It's a tricky balance for brands to stay on trend in today's apparel environment, with consumers wanting what's new and fresh but presented in a way they know and understand. A series of top tips, outlined in a new report from About Style, can help companies navigate a path to success.

Today's apparel environment is tougher than ever for brands. According to a new report from About Style, reasons include a proliferation of brand names, fierce competition from retailers with their own private labels, smarter consumers, the consolidation of department stores, mass retailers redefining themselves, luxury designers creating for mass markets, more and more people shopping luxury, and the growth of the discount sector.

All add up to one stark fact: those brands that communicate their message to the consumer directly and clearly, and in a way that means something to each individual consumer - something that resonates with their value set - will rise to the top.

In its annual report on the state of the branding industry ('The Global Branding Report: 2007 edition') About Style has compiled a list of the top eight success factors for successful global apparel brands.

These themes are common threads among the best apparel industry players and they are must-haves for future success. To make a brand stand out in a sea of similar labels, marketing messages and shopping experiences, apparel brands must do the following:

• Innovate, innovate, innovate
At the end of the day, everyone wants what's new and different. The same goes for consumers when shopping for fashion. The more options you give, the greater your chance of building a strong, loyal relationship that your consumer will find fulfilling and necessary, mostly because you are one step ahead of filling her needs.

This doesn't mean flooding the market with arbitrary apparel options, but rather well-researched, thoughtful choices that speak to your consumer. To keep her interested, her options must evolve constantly.

• Consistency
Consistency is king, says Marc Joseph, CEO of DollarDays and author of Secrets of Retailing: How to Beat Wal-Mart. The best way to maintain loyalty is to wow consumers with the complete shopping experience and continue to meet and beat expectations every time they shop.

The secret is determining how to do this in your particular world for your very unique shopper. Your consumer will not want the same experience from you that she can get from anyone else.

Your key is to determine the set of values that your particular consumer expects from you, then deliver upon your promise at each and every consumer touch point.

• Keeping that edge
If your customers can predict your offerings, you're off base. According to America's Research Group founder Britt Beamer, one of the main reasons brands fall off track is that they have lost track of their consumer and become tired and boring in the eyes of their shoppers.

If you can stay ahead of what your consumer wants and help her determine her needs, you will succeed in keeping her compelled and loyal.

• Strong brand message
Your brand message should resonate with consumers at all touch points. Everywhere your consumer meets your brand, you should have a strong, solid presence that reinforces your message in a way that is unique to your label.

You will round out the consumer experience and foster a sense of loyalty that only comes from being present, available and relevant to your core shopper.

This consistency must exist across all channels from Web to store to catalogue. Each touch point should look, feel and sound like your brand. Your associates should also be extensions of this message.

• Keep the sales associates informed
Make sure that the people who sell your brand are well-versed on the brand message and provide consumers with the ultimate shopping experience.

Make the consumer experience seamless, easy, efficient and exciting - not just through design and offerings, but also through information. Associates should be able to help consumers make smart choices about what they buy. Even more, they should develop relationships with consumers which build trust and loyalty.

• Multi-media marketing approach
Nearly two-thirds of consumers turn to television advertising for information, according to Beamer. This suggests that solely focusing on print may cause you to miss out on a key channel for connecting with your consumer.

For the younger generations, technology is an even greater method of communicating - from cell phones to virtual reality. Your brand should exist on all platforms that your consumers exist and speak to them in the way that shows you understand their world.

• Strong global branding
In order to expand internationally, a brand must be strong with a clear-cut message that breaks through geographical, cultural and demographic differences.

How does one characterise a strong brand? "A strong brand is credible, unique, sustainable, and highly valued in the customer's mind," says Sandra Forsythe, PhD, Wrangler Professor, Consumer Affairs, at Auburn University in the United States.

"Moreover, a brand that is emotionally engaging and stimulates the consumer's relationship with the brand will be more likely to succeed internationally."

• Flexibility and adaptability
Today's brands have a tougher competitive market than just five years ago. This is especially true with today's highly distractible shopper who is being tempted all the time.

"Brands were more likely to communicate a consistent brand image, had more built-in consumer loyalty and were more sustainable," says Forsythe. "Today's brands must be extremely flexible (with the ability to adapt and evolve and embrace change), relevant to the consumer, and able to provide fast impact and an emotional attachment."

The bottom line is that today's brands should be customer-centric at every single point of consumer relationship. Brands should be flexible, consistent and evolutionary.

Consumers want what's new and fresh, but they also want to be spoken to in a language and message they've come to recognise and expect from their favourite brands.

It's a tricky balance to stay on trend, but evolutionary ie, to stay focused on promise but deliver what's new and interesting. The good news is that it's been done before by top brands. Those who choose to embrace the principles above will follow a similar path to success.

For further information on 'The global branding report: 2007 edition' from About Style, click here