still have memories and screen captures. It was a bad move on LOFT’s part to take this site down, though. But this untimely demise leads me to…
#3: Ann Taylor – ART SHE SAID
The birth of Ann Taylor’s ART SHE SAID. As I said in my Mashable piece, sometimes in order for a brand to find the essence of their identity, they have to put themselves into the context of their customer’s lives. Then they’ll discover who they are and how to talk to the people they’re trying to reach. Ann Taylor did that with this micro community — again, powered by Tumblr.
#4: Dolce & Gabbana – SWIDE
SWIDE is a more in-your-face approach to brand generated content. The luxury magazine balances stories that are relevant to the brand’s target consumer with events/content directly related to the Dolce & Gabbana brand. I give them kudos for the recent announcement of UOMINI; all the girls and guys in the office have requested copies as their two year FMM anniversary gift. SWIDE needs to work the fine tuning the design of this site however, it could be a little bit more polished, like the beautiful men of UOMINI.
#5: Club Monaco – Culture Club
Though Club Monaco is a brand that was fashionably late to the social media party, they made up for it in 2010 by launching one of the top five branded blogs online. Reminiscent of Test, Club Monaco’s Culture Club is a curated digital heaven within the folds of its main website. Club Monaco’s micro site, Culture, features the people, places and things that inspire its staff and their friends. The curation changes every month as does the featured contributors. The Culture Club approach is really a genius idea for brands on a budget; you can’t go wrong crowdsourcing content from your personal social circles. I kindly request that the retailer add e-commerce to their site in 2011, for 2012 will simply be too late.
#6: Alice + Olivia – “4AM Finds”
Earlier this year, I predicted that brand collaborations with bloggers would lead to curated product features. This phenomenon has trickled over into celebrity stylist, fashion designer and influential business figures. Alice + Olivia, a brand that loves social experiments, took the cake when founder Stacey Bendet crossed technology and fashion with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s product selections featured on Alice + Olivia’s new blog column, 4AM Finds. The 4AM Finds blog column is now curated by celebrity guest bloggers in a Polyvore meets Teen Vogue fashion every Monday.
#7: French Connection – Manifesto
FCUK Man and Manifesto has earned itself a place as one of the top five style blogs for men on the web, only outranked by overpaid and glorified male style bloggers. From graphics to the voice in its editorial content, Manifesto successfully addresses its target demographics lifestyle and product consumption patterns. I know many have pointed to French Connections Yootique, we wrote about it, but it was geared towards a female audience, we wanted MAN TARGETED CONTENT. The video execution, as well as the brand’s Twitter and Facebook strategies have room for improvement; mainly in the customer/friends/follower area. MANIFESTO just rocks and I can’t complain.
#8: Juicy Couture – The Daily Couturists
There’s always been something very Snookie Jersey Shore meets Calabasas Kardashian about this brand for me. While I love the brand, I am more a fan of their marketing than anything else. I must say, I am most impressed with their blog, and just because it is based in PINK (second only to purple in my book). Daily Couturists features multiple bloggers in the three of ten major fashion capitals of the world – New York, London and of course LOS ANGELES! I love reading Concept Designer Sonia Martin’s pieces – especially when she’s shopping on the EAST side of LA, which is much different than shopping on the east side of Manhattan. My only beef with this is the “Guest Blogger” filler — please add a great photo to the contributor du jour, du week or du month.
#9: Free People – Bldg 25
Both Krista and I are boho chic girls; while she’s more feminine and I’m more vintage industrial, we both love Free People and Bldg 25 is one of our favorite blogs. We love the tone of voice; we connect with it. We love how the writer and brand make us fall in love with things we really don’t wear — like HATS. The subtle brand announcements, like California store openings, are stealthily integrated into the blog via beautiful imagery.
Sometimes a brand doesn’t have to go overboard. While the Free People social media strategy and all of its marketing just rock, brands just starting to venture into branded content and better blogging strategies can use Bldg 25 as a jump-off point. Note: I would have used the Urban Outfitters blog had it still been called Carnival of Curiosities (which is now an exhibit at Navy Pier in Chicago).
#10: Bergdorf Goodman – 5th At 58th
Luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman made a serious play in the social space with this, not only via Twitter, but with the launch of its blog, 5th At 58th. The Bergdorfs Twitter personality coupled with the inspiration and creativeness of their blog content has enabled Bergdorfs to overshadow its parent company, Neiman Marcus. Five Questions with designers and fashion influences done in video, being able to glance voyeuristically into their infamous windows and tales from the Seventh Floor make this a fantastic New York fashion read. No offense is meant to be taken when I request more frequent content be carefully woven and pushed out through Facebook and Twitter. Dear Bergdorfs, WE WANT MORE of you in our socialsphere, especially on the West coast.
#11: Anthropologie – The Anthropologist
Following in the footsteps of NOWNESS, Anthropologie’s The Anthropologist is a thought-provoking, inspirational, authentic journey that one can embark upon via video or photography. The connection to Anthropologie is not explicitly stated, with the exception of the copyright on the About Us page. The brand has associated itself with the project, without completely taking it over.
Whitney Holum, a digital marketing specialist offered FMM this analysis of Anthropologist: “The wonderful thing about Anthropologie’s “Anthropologist” is that it brings a sense of personality to their brand and is a stand for who they want to be to the world. It allows a space for their guests to have a conversation with them far removed from a customer service channel. There is no product push; they have simply created a space where sharing the ideas and creativity of others acts as a catalyst of spreading creativity and possibility. The look, feel and essence of the curated content epitomizes anthropology, the study of humanity, and in that it truly personifies the Anthropologie brand. If guests click-through to their ecommerce site, or arrive at their website because of the search results populated by the words of Anthropologist, that’s simply a bonus and not the goal.” I agree 100%.
#12: ShopBop – Eat.Sleep. Demin
Following in the footsteps of Anthropologie, ShopBop launched a blog dedicated to love of premium denim this year call Eat.Sleep.Denim. Curated and written by Jennine Jacob, the founder of Independent Fashion Bloggers and New York fashion blog The Coveted, this blog explored All Thing D (and that doesn’t mean digital). Built on WordPress with an amazingly simple and wonderful CopyBlogger theme, Jacob (along with other stylish cohorts) explore trends, accessorizing and how to create humorous moments in life (the jeggings rap video) while living in denim.
Eat.Sleep.Denim is another example of a blogger/brand collaboration that retailers big and small can do in order to create better content and start establishing a unique voice for their store in 2011. Start with The Best Denim Posts Of 2010 for ideas and go from there.
With all the talk of branded content and the best practices for branded blogs, a fashionable girl, or guy, could get a little overwhelmed on how to approach branded content. We sat down with ThisNext‘s CEO, Matt Edelman, to get his insights on how brands should approach branded content when it comes to a brand’s company blog.
Here are the three things we brands must consider, in Edelman’s words:
1. Tell a story.
Brands are not natural story tellers in narrative form. They work tirelessly to tell stories through marketing messages, advertisements, commercials and promotions, but writing content in a narrative format is not usually an area where they have developed internal expertise. To be successful at blogging, a brand needs to understand how to build a narrative – a story – in which their consumers will take an interest. Well-written blogs connect with users on an emotional level. A brand must do this in order for their blog content to matter to consumers.
2. Develop a clear and consistent voice.
Brands typically think of themselves as having an “identity,” but they don’t always realize they also have a voice. An identity is what the brand “stands for” – it makes a consumer think of certain values they associate with the brand. For example, Apple makes consumers think of values such as high quality, creativity, etc. A “voice” is something different – a voice makes a consumer “feel” something. Apple exhibits its voice brilliantly in its iPad commercials, which make consumers feel happy, carefree, curious, etc. A blog without a voice – i.e. a blog that only conveys a brand’s identity – will not engage its readers.
3. Provide actionable content.
Brands are in the business of compelling consumers to act in a way that makes money for the brand. That’s both possible and essential in a blog. Consumers want to like what they take the time to read, and they understand that a brand has products or services the consumer may find interesting. Entertaining a consumer is not enough for branded content, as people find their entertainment elsewhere. So, branded content needs to include an idea, advice or link that the consumer can put to use, ideally right away. Otherwise the consumer will not come back for more.