Fashion retailers are in a unique position to milk the benefits of content marketing. They occupy a sweet spot at the intersection of art and commerce, able to shroud the shamelessness of selling with romantic images of messily chic flâneurs enjoying macarons at Parisian cafes, all filtered through Amaro, instagrammed, tweeted, posted on Tumblr and tagged “inspiration”. Fashion sells you a dream world, then reminds you that only a handbag can grant you admission into that world. And boy, does it work.
The following industry heavyweights exemplify the art of content marketing, the art of turning dreamers into consumers.
1. The Brand: FREE PEOPLE
The Strategy: Live the lifestyle
Free People's Twitter bio reads: "The Free People woman lives free through fashion, art, music, and travel. She is a free spirit, pushing the limits in the name of adventure." Though this bohemian-cum-bourgeois brand invokes "free" in three separate contexts, Free People has built an empire on expensive apparel that's made to look cheap.
The brand has become synonymous with the festival lifestyle, that boho-inspired, culturally pervasive aesthetic that fixates a vast portion of consumers under 35 during warmer months in the Western hemisphere. Large-scale showcases of music and film like SXSW and Coachella offer opportunities to market and sell music, clothes, and art; virtually anything that can be manipulated to appear effortlessly Woodstock. By branding themselves as the official outfitter of a specific lifestyle, Free People has integrated product and content so seamlessly that it becomes hard to tell the two apart.
A quick survey of the Free People homepage lends valuable insight to its content marketing strategy: absolute customer integration into the Free People world. Collections are named after ideas and experiences (Sidewalk Safari, Summer Daydream) rather than seasons or months, and the gorgeously photographed, meticulously styled photographs invite you to "Shop the Trend” without any mention of price. Then, once you’ve selected an item, you’ll find that piece is creatively named (like the polka-dotted chiffon Paqueta Island dress, priced at $234.90). Every effort is made to nurture the customer’s affection for the Free People dream.
When you think you couldn’t be more infatuated with the brand, I mean lifestyle, FP Me provides the tools to complete the integration process. It’s Free People’s exclusive social media platform, where shoppers and employees create profiles, upload photos of their outfits and curate their own wish lists. Individual product reviews are also added to the profile, and it can all be mass-shared on the user's whim. Free People employees are extremely active in their uploading, sharing, and interacting, differentiating themselves with an "FP" attached to their user names. The brand frequently hosts FP Me events and contests: recently, two passionate customers were invited to dine, shop, and model at the brand's downtown Philadelphia store.
BOTTOM LINE FOR MARKETERS: Create a world worthy of coveting, then provide the tools for customers to act on their desires.
2. The Brand: J CREW
The Strategy: Design, find, and sell to your ideal customer
As Michelle Obama’s go-to fashion house, J Crew has skyrocketed to retail prominence in a dizzyingly short amount of time. Its blog is a Tumblr, which allows the brand to harness the inherent audience and influence of the microblogging giant through its tagging system: topics are compiled and can be searched with ease. Opting for a Tumblr page automatically increases the accessibility of the blog because it’s a format that many are already familiar with, and users can choose to follow the blog for regular updates and for opportunities to purchase.
A recent post features a day-in-the-life interview with a J crew prop stylist as she explores New York City's flower district. Saturated hues of magenta and cobalt explode off the page, a veritable feast for the eyes. The accompanying text treats the stylist like a visionary and her job like a delicate art form; it’s a glimpse into her lifestyle, branded by J Crew.
On its website the brand features Style Guide, a multi-page editorial incorporating its products within a larger narrative. The latest installment of Style Guide details a trip to Tanzania taken by Liya Kebede, a J Crew model and philanthropist. The editorial combines Kebede's short commentary on her trip ("Over the course of the 3 day shoot, I saw gnus! For some reason I have a real weakness for them!”) with her personal iPhone snaps and professional photographs. The piece unfolds into an arresting tale of vast starlit skies and explorations of environmentally conscious Tanzanian conservancies, with opportunities to "Shop This Look" peppered throughout. In one of the looks, Kebede poses in front of members of the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania donning the $128 Baja Embroidered Top.
BOTTOM LINE FOR MARKETERS: Know and embrace your aesthetic, use it to design your ideal customer. Then, market exclusively to her. Exclusivity allures.
3. The Brand: ARITZIA
The Strategy: Establish an atmosphere of comfort and ease
Canadian fashion chain Aritzia features its own magazine, incorporating everything from music interviews to lookbooks photographed by prominent photographers to character studies of fashion icons.
For their latest two-part music issue, the banner reads: "For us, new music is as vital as food and water (or, you know, clothes)." Arranged with an eye for sleekness and minimalism -- the headlines are never more than four words long -- the homepage unfolds into a scrapbook of information and inspiration, interspersed with Aritzia products. The magazine is a balance between eclecticism and clarity, an aesthetic which approximates some of the most successful amateur blogs today.
BOTTOM LINE FOR MARKETERS: Create an intelligently designed space in which your ideal customer feels comfortable exploring, but don’t let them stray too far from an opportunity to purchase.
Club Monaco's Tumblr blog asks customers to "get inspired' by what inspires them. It's a visual melange of art, food, music, fashion, and travel; you almost forget that Club Monaco sells clothes. The categories collide, too: synthpop darling Twin Shadow (aka George Lewis Jr.) poses in the brand's latest collection, shot by Internet-beloved photographer Justin Chung.
Veteran streetwear brand OBEY's content marketing strategy is opaque: you'll get it if you're meant to. Their blog is called Propaganda, their email sign up invites you to "Enlist", and their social media hub is labelled "Unite". The brand maintains its aloof, politically accented, intensely self-aware persona while engaging its customers with multimedia, multi-platform content; maintaining an unmistakably OBEY tone throughout.
Which content marketing fashion giants did we miss? Let us know in the comments.