There are a lot of fashion and lifestyle brands looking to cut through and create a point of difference today. And one of the most effective ways to be different — taking aside product — is to create a unique brand story to support the product/s. This is commonplace in the fashion industry — indeed much of my work to-date has centred around narrating the texture, nuance and feeling of a brand via content.
After all, the fashion industry sells stories not product.
But this naturally leads to the question of how to effectively tell a story over time via the web and in so doing build a brand?
Lessons from content marketing in the '00s.
When I started my first digital media project in 2006 — the street style photo blog Melbourne Street Fashion.com — I had one core conviction. I believed that editorial content would be more effective in building a brand than social or user-generated content. My editorial mantra was "less is more", and I built the blog into an arbitrary authority on style by excluding rather than including. As a result, having your photo published on the blog became desirable. This attracted people to our community which grew to over 20,000 subscribers by 2009. And the brand acquired a strange kind of cult status in the Melbourne fashion scene.
Think about the strongest brands of today — so many are strong because they edit. Because they make an arbitrary judgement call about what's beautiful and what's not. Apple and Vogue are great examples of this. The New York Times too — indeed all great journalistic brands of the mass media era benefited inherently from their function as an editor.
Tension between curation and scale.
In today's era of web platforms however, there is a natural tension between editing or curating and openness or scale.
Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures recently commented on this in the context of marketplace platforms, although I think the tension he refers to translates to any media / communications platform.
LinkedIn's content marketing strategy is a great example of the tension. LinkedIn is an open database and scalable platform, yet it requires editorial content from its authority figures to grow. (Follow Ben Evans for better insights regarding LinkedIn).
For many fashion and lifestyle brands this tension is evident in their fixation on social media as a communications distribution platform. Unfortunately, many fashion and lifestyle brands fail to understand the clarity with which their story must be told on social media in order to stand apart. I Love Ugly is a great example of a brand that knows its story, and as a result is benefiting immensely from the scaleable distribution of social media platforms. For brands failing with user-generated content, social content and "hashtag-hashtags" though, it's time to think about editing. And necessarily, exclusion.
After all, exclusion is as basic as consciousness itself. For as Alan Watts said:
What I am, involves what you are. I don't know who I am unless I know who you are, and you don't know who you are unless you know who I am.