On Wednesday, March 31st, Social media experts representing companies from different sides of the fashion industry came together at Penn to discuss social media, branding, and how the internet is affecting consumer habits and, consequently, changing marketing strategies. The panel, hosted by Design2Show as part of Penn Fashion Week, attracted a large crowd of students who got an inside look at what companies are doing now to take control of their brand image and adapt in response to the rapidly changing forms of interactive, internet-based media. Panelists included Heidi Hess, VP of Digital public relations firm Ogilvy & Mather, Faran Krentcil, Digital Creative Director of Nylon Magazine, and Karen Coutu, New Media Director of Macy’s. The conversation went both ways as panelists also used students as a resource of information, questioning them about how they use social media and how they perceive online advertising and branding efforts online.
Social media, as opposed to traditional ‘broadcast’ media, is designed to be spread through social interaction in social networking forums like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, where online communities help determine the content and direction of what’s being talked about- or what isn’t. With more socializing now occurring online than ever, including discussion of brands and products, companies have begun to tap into the vast potential of web campaigns using multimedia strategies that are channeled through several online mediums simultaneously.
Ms. Hess discussed PR firm Ogilvy’s use of innovative conversation mapping and researching tools to track word of mouth about their clients via social media. With the dizzying amount of media forums springing up daily on the internet, it is crucial for companies to distinguish between what everyone is doing and what everyone is talking about but not necessarily participating in- she cited the example of new site Four Square, the location-based mobile device networking service, which many students in the audience had heard of but had never actually used. Ogilvy analyzes not only the quantity and flow of conversation about clients’ brands, but who is participating and what is being said: every statistic from number Facebook fans, number of visitors to webpage, to positive, negative comments. She explained the astounding amount of detail with which consumers and people talking about your product can be targeted with ad campaigns- for example, Facebook can aim advertising at certain demographics down to georgraphic region, age, and even interests in their profiles. Despite the popularity and unprecedented reach of social media marketing, however, Hess highlighted the important misconception that social branding cannot be directly translated to better sales and more revenue- there is no guarantee that there is a direct link between people participating in online campaigns to buying more products. Ms. Coutu shared Macy’s web campaign strategies, including the popular interactive Fashion Director challenge, which employs a multimedia approach to reach out to consumers through as many social media sites as possible: “because all web content is free, there is more room for error and exploration.”
Ms. Krenctil, who got her start as first editor of then-newly launched, successful fashion news blog, Fashionista.com, offered a different perspective on social media from that of a magazine that has created a vast reservoir of original online content and a huge internet fanbase. She pointed out the unique business model of Nylon Magazine and the freedom and innovation it has allowed the magazine to grow. Entire print issues are offered digitally for free. She described Nylon as an “urban magazine that exists in a bubble,” referring to demographic of young urbanites interested in fashion and arts that make up both the staff and readers of the magazine, which allows the staff to pursue their own interests when generating magazine content.
Ms. Krenctil also pointed out the importance of the magazine’s reach to companies who advertise in Nylon’s pages: “We have to convince people they want to live in our ‘bubble.” She also touched on the changing attitudes of luxury brands towards social media- instead of an elitist approach of abstaining from popular media, more designer brands are joining the conversation because, whether or not they are involved, brand images are being shaped by online content. Sites like a net-a-porter.com changed the game; the new strategy is to make everyone feel like they are part of the high-end fashion world. Whereas bloggers were once the “teacup chihuahas,” as Ms. Krenctil put it, of fashion brands, a front-row accessory at fashion shows as a way for luxury brands to show their street sensibility, the panelists seemed to agree that blogs and social media, in its ever-evolving incarnations, are here to stay.
-Iris You ’13