If you have not heard it before, let me tell you that fashion is such a fickle industry!! A good knowledge of marketing goes a long way. You don't need to go as far as taking courses to succeed in the marketplace, but you need to have a solid understanding of the basics of marketing. A brand can be the best thing since slice bread in one day and out the next and so goes the talent and reputation of the team behind the brand. Just look at John Galliano and that should tell you something!
How can a fashion brand survive long enough then to establish growth within the market?
In this post I will be looking at some marketing strategies that can enable a womenswear brand for example to have some growth within the African fashion industry.
Firstly, let’s start with the marketing mix – Product, Place, Price, and Promotion. I am also going to look at how people can affect your market penetration.
Mainstream fashion is dominated by seasonal changes and so fashion styles can be incredibly short-lived due to the ever changing trends in fashion. In the African fashion industry however, our seasonal occurrence is very different from the mainstream and thus it is very difficult for our fashion brands to totally capitalise on the fashion trends like their mainstream counterparts.
To develop a brand and achieve market penetration it is essential therefore that the team behind the brand is consistently able to create its own future trends and be original in the look that they are trying to achieve/create. The major issue within the African fashion market right now is the lack of originality and creativity. The fashion industry may regurgitate what has been done before, that is true, but what makes it new is the approach, the creativity and the reasoning behind the creation.
The company must ensure that its target clients’ needs are met, the values and primary objectives of the company is also being demonstrated throughout.
If the target consumers are teenagers, then the team must know that African teenagers from wealthy families as well as those living abroad are highly attuned to the ever changing fashion trends more than ever before. They also have a highly disposable income and are heavily influenced by the celebrities and popular culture. So, they will need to develop products that are comparable in quality to those found abroad and their marketing techniques must be up to par as well.
To achieve market penetration it is necessary that the brand’s pricing structure is consistent with the quality of its products. For example, you should not produce a dress without lining, without any evidence of any major pattern/cut/thought put into the dress; as they call it in Cameroon “cut am nail am” and then charge £100 for it and expect someone to pay for it. This is absurd! Let your pricing be realistic and in keeping with your target market. Let your pricing be in keeping with the cost of production. Cheap fabric + cheap labour = cheap asking price in my opinion.
Know who your customers are and keep your asking price to what they can afford.
How can you know about your target markets’ affordability? Market research! Do not just talk to your circle of friends, venture out of it to get a general picture for your pricing strategy.
Naturally, a brand’s place = location is a key marketing element.
Today, shopping experience is a leisure activity. You must intend to facilitate customers’ brand expectations and ideally even try to surpass them. A little creativity should be injected into how the fashion items are displayed in a shop for example.
For those brands who can afford a physical space, a prime location should be a must. It must be accessible, convenient, with ample parking around, good road, it must also provide an “experience” for its target customers as well as contain the right socio-economic demographic mix.
Target spaces include high streets in affluent areas – Lekki, Victoria Island (Nigeria), Bonapriso, Akwa, (Cameroon), malls (Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Uganda) etc
For those brands that cannot afford a physical space, an online presence is a must. You cannot expect to grow a brand without a functional website. So therefore, building an online presence that consistently reproduces your brand, products and service levels as if it were a physical store is a major priority and boost.
The shop front, window area, interior decoration, lighting, layout, signage, sales literature, and staff behaviour and appearance all play a major role in attracting the right consumer, enticing them into the store and encouraging them to browse through the items, ask questions and make a purchase.
The overall aim is to recreate a consistent brand experience for your customers and prospects. Consistency breeds expectation, familiarity and confidence in a brand. African shoppers now demand and expect a consistent brand experience so please ensure this is at the top of your priority list.
What could you do to make shopping at your establishment an experience?
- Run regular out of hours champagne (or wine) and canapés fashion events which are invitation only. This builds on the luxury/indulgence experience which is associated with premium fashion retailing.
- Offer a “loyalty lounge/corner” with beautifully upholstered sofas and complimentary refreshments and even discounts for multi buys, which can act as a meeting point or refuge from the high street for loyal customers and tempt them to purchase multi items.
- Sip and learn events – this can act as a great way to advise your customers about the production steps of the items you make for example. What types of fabrics are used, why certain stitches are used on the pieces and how it affects or improves durability, what they could do to ensure that they get the most out of the items they purchase from you (washing/wearing tips). This improves the customer/brand relationship.
To ensure you penetrate the market and develop your brand will require for you to develop key promotional strategies which may include the following:-
Public Relations: PR
A good PR agency with a proven track record and knowledge about the African fashion market is essential however you will need to pay a hefty sum as their services won’t be cheap. You could also use a not so experienced (emerging) PR consultant or agency that are aware of what they need to do and have the knowledge too.
A good PR agency/consultant will have the knowledge and direct relationships with trade, editors and fashion writers/critics who influence the industry and consumer behaviour.
Together you need to:
- Agree on the messages that reflect the brand.
- Agree on how to communicate these messages out to the consumer and channel partners.
- Look at suitable media channels that you want to target and their target audience.
PR is an excellent tool for building a brand, raising awareness and it can be critically important in crisis limitation should a brand run into trouble for example.
A coherent advertising strategy that is consistent with the brand’s message and desired objective is needed alongside a solid PR strategy too.
What are needed are the segmentation of the target audience and an identification of the products, media and message for delivery and measurement. You will also need suitable advertising agencies and media buyers that can develop inspiring, engaging and informative campaigns that attract the target markets and attain results.
African fashion brands need to start developing integrated campaigns that repeatedly reinforce the brand’s messages via the different mediums available. I would like to see a Jewel by Lisa or Imane Ayissi, Mustapha Hassanali ad campaigns around London or Paris and even Douala and Accra! These brands are heavy weights within the African fashion market and need to uphold this image which they have created for themselves.
Developing a sales promotion strategy will be another key element of your brand building/market penetration strategy. This strategy might include the development and launch of new product lines for customers to try and retailers to stock and promote.
Other sales promotions might include competitions, one day sales and free gifts. The company could also provide point-of-sale materials and special promotions for its retailers’ network, for example.
Packaging is also part of the brand experience. It offers an excellent opportunity to further differentiate the brand and product lines from those of the brand’s competitors.
The packaging can communicate facts about the quality of production or reinforce brand messages about indulgence and luxury. Materials such as soft wrapping paper, ribbons, and small decoration balls could be used to give the presentation that added umph.
The company logo or name, website or contact info should always be seen on the packaging in my opinion as this is a great and free way to advertise your brand to the public.
As ecological issues are ever-more on the consumers’ minds, it might be that the company uses recycled materials to produce the packaging, and publishes its “green” credentials as well as other marketing and sales materials.
Probably one of the most critical factors in achieving brand recognition and success is the people you employ and choose to work with. Developing excellent working relationships with third party suppliers and service providers is vital in making or destroying your business. Your brands reputation might often be in the hands of an individual or company outside of your own organisation.
Be keen to develop and grow your brand because how your company recruits, trains, supports, pays, incentivises and disciplines staff will all be critically important to your company’s ultimate success or failure.
The company’s frontline staffs are the face and living embodiment of the brand. How they interact with the customers, their product knowledge, and speed of service, attitude and demeanour will be almost as important as how well the products perform. Ultimately the customers are buying more than just a product; they are buying a brand experience, a life style statement, a luxury, indulgence or fantasy. Therefore ensure you are investing the right amount of time in developing your staffs and if the customer service I see in Cameroon represents those in most African stores or boutiques then a lot has to be invested in customer relation training. Also ensure your staff feel valued and do reward them for their loyalty and hard work.
To ensure that everyone within the company and all the channel partners are completely aligned with your brand promises and how they deliver them consistently will require that the company invests in a coherent, continuous internal marketing and communications strategy.
(various online research. Pic from online)