Last year saw the first panel discussion hosted by African Fashion International on the global recession and it's impact on the fashion industry.......
I thought it was a brilliant start to the fashion week and a great initiative given the economic climate and that everyone is scaring each other with impending doom and gloom scenarios.........right down to the cash bar in the VIP lounge and soggy Nik Naks on offer.....;-)
Anyway be that it as it may it was a great start to something which could turn out to be something finally worth anything to designers. Off course I really think that many of the panelists had some great takes on the current situation and offered great perspectives on the global impact of the economy.......included in this was the usual brain flexing dull as bricks factual blah blah which clearly had gave some the fashionistas in attendance a half glazed, deer with headlights type of expression.....it simply flew over their heads and kicked the living daylights of the person behind them.
For me it was really interesting but I sat there wondering whether any of these people were offering any practical solutions to the fashionistas who awaiting with bated breath for the panacea.........the promise of a future lined in silk and edged in mink. Again I found it interesting bar the regurgitation of some boring rant on the quotas etc etc and some trend person who spoke about the shoulder of the Balmain jacket (see my blog on Paris Fashion Week) - the good Lord only knows how a trendforecaster could look at the last Spring/Summer (ready to wear) collections and base predictions moving forward..........should we not be looking at Spring/Summer 2010 already and be assessing how they would impact on us commercially - her observation was as about relevant to the discussion as an ostrich would be to a Japanese tea drinking ceremony! One thing I would have agreed on was her constant mention of the word 'relevance' (see below for explanation)!
What I found interesting was that most people were predicting the end of luxury brands......yeah right.......and were implying that Chanel should go Walmart! Luxury brands stand the test of time.....its their thing and most of them whilst cutting back on retail expansion, jobs or their ad spend......don't really cut their price. Consistency even through adversity is what makes them brands that withstand the test of time, Madoff scandals and recessions.
Moving on though I did find some of the points that were made exceptionally relevant to our current situation. What we did forget is that to a large extent many of the fashion businesses in SA are SME's and have the ability to adapt to market conditions and demands far more easily so there are ways to try and combat the effects of a recession. Most of these businesses are not in such great shape to begin with so this compounds problems.......
What would have been nice is if people had practical suggestions/ideas that fashionistas could use in the daily operation of their businesses.
For me I had a few things but since we gave air time to more statistical jargon I never got to say what I wanted to say so here goes:
1. Spend on your brand
During a vibrant and growing economy consumers spend without question. Having an unclear brand position, while not the most ideal situation, therefore is not as risky as during a recessionary period such as the one we are encountering. In times of growth and expansion, the brand’s weakness in the marketplace is less obvious, as consumers tend to be more forgiving and are not so price-conscious. When times get tough however, consumer spending habits change dramatically. With negative news percolating from all media avenues the consumption fear sets in and they require much further motivation for spending. In recessionary times, consumers, not only spend less overall, but they become far more selective in how they spend. They gravitate away from brands that fail to provide a clear, meaningful, relevant and emotional engagement.
Conventional wisdom suggests that in times of recession it is better to tighten the belt and cut costs and most companies immediately cut their marketing and branding efforts. For me this is when opportunity presents itself. When others are cutting their spending and loosing the emotional engagement with customers, it will pay in the longer term to spend on the brand.
2. Spend on brand relevancy
The brand spend doesn't always mean monetary spend in every case. It is about generating a buzz around the brand and with the present day technology such efforts can be choreographed much easily than one can think. Think of online marketing for instance......the internet! A word-of-caution however for those over eager brand managers. When you create and open these new avenues of communication understand the limitations of it and the manner in which customers will engage in it. History of such communications is littered with companies overdoing it and in turn failing to become relevant. Relevance is extremely important to luxury brands and therefore you should tread carefully. During economic slumps it is the best time to build this brand relevance as it will entrench these brands long term. So ask yourself a simple question is whatever it is that you intend doing relevant to your brand.......does imbue the core values upon which your label is built on? Does it differentiate you in the marketplace and emphasise your unique selling point.....is it RELEVANT to your business? If yes then proceed.......
3. Avoid the SALE mentality
The increasing 'Wall-Street' driven short-term mentality to outperform competitors everyday is another pitfall associated with most marketers. I do not believe that there is a single business out there that can do this. Remember that proverb 'every dog has its day'. This is how simple it is. You cannot outperform the market everyday and every time. It catches up on you. In recession times short-term focused marketer go on sales promotion overdrive. This has a direct impact on the brand erosion and consumers get confused as to what the brand stands for.
Instead of sales promotion spend on engagement. Make your brand relevant. Cement the position of your brand in the customers' minds. Stop the sale mentality. However, simple and logical this may sound, most marketers who are continuously involved in operational thinking miss this and kill their beloved (mostly by the consumers) luxury brands.