Most designers start with public relations because, they rightly think, exposure equals growth. After all, customers can't buy something if they don't know it exists, right? However, after nearly a decade as a Branding Manager for bright and talented fashion designers, I've come to understand that without first curating a unique brand image that captivates your target market, PR outreach is putting the cart before the proverbial horse.
In fact, I believe so much in the power of a strong visual brand identity that I believe your designs aren't your ticket to longevity, wealth, or loyalty.
Instead, your equity lies in your identity.
Let’s do a quick exercise in the power of branding and perception. Go through your desk, or purse, or closet right now and ask yourself why you made the last 5 purchases you did. Did you buy that Chanel Red lipstick because it really looked that different from the drug store version? Or do you like whipping out those double C's from your bag. What are you telling the world about your values, your perceived worth, or your financial wealth when you choose to upgrade your 10-year old Honda for a shiny new Mercedes? Do you carry designer leather handbag because it provides more function than a canvas tote? Of course not! The reality is, with each of those purchases you bought more than just a lipstick, or a car, or a bag. You bought into the designer’s branding which created a level of status, prestige and lifestyle affinity that communicates to the outside world who you are.
Better Brand Perception Outsells Better Products.
For many designers, it's difficult to pull focus away from your next collection and consider your overall brand identity. But consider the sheer number of designers worldwide - many will have a similar look and be competing with you for the same clients sales. While it's important to focus on quality and innovation in terms of your designs, don't forget to figure out how to take advantage of branding, marketing and PR to attract consumer and market interest.
In order to help you start to consider your visual brand identity, take a look through the following 4 steps that I take all our Slate Design clients through in order to begin to develop a remarkable brand.
STEP 1: Define Your Business Framework
Before a PR firm is able to do their job well, both the designer and publicist must agree on the target market and be working within a viable pricing and retail category. Be open to the insights from your PR, showroom or sales reps. 97% of my clients end up with new pricing and new retail categories!
STEP 2: Define Your Target Market
Understanding the ideal customer for your product is vital to your ability to remain relevant and competitive as a brand. When I ask new clients who they are selling to, they will often say (WOMEN 18-50) which is not a market. It’s a pool. In this step we actually profile the ideal customer using categories like sex, occupation, age group, education, geography, psychographics, income, and buying habits. In the end it narrows down to a very specific target that we can approach down the line and design our brand promise around.
STEP 3: Define Your Unique Selling Point
What compelling value do you offer to your target that is undeniable? What is your greatest strength as a brand? Remember that it’s one thing, not many. In the attempt to hook as many consumers as possible, it might seem like having multiple values makes sense but your brand personality should be singular - not plural. Stick with one thing so you don’t confuse your market.
STEP 4: Design the Optimal Experience
With a renewed sense of clarity in the aforementioned steps, now is the time to create images that articulate your position as a brand. Designers I meet can recite a laundry list of information that they deem important, but when you look at their marketing materials, website, or any other visual output, none of those words translate into the visual experience. In this step we combine product attributes - like function and utility - with the aspirational qualities that create an experience and emotional appeal to help consumers relate to the collections.
As a quick example, I took one of my favorite designers of all time, Australian brand "DAMN YOU ALEXIS," through this very process. When I met the designer she had a firm grasp on the Australian shopper she was catering to, but had not considered this same shopper in the US might be different. When I presented the findings of her US counterpart she found that her challenge wasn't price, it was acceptance. Helping her shopper find the value in spending hundreds of dollars on a dress or an outfit when at the time of launch the largest US retailer on record for plus women was Walmart required a strategy to change the mindset and values her customer through branding, something she had never thought she had to do. So, we developed an approach defined by the aspirational interests of consumer and sales doubled.
Many designers assume that because they have a product or a collection, they already have a brand. The truth is that your brand identity is a separate and absolutely crucial element in order to build a successful business and yes, secure press coverage to drive awareness, interest and ultimately, sales. Connect with me and the SLATE team on our brand new Twitter feed @brandmeslate to get more banding tips.
About Lee Ann Stevenson
Lee Ann Stevenson, owner of SLATE DESIGN, is a driven branding manager with 10 years of experience in fashion. Throughout her career the importance of diversifying her portfolio, a skill learner from her corporate beginnings, encouraged her to dabble in various corners of the industry. After earning her pre-law degree from University of Maryland she sat on the other side of the cutting table as an emerging designer before working as an editor, fashion correspondent, and public relations professional. When she’s not working, which is rare, you can find her running after her three beautiful children, or championing causes dear to her heart like the fight against Ovarian Cancer and Dementia.
Photo Credit: FLASHFLOOD®