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AI and the New Era of Fashion Content Strategy
On the rise of AI and what it means for fashion and luxury content; or how to prevent a future of homogenous content and inauthentic brand storytelling
In the introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley writes of her vision for the story:
“I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”
This celebrated “ghost story” (as she calls it) imagines a ghastly future and questions the moral, ethical, and philosophical repercussions of humans trying to recreate “the effect of human endeavor” and play the role of god.
We are currently amidst a not-so-quiet revolution in practical applications of artificial intelligence (AI) for business, thanks to the introduction of generative AI tools like ChatGPT-3 and ChatGPT-4 and now autonomous AI.
In some camps, AI myth-making is in full force with tech enthusiasts (many of whom were “crypto gurus” turned “metaverse experts”) now all over generative AI with gusto, pronouncing a new future of automated, machine-run content at scale wherein brands, marketers, and content creators can generate high-quality content at the push of a button. The opportunities for small businesses and enterprise companies alike, it seems, are endless to save costs, develop new products, and create original content, removing the need for human involvement in everything from basic content development to UX and marketing and advertising. The age of the writer and content creator, one AI savant recently quipped on LinkedIn, is coming to an end.
Putting all the popular hype aside, AI, perhaps, more specifically, generative AI, offers real possibilities to transform—or disrupt, transmogrify, recreate, reimagine, and reconstitute—the business of content. For business leaders, the ease-of-access, the relatively low user education costs, and the variety of tools and products with embedded generative AI already available provides a dizzying array of ways to save time and money on content and content-related tasks. Our own Bryce Quillin has already written at length on the potential of AI to transform the world of economics and econometrics.
For retailers and e-commerce businesses, the case for AI is arguably even stronger, with new, deeper opportunities for AI to alleviate the burdens of today’s 24/7 omni-channel content cacophony, assisting with everything from product and social media content to advertising and marketing campaign generation to UX, SEO, and information architecture and product taxonomy. There already is even a lot of really good advice on AI prompts to make content strategy easier.
What does AI mean for the future of fashion and luxury content and brand storytelling? Is the age of the fashion critics, writers, bloggers, and content creators at an end? How do brands understand what is important about AI for fashion content and what is not in order to “avoid another disappointment like the metaverse,” as one client recently told us?
Our answer: When it comes to content, approach nascent technologies with a mix of humility and curiosity.
AI and the shape of fashion content
The future of AI and fashion content is still being written. It’s early days. We cannot with any confidence predict a future of fully autonomous brand marketing and social content any more than we can say it is just a passing trend. This is not to say that the uncanny ability of ChatGPT to write strong product descriptions, Instagram posts, and marketing campaigns should be ignored; but rather that this capability needs to be thought through, interpreted, and incorporated into a wider brand content strategy in order to be properly operationalized.
In short, as a fashion brand, where will the most value-add for AI-driven content arise? It’s hard to say at this point. But, there are some best practices emerging for AI applications for content and content strategy.
Before you use AI, identify your content strategy.
If your brand is already struggling to produce and manage content across channels and does not have in place a foundational content strategy to drive content decision making and planning over time, then AI could actually make things worse. Why? You could easily lose customers if the AI is not properly trained in your brand voice and produces content that is not well targeted to your vision, your product, and, well, your words.
Automating content without purpose or vision basically turns whatever output the AI generates into junk content that won’t resonate or have any impact on your target audiences.
Know what content problem you need the AI to solve.
Following on from the idea of junk content, using AI for AI’s sake is not a great choice when it comes to content for brands of any size. This is why we continually recommend approaching AI tools with a strong strategy with a set of clear vision-based goals and success measures in hand.
Is it a good thing for ChatGPT to write all your Instagram posts? If you’ve been having interns handle Instagram for years and it isn’t a priority channel, that’s one thing.
But, if you’re a luxury brand all about exclusivity, provenance, and quality, then considering an investment in AI for content is an entirely different matter. For fashion and luxury brands, authentic, quality content that empowers and enriches your brand story across channels is arguably your biggest asset. So, relying on an AI author to create your social media posts as a luxury brand may not be the best move.
That said, if you’re a fashion retailer struggling to keep up with the pace of writing product descriptions every time you introduce a new product, generative AI is a perfect tool to help your content teams automate and templatize laborious content creation processes. Or, if you’re a fashion marketer trying to understand the history of a specific trend, AI can give you a quick comprehensive deep dive into any particular topic.
Focus on storytelling, not the tech wow factor.
Tell better stories across platforms. Use beautiful words to bring beautiful clothes to life. If you want to differentiate your fashion and luxury brand from your competitors, focus on:
Identifying your target audiences and how they are similar and different
Understanding what these audiences need, the types of content they prefer, and the patterns in how they consumer it—in other words, your customer journeys
Delineating your brand content vision and goals
Identifying all your brand content touchpoints, both for digital channels and IRL ones from your website to retail stores and influencer marketing partnerships
In our opinion, the future of fashion criticism and trends analysis is now more critical than ever to provide educated, historically-situated, experience-driven insights about the fashion and luxury industry. These are expert functions that no AI can fulfill.
Given where we are with AI technologies, by all means, use AI to ideate if you get stuck or to generate new ideas if you are feeling spontaneous. Or even, use AI for UX to generate personas, conduct ideal-state user research, and write user stories. But, don’t rely on AI to write and deliver all your brand messaging if you want to build meaningful relationships with consumers and to give them reasons to keep engaging and coming back.
Empower your content teams.
Do not take the easy way out and think that AI is more powerful to reach consumers than the writers, editors, social media strategists, and marketers team you currently have on staff.
The current state of AI runs out of steam in creating what we can only call vaguely “high-quality, original content based on the vicissitudes and unpredictabilities of actual human experience.” AI cannot live a life for you. Even if you ask AI to write a sea shanty, it still lacks the spontaneity and imaginativeness of human-written poetry. AI takes a formulaic, slightly personality-less approach to content creation and is only as good as the information and data that went into its inputs, which is not necessarily the best formula for fashion brands looking to make clothing feel desirable and exclusive to drive consumers to purchase.
Want a new future for fashion content? Build a content strategy and give your existing teams more opportunities to collaborate and develop innovative stories, build connections, and create meaningful experiences for your consumers. AI is a fascinating tool to help creators imagine new possibilities and build new worlds; but, it needs supervision and nuancing in order to situate it most powerfully within an organization.
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