Developing a Brand Strategy

Start up
Alejandra Caro & Alessandra Basso
From 'Commercialising Creativity': A report commissioned by the British Fashion Council in collaboration with London Business School and in partnership with Land Securities.
Last updated: 17 Feb 2016
Although forming a brand takes time, the designer’s vision has to be clear from the start. The vision gives direction to the brand and allows designers to keep a consistent identity. A brand strategy helps to select initiatives that fit the brand and create consistency between brand identity and brand image.

Brand Identity

Most retailers agree that successful designers are those able to develop a brand identity that allows them to have a unique point of view and allows everyone else to understand what the brand represents and how the brand can be identified. Creating a collection and building a brand are different concepts; a collection is an exercise of creativity that should fit with the brand identity and reinforce it.

There are some common questions you should ask to help focus your brand and position; what does the brand stand for? What is its USP? How do you communicate to the customer that the brand is unique with respect to other brands? Where does the brand come from? Who is the customer you are talking to? Are you talking to them in a language they understand?
Once designers have established their USP and clarified their vision, consistency between product and strategy becomes essential to strengthen brand identity over time.

Marketing Plan and Budget

Marketing activities, together with communications, are key to building the brand. A marketing plan is needed initially to understand who customers are and how to approach them. From their first collections, most designers implement marketing activities including catwalk, look books, photo shoots, sampling, website, promotional trips, events and, later, advertising.

Established fashion brands, with dedicated marketing staff, prepare an annual marketing plan. Some of the interviewed brands quantified their marketing investment between 10% and 30% of their annual turnover.

PR and Communication

PR agencies are seen by designers as a fundamental partner in brand building and many successful Designer Fashion Brands have partnered with them within the first three years of starting the business. It is commonly agreed that Designer Fashion Brands should approach this external partner once the business has developed a commercial in-store visibility and a turnover of £2-3m, however many build partnerships earlier particularly those that host shows and presentations during fashion week.

Designers assert that PR represents one of the most relevant expenses for their business and they agree on the payback in terms of brand equity. PR agencies support them with full-time resources focused on the implementation of promotion and communication activities and o"er a consolidated network that a fashion business could not access otherwise. Access to the most important retailers and editor-in-chiefs are an invaluable resource from PR for some designers, especially at the early stages of their business.
PRs frequently assume the role of mentors, providing business advice that goes beyond their PR role. Partnering with PRs in multiple locations has helped many designers to build the brand’s international exposure and partnering with the same PR agency across locations help designers to have a consistent brand communication. The more the brand grows, the more the challenges shift on how to stay relevant and keep press attention. A good PR agency or strong in-house resource is crucial.

“PR should start organically. You cannot launch a designer or a brand with PR alone. To build a sustainable business designers have to create first a product that is unique and desirable for their target customer. Successful businesses start with designers who have a clear vision, a strong work ethic and a truly special product building personal relationships with key stores, press and even directly with their customers. PR and Communications are useful tools to support a designer and bring their work to the attention of a wider audience only when their business can support this attention.”

Daniel Marks – Director and Partner, The Communications Store

The Relevance of Social Networks

The digital channel can be an easy and cost effective communication tool to build a brand profile. Websites display content, communicate the brand’s story, and give information about products, editorials, activities and events. The brand’s control of their website guarantees a consistent brand experience. The BFC is working to help designers build their online presence.

Social networks are now the main platform for connecting with customers with a very limited initial investment. Sharing ideas and content is one of the most effective ways with which to engage customers and raise brand awareness. The majority of emerging British designers have implemented a brand presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest within three years of business.

However, social networks help raise brand awareness if they are constantly updated with engaging content and communication relevant to the brand. Therefore, Designer Fashion Brands should dedicate specific resources to deliver their messages and keep a vivid relationship with their audience.

Social networks are also a tremendous source for gathering data about the customer and understanding what the customer likes most. Thus brands can adapt their visual communication on the website and in stores as well as with the product itself to better address the customers’ preferences. In this sense, many global brands such as Burberry have perfectly integrated these platforms within their communication strategy.
If use of social networks is combined with an active website and includes an online sales section, there is the chance to re-direct the dense traffic of social networks into website traffic and turn them into online sales.

“Young designers need to understand what they are and why they are starting their own businesses. If they do it, it is because they really believe that they have something to say that cannot be said in the context of Paul Smith or Oscar de la Renta or Dior.”

Vanessa Friedman – Fashion Director of The New York Times