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Fashion Innovation: Why Brand-Authentic Strategy Wins
FSW explores the mindset of fashion and luxury innovation and why some brands are jumping head first and others are holding back
When it comes to innovation, many fashion and luxury brands think it is all about keeping up or being ahead.
However, as the Gartner Hype Cycle famously illustrates, the adoption of new technologies occurs in a stochastic pattern in phases that move from an initial period of hype through a trough of disappointment into actual long-term adoption. Where brand vision meets consumer needs and user experience in the short term is often unclear for new technologies simply because brands often are, not surprisingly, focused on being first movers.
Digital transformation in the fashion and luxury industries, however, has historically happened at a much slower pace than in other industries. For an industry that prides itself on pushing social and cultural boundaries and norms, fashion has a record of being surprisingly skittish when it comes to innovation, although that is changing for some brands.
The Dilemma of Luxury Innovation
The best example of a brand with a select approach to innovation is Chanel, which has a very calculated digital strategy, as Vogue Business explored a few years ago. The French maison strategically decided not to sell any of its luxury clothing, accessories, and jewelry on its website, despite its expansive presence in the beauty market.
Part of the hesitation towards digital adoption in fashion and luxury is arguably a fear of anything new. Some of this may be driven by the unique characteristics of luxury where pricing power is underpinned by conveying a sense of exclusivity, which may seem at odds with more open digital platforms. Another part of it is a purposeful approach to brand strategy that attempts to control each arm of an omnichannel business strategy to avoid brand dilution.
The truth for many fashion and luxury brands is that digital decision-making is so entirely siloed across teams that it is frankly impossible to get anything done. For global conglomerates like LVMH and Richemont, and big brands, it is easier for future-focused teams to experiment with new technologies like XR, the metaverse, gaming, and web3 projects because they have an organizational foundation on which to fall back. For medium and small brands, particularly privately-owned and independent labels, the challenge for digital innovation is much greater.
There is a reason most of the current Web3, gaming, and metaverse initiatives are coming from brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, and Coach. These brands have strategies focused both on maintaining the exclusivity of luxury and the mass appeal of a mainstream popular brand. This is in comparison with brands like Schiaparelli and Brunello Cucinelli that market to high-net-worth consumers. For the latter, investment in innovation needs to be even more purposeful and part of a smaller-scale, vision-centric digital strategy focused on core brand storytelling and elevated product marketing.
The Challenge of Luxury Innovation Content
What fashion and luxury brands of all sizes share in common, however, is a constant pressure to create and meet consumer demands for what’s new and what’s next—both in terms of clothing and content. The problem with the current velocity of most fashion and luxury production is the same problem with fashion content: there is too much of it; and most of it is poorly, even hastily, crafted. To cope with the pressures of an always-on universe of content, brands separate content decision-making with different teams handling, say, bricks-and-mortar retail creative, website content, marketing, social media, corporate communications, PR, and innovation.
This, along with the rapid, ever-evolving acceleration of new technologies like Web3, results in brands often jumping head-first into innovation without thinking about how these new technologies align with brand principles and user needs. This means that content strategy, along with the basic principles of UX and material design, may get de-prioritized or left behind.
Content Strategy and the Keys to Luxury Innovation
As our FSW team has explored, innovation strategy, as an offshoot of fashion and luxury brand strategy, needs content strategy to create, implement, and scale activations successfully over time. Even one-off pilot initiatives benefit from being contextualized in the larger framework of a holistic brand content strategy to ensure that brand messaging is targeted and appropriate and that user experience is intuitive, accessible, and logical. After all, content strategy is about developing, managing, and developing content across channels that reflects brand values and messaging and meets the ever-changing needs of target user audiences over time.
What are innovation experiences if not an elevated, immersive form of brand storytelling? Ultimately, when it comes to fashion and luxury investment in innovation through dynamic technologies like digital fashion, XR, gaming, the metaverse, and Web3, brands thrive when they build user-focused, brand-authentic experiences that are unique and meaningful.
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