In many respects, the days of walking into a store or visiting a website simply to buy a sweater or a pair of jeans are over. Today, stores, brands and designers want you to step inside their little universe and buy into theirentire commercial ideology.
Sure, there are still some brands who cling to the straightforward model and will just sell you some sneakers, wish you good luck and send you off with little more than a receipt as proof of where you spent your money. The thing is: they’re the ones losing out. In an overcrowded market where new brandspop up every other week (and the old ones are continually relaunched or reinvented to maintain their relevance) this extra mile is all they can do to boost their unique selling point. That might sound cynical, but it’s simply the reality of a new retail charter set by consumers worldwide. It’s tough being a brand these days, but it’s fun being a consumer. We, the customers, have the power.
Independent retail outlets have watched these general trends emerge and develop over the last few years and the majority have moved with them. These days, retail brands feel the need to create stories or expand on existing ones, to paint a bigger picture about what they want to present with their company. The heritage trend of the past decade was part of that – the idea that the history, traditions and craftsmanship of a brand had to be explored and explained to the customer. But what storytelling vehicle is best used for this? Look across the global retail landscape and most have settled on editorial content as a universal solution – and that’s why content creation is the new advertising.
Today, many brands and stores produce their own in-house magazines, not to mention compile rich, content-heavy newsletters and fill their websites with articles, interviews and inspirational images all designed to communicate an overall brand message. While, of course, the purpose of this activity is to drive sales, this goes hand-in-hand with the desire to educate customers and shape them after a particular image. For instance, a site likeMR PORTER is – at its heart – an online retail outlet; however, from the outside it seems to spend just as much of its time and money creatingeditorial content as it does on buying merchandise. The idea is to showcase the kind of person they want their customers to be – or who they can be if they shop there – and these days there’s barely a self-respecting store out there that doesn’t shoot its own fashion editorials or interview figures it believes to be aspirational. There’s even been talk about Nike relaunching Nike.com as a hub for content, as opposed to merely acting as a web shop.
So why is this so important? Because it signals a whole new way for brands to project their image. What’s more, it’s more effective than ever. Go back 10 or 15 years and magazines had to send out questionnaires to learn who read them. Nowadays, the internet feeds back an almost endless source of information that covers everything right down to the smallest detail – who reads what, how long they spend doing it, where they access the site from, etc. This information is invaluable in helping brands identify their audience and once they have that, they can work on influencing them. This, after all, is the definition of advertising, whether it’s above or below the line.
As I’ve already mentioned, MR PORTER is an excellent example of this; so, too, is Opening Ceremony. Both sites are well known for the quality and quantity of their content. It’s no surprise to learn that many of the people hired by brands and stores these days come from a background in magazines and newspapers –they simply apply this editorial point of view to a newfound commercial venture.
Another early content adopter was LVMH, who operated the eLuxury.com site as an overall retail outlet for the fashion conglomerate’s network of high-end brands. A few years ago that site was transformed into NOWNESS – an editorial platform publishing one piece of high-quality video content every single day. At the height of the internet’s power (where nothing limits the amount of stories published), to only post one exclusive and beautifully filmed clip a day, is, arguably, a very modern definition of what luxury means. That, in turn, reflects exceptionally well on the brands who are featured on the site.
Essentially, the whole drive towards content creating is a consequence of an overcrowded marketplace. Brands now have to take everything to the “next level” and this extends not only across their products but also theircommunication and marketing. Content creation – in a time when brands are questioning the worth of expensive two-page ads in print magazines – is a good way to both drive traffic and educate your customers on what makes you tick. It also allows you to take in a far broader range of interests and influences, creating an image that’s complex and well-developed, as opposed to static and two-dimensional.
Whether it’s an experimental fashion editorial or an in-depth interview with a pop-cultural icon, such content engages and inspires the right kind of customer, creating a much more valuable fanbase at the end of it. What some brands are forgetting (or at least choosing to ignore), however, is that continually improving your editorial output leaves customers hungry, and soon they will want more and better content. Without intending to, these brands are setting the hamster wheel off again and soon they’ll find themselves producing fully-fledged magazines – which, in turn, are funded on traditional print advertising…