All posts by michael_battista

The New Rules of Retail Engagement: How to Reach Conscious Consumers

By Brooke Blashill (Class of 2015)
Senior Vice President, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, and Director of The Boutique @ Ogilvy

Brooke Image
Brooke Blashill, GFM Class of 2015.

For brands to be successful in the future, they need to align value with “values.” That was the resounding sentiment at last month’s major trend conferences: Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the preeminent global forum for sustainable fashion, and WGSN Futures, the London event predicting retail trends in 2030.

While there was talk of artificial intelligence, multi-generational workforces and the impact of the sharing economy, it was a new shift in the sustainability dialogue that dominated conference discussions. Once seen as a supply chain issue, the topic of ethics and responsibility spanned product design, retail strategies and buying approaches.

Spurred by the next generation of high-powered, conscious consumers, retailers are addressing the business functions where quick and impactful changes can be made – such as marketing – while other parts of the business play catch-up.

nike-flyknit-eco running-shoe
Nike Flyknit Running Shoe

Nike, for instance, said that sustainability is an innovation challenge that begins with its design team – tasking designers to make a product with the least environmental impact, setting the goal to cut their carbon footprint by half while doubling production.

Other brands, such as Selfridges and H&M, are changing the way they communicate with their customers about environmental issues by putting sustainability messages at the forefront of dedicated campaigns, in-store experiences and digital content. In years past, these types of stories would only appear around Earth Day or timed to the launch of special collections.

According to Nielsen, 2.5 billion “aspirational” consumers are becoming increasingly interested in, and making decisions based on, the environmental and social impacts of their purchases. This move isn’t about altruism – it’s driven by the consumer desire to make choices that represent who they are and what they believe in.

For retailers, that means authentically realigning a brand with the values and beliefs of their customers by being transparent and helping shoppers make smarter and more informed purchase decisions. For some brands, this could be as simple as communicating existing eco-efforts that have been taking place behind the scenes, or collaborating with credible partners to bring broader awareness to these issues and help redefine the industry conversation.

 “Good design is sustainable design.” Imran Amed, Founder and CEO of The Business of Fashion, made this statement in Copenhagen when debating media’s role in evolving the sustainable fashion dialogue. Media and marketers have a responsibility to unite this conversation using their creativity to “make sustainability sexy,” says Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times.  

So how does one use these creative powers of persuasion for good? I had the opportunity to talk with a variety of industry leaders during these two trend conferences, and here are some examples of how brands are applying these important principles across areas such as retail strategy, advertising and digital:

 Retail Strategy – Selfridges has demonstrated that eco and luxury can live in harmony through its award-winning campaign, “Project Ocean,” creatively integrating messages about ocean protection into the store experience from the window displays to the food hall. The department store has also hired its first Director of Sustainability and taken a new approach to buying, ensuring brands meet standards on ethical trade, while championing new brands with a sustainable focus through its “Bright Young Things” project.

selfridges-project-ocean-oxford-street-canopy-3-credit-andrew-meredith500
Selfridges’ award-winning campaign, Project Ocean.

Advertising – The trend in repair wear, or mending an item so it can last longer, is now spanning luxury retailers to mass market brands. WGSN says this concept, which they call “Brand Immortality,” is what big industry players, including Barbour and Brooks Brothers, have been doing for years in the form of added-value services. Now, the difference is that brands are making this a central part of external marketing campaigns and gaining customer loyalty as a result. For example, Patagonia took out an ad in the New York Times during Black Friday with the headline, “Don’t Buy This Jacket,” following up with a “Better than New” cross-country road trip to fix customers’ old coats. Nudie Jeans, the indie denim label, has opened 20 stores globally that include a repair shop offering free mending and alterations for all their jeans.

Nudie Jeans Repair Shop

Digital – Transparency has become the new buzz word, and Zady, the online eco-retailer, sets the example for the industry with its business model. Named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative retail companies in the world, Zady’s editorial approach to e-commerce and social media allows customers to see what country their clothes were made in and who makes them. Costs transparency is also gaining popularity among consumers, and is likely to become a new industry standard. Brands including Everlane and The Reformation have dedicated platforms on their e-commerce sites to list production and sourcing costs. Similarly, new luxury menswear company Boga publishes details about the materials and textile houses it uses under The Know section of its website. 

everlane
A webpage on Everlane’s e-commerce site, lists production costs.

The common thread between these companies is that they made the concept of a socially responsible purchase decision part of a desirable lifestyle through consistent brand stories that both inspire and educate. While some of these initiatives are not completely new, retail experts at both conferences predicted these approaches will be the business standard in the next three to five years. As the trend in mindfulness and conscious consumption becomes more mainstream, the most successful brands will be those that lead by example and authentically reflect the values of their customers.

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Brooke Blashill is a Senior Vice President at Ogilvy, the award-winning global marketing agency, and a recipient of PR Week’s esteemed 40 under 40 award. Blashill founded and leads The Boutique, an international retail division dedicated to helping clients develop creative and effective communications strategies with a focus on campaign development, product launches, brand experiences, designer collaborations and influencer engagement. Core areas of expertise include luxury, apparel, accessories and home. http://www.ogilvy.com/. Twitter @brookeblashill  

Brooke headshot
Brooke Blashill, GFM Class of 2015.

 


GFM NY Seminar: Priceless

By Elka Gruenberg (Class of 2016),
Northeast Account Executive, Simone Perele 

Students from HK, Paris and NY enjoy some fresh air together as they take a quick break from site visits and lectures of intensive 10 day NY Seminar.

If you were walking down East 55th Street one afternoon in early October, you may have happened across dozens of giddy adults pouring out onto the street; visibly elated, exhausted, chattering non-stop in half a dozen languages, and making a beeline for celebratory drinks.  What you would have seen would have been students from FIT’s GFM Program – with their colleagues from IFM and HKPU – emerging from the New York Seminar after delivering case study presentations.

Students giving their case study presentation

To be fair… we were warned…. multiple times…by all of our professors, advisors, and older students…“Be prepared not to sleep” and  “You’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked before.”

Students work on their case study presentations in between site visits and lectures

Yet we eagerly dove into the seminar, enthusiastically meeting our new colleagues and forming our case study teams. What followed was ten days of unremitting learning. Nights were spent continuously working and re-working angles of the case study.

Group work

Our days, however, were spent being lectured by some of the retail industry’s most influential and accomplished players.

I won’t lie; it felt a bit like a commercial…

Metro Card. $2.50. 
Morning double latte. $4.50…
Asking advice from Anna Bakst, who launched Michael Kors Footwear and Accessories and built it into a multi-billion dollar business…Priceless.

Anna Bakst speaks to GFM students
Anna Bakst, President, Accessories and Footwear at Michael Kors

While I’m sure she could have easily picked twice as many speakers, Pamela Ellsworth, Chair of GFM, assembled a group of experts who covered the entire span of the retail horizon.

Kevin Ryan – founder of Gilt Groupe – walked us through how he launched the luxury flash sale site. He challenged us to ask, “Why will people use this product,” at every point in product development. He also reminded us that while ideas are great, “The idea is only moderately important. Execution is everything.”

We learned how securing private equity is like dating; how manufacturers are positioned to become direct conduits to retail; and in this day and age every company is a tech company.

All of the speakers pushed us to expand our understanding of the retail experience.

Today’s consumer is more global, more tech savvy, more environmentally conscious and more demanding than ever before. To keep up, we need to be constantly aware of what is happening around the world. Luckily, all I have to do to keep up is Skype with any of my case study teammates in Paris, Casablanca, Geneva, or Hong Kong.

Student Smiling