Levis social shopping experience incorporates Facebooks latest features

Levi's social shopping experience incorporates Facebook's latest features

It's been a busy couple of years for fashion marketers looking to establish a strong digital presence. But as fashion brands realise how to make these platforms work for them, they are genuinely beginning to innovate in the field of digital marketing, writes Chris Mair.

In the early digital years fashion brands were notoriously slow starters when it came to developing their brands online. There were some notable exceptions, such as Diesel and Nike. But for the most part brands, especially luxury ones, were reluctant to cede control and invest in anything other than their beloved glossies.

If a couple of years is a long time in fashion, in digital it is an eternity. The past few years have witnessed some of the most dramatic changes to the digital landscape in its short lifetime.

The explosion of social networking, the ever-expanding blogosphere and a feast of powerful new platforms to consume content have all contributed to a new type of web. A web that marketers will ignore at their own peril.

In the fashion sphere, one of the early signs that tides were turning was the sudden trend amongst catwalk brands to sacrifice front-row show seats typically reserved for fashion's editorial elite in favour of a new breed of ambitious upstart.

Brands such as D&G and Dior helped make celebrities out of influential bloggers including Tavi, Bryan Boy and Scott Schuman.

Social networking shift
Another signal that fashion businesses had begun to take digital seriously was the influx of major labels onto the social networks.

Since 2009, a presence on Facebook and Twitter has become almost obligatory, with very few fashion companies failing to take ownership of their brands within these spaces.

Initially brands struggled with the concept of social platforms. Allowing customers to voice their opinions publicly and restrictive creative capabilities were not ideals that the fashion industry aspired to. But nowadays fashion brands are appearing much more comfortable with social media.

As understanding and acceptance of social media evolves, so brands are beginning to realise how they can make these platforms work for them. And as their confidence grows so we are witnessing, for the first time, fashion brands genuinely beginning to innovate in the field of digital marketing.

The recent launch of Levi's social shopping experience is a good example. Less than two weeks had passed since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his company's crusade to make a web where "the default is social" before Levi's started taking advantage of it.

The new Levi's store seamlessly incorporates a range of Facebook's latest social functionality, allowing it to tap into its users' social graphs. It's a very well executed project and is very much a sign of things to come.

New breed of digital thinking
Another forward-thinking fashion brand is Burberry which, under the watch of Christopher Bailey, has pioneered a new breed of digital thinking for luxury fashion brands.

The company made headlines recently with the launch of Art of the Trench, a visual compilation of images submitted by its fans in tribute to the classic trench coat.

And it has just laid claim to another fashion first. During the live streamed broadcast of its spring/summer 2011 fashion show, as models walked down the runway, users could click on various outfits adding them to their 'lookbook' and discussing the collections live via Facebook and Twitter.

Uniqlo continues to deliver outstanding digital creative, but its most recent campaign was genius even by its standards. The Lucky Switch online advertising campaign involved a clever bit of technology that turned images on any website into instant win tickets, with losing tickets remaining as banner ads.

A widget was also provided to blog owners for their sites allowing them to share the winning opportunities and promote the activity to their users. The activity generated over 3m clicks and contributed to increased sales of 120%.

What makes brands like these stand out in the digital universe? Sadly there is no magic formula to a successful digital strategy.

But a common thread amongst these and other successful digital marketers is that they put digital at the heart of their marketing strategy. To these brands digital marketing is not a nice-to-have, it's the single most important element to the marketing mix.

Chris Mair is strategy director at Airlock, a London based digital agency with specialist experience in the fashion and luxury sector. Airlock's clients have included Diesel, Burberry, Wrangler, Levis and Swarovski. Chris Mair is also co-editor of State of Lux, a blog focused on digital marketing within the fashion and luxury sector.