Insights

Decoded Fashion London 2016

May 19, 2016

Why “blue is not an idea”: tales from Decoded Fashion’s London Summit

Sir John Hegarty (AKA the “H” in BBH, the global creative agency) is not a man who beats about the bush. He opens his Decoded Fashion presentation with: “Firstly, you don’t have to agree with everything I say. Secondly, I don’t give a shit”. Punchy.

A friend described his slot as a “breath of fresh air”. Essentially, he was challenging the fashion industry to up their game. Amidst all the talk of personalisation, omni-channel and customer experience, Sir John took the conversation back to grass roots. “Brands”, he stated, “are a collection of ideas”. And he reminded us of the dictionary definition of an idea: “a thought or plan formed by mental effort”.

Firstly, you don’t have to agree with everything I say. Secondly, I don’t give a shit

So what does he mean? The problem with fashion, Sir John explained, is that as a brand you are expected to keep up with trends like all your competitors. Paradoxically, you also need to be different and to stand out. The way to tackle this is to go deep into the psyche of a brand. He used the ads BBH created for Levi’s back in 1990 as an example. Taking a provocative stance based on customer insight into the 501, this was a risky manoeuvre that paid off. “I like them best just before they fall apart”, one ad states with a leisurely scrawl. “Because they fit - eventually” says another. “The truth”, Sir John proclaims, “is the most powerful strategy a brand can employ”.

So brands need to understand what they stand for, be true to themselves, and then communicate this in a way that captures people’s imagination. Easy enough?

If only. Even if a brand manages to achieve those things, in itself no mean feat, there’s then the challenge of how to make that happen for the customer. Across all channels. Consistently. Rhythmically. In a tailored way. Maximising customer insight. Minimising friction. Right. Got it?

The Summit hosted many other great discussions into the orchestration of that brand experience - how to manage content across channels, how to personalise the customer experience, the physical-digital crossover. It gave insight into what different brands are doing and the approaches they have found successful. I found myself listening especially hard to the candid moments where some admitted that they didn’t get it right all the time - how it’s now more important just to get something out there: “agile content”, as Michelle Sadlier from Hunter termed it. Customers, it seems, are now more forgiving of the “minimum viable product” ad campaign. Being a bit scruffy around the edges gives your brand the human touch: no one’s infallible. Just make sure it’s true to your brand.

Other talks I especially loved included Victoria Beckham CEO Zach Duane’s fascinating insight into the company. Zach talked about how the Victoria Beckham brand is based on inclusivity, while maintaining luxury appeal. He spoke openly about the challenges they had faced - the Spice Girls hangover, the fact they didn’t have a 150 year heritage unlike many luxury fashion houses. What I found really refreshing was their approach to stores: they have worked hard to ensure that everyone is welcome. Zach and Victoria headhunted and interviewed every single member of store staff, recognising that they were crucial as the front line in the transmission of the brand message to customers.

I had no idea of the extent to which Grindr is really pushing boundaries

And then there was Landis Smithers from Grindr. Easy, you might say, to attract attention with sections entitled “Lust” and “Pornography”. But I had no idea of the extent to which Grindr is really pushing boundaries. Last year they partnered with JW Anderson to live stream their fashion show, despite resistance in the market. “They said we couldn’t do it...did it...worked...there was a certain amount of gloating”, Smithers remarks with a wry smile. The previous year the show had received 5k total views on Youtube. This time? 150k views in the first week alone. This encouraged Grindr to start exploring how they might extend the brand into other lifestyle areas. Art, photography, print, back tie pyjama parties - and some amazing work with Syrian refugees to boot.

I was really impressed at what some of these brands had managed to do and the creative vision which had driven them. But not all the fashion and retail brands I speak to are quite at the point where all the components behind their customer experience are working like Superman on speed. In fact, some of them find all this talk a little overwhelming. And as Google’s Sally Hughes reminded us, most of us are terrible at multi-tasking – we just haven’t acknowledged it yet. In fact, apparently only one in 100k people has the ability to multi-task truly.

What if you don’t even know who’s visiting your website, let alone how to serve them the perfect omni-channel content at exactly the right moment, curated by tastemakers qualified in “lifestyle coaching” to delight the customer beyond her / his wildest dreams? Well, I’d say, take a deep breath. Don’t panic. My view is that starting small is key. Carve out a small budget to experiment. Test and learn. Use service design principles to guide you. And concentrate on the baby steps which are going to drive the greatest value. Often, the answer lies in the data you already have: it’s just about analysing it in the right way, and taking action on that insight.

starting small is key. Carve out a small budget to experiment. Test and learn. Use service design principles to guide you.

So, to return to Sir John’s talk, “Blue” might not be an idea on its own. But I’d say it’s a starting point. And it’s better to start with what some might argue to be the warmest colour than never to start at all.