What Fashion Brands Can Learn from Challengers

Jonathan Gardner

The recent travails of mega fashion retailer H&M highlight the difficulties that incumbent, traditional fashion marketers face in connecting with a new breed of retail consumer. It’s a sign that even savvy brands have work to do to keep pace with a rapidly evolving marketplace that’s increasingly ruled by challenger brand upstarts.

The fast-fashion brand reported sinking profits and decreased store visits, conceding it hasn’t responded rapidly enough to changing consumer needs or shopping habits (read: online). While they clearly haven’t been enough, the retailer has been making moves in the right direction. Just this fall, H&M showed its social-media mettle, joining Forever 21 as the fast-fashion brands winning their category with top earned media chops.

In the analysis, ShareIQ found that H&M and Forever 21 had the smartest, most successful strategies for connecting with consumers across Pinterest, Instagram, and around the web. In fact, the marketing team at H&M is getting more than 20 times the engagement for every image they produce. We work with major brands across retail and e-commerce and the strategies they follow to succeed on social media are backed up by the data in this report. The brands that get very high engagement with their content are the ones that focus on great creative and seeding strategies.

Challenger brands are much more nimble and less hidebound than fashion retailers like H&M -- across social media and every marketing channel. They sell directly to consumers, are often online only or very ecommerce-centric, and incorporate a constant feedback loop of insights directly into every facet of their business. They spot trends as they happen and send data to their product development teams, turning around products that are distributed just in time to consumers they engage on social media.

The upstart brands (think of Everlane, StitchFix, or ModCloth), are not constrained by history and are less reliant on traditional marketing channels like paid media. While still laser-focused on brand building, they find more efficient ways to accomplish it. They have a built in tilt toward using data-driven insights on how a younger, more plugged-in audience navigates the discover-to-buy process, what type of content they’re motivated by and what type of influencers they respond to. At ShareIQ, we see that most of these brands are highly engaged in leveraging the power of earned media through smart marketing programs on platforms that can be critical purchase drivers, like Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

The obstacles faced by brands like H&M will not be overcome simply with tweaks to social media strategy. Traditional fashion retailers will thrive through a wholesale reimagining of the discover-to-buy pathway. It’s time for brands to learn how to optimize their entire earned media strategy and prepare to market like challengers.

Check out more lessons brands can learn from fast-moving challengers 

Even savvy brands have work to do to keep pace with a rapidly evolving marketplace that’s increasingly ruled by challenger brand upstarts
Jonathan Gardner

Jonathan is vice president of marketing for ShareIQ, based in New York City.