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Apparel
Balancing Brand Authority With "custom-personal-ization"
By Bertrand Chovet
Managing Director , Interbrand Paris

In a world of unlimited choice, customers are more likely to add apparel brands to their social circles online and are more addicted to following them than any other category. There's an overstock of apparel brands and since fashion cycles are always changing, they must always work to remain relevant.

An overview of this sector in the digital sphere shows how much people want to invite, add, share, demonstrate, and recommend-and how central apparel brands are to a customer's life. In the Age of You, the strongest brands-from Nike to Zara, Vans to Gucci, and RayBan to Supreme-are leading by constantly embedding products and customer experience into their brand narratives.

Solving the Age of You paradox

Apparel brands are currently facing the paradox of attempting to win through global influence and presence while at the same time delivering on the promise of personal differentiation. It's a matter of balancing brand authority with "custom-personal-ization."

Brands must develop a consistent story in order to integrate the experience across e-commerce, social media, content, products and stores. In the Age of You, it's crucial to maintain relevance, presence and understanding. This focus supports the balance of brand consistency, with the best footprint over the category's core, and allows for the requisite customization and personalization. Successful apparel brands must, by necessity, be best- in-class at editing, co-creating, hosting, engaging, and entertaining customers. Audiences now demand absolute brand clarity, transparency, and inclusive interaction. Apparel brands have, of course, had to master challenging issues in the past. But the key issue today is about creating an adaptable mix of innovation and style. The Apple Watch may prove to be a case in point.

Creating Growth by increasing the role of brand

Ralph Lauren said with great insight, "I don't design clothes. I design dreams." By leveraging their brands, apparel businesses have a huge opportunity to influence customers. Maximizing the role of brand requires a deep connection with customers, demonstrated with a seamless integration of products, communication, and commerce platforms. Vans, for example, is about focus and how the hero product can fight the substitutability of the category, both by defending the core and by expanding the experience. The near future will be about "connected apparel." From connected accessories to embedded textiles, technology will play a growing role in further connecting people with brands. 

Expanding the experience to the max

In order to engage differently and more deeply with customers, apparel brands are expanding. From launching pop-up stores (Nordstrom and Sarah Jessica Parker shoes) to events (LOLE White Tour), to communities (Nike Training Club) to creating partnerships and co-branding initiatives (Opening Ceremony & Intel), there is a blurring of boundaries within apparel categories (mass, luxury, sports). These creative, often collaborative approaches help resolve the paradox between universality and customization, mass and personalization.   

Based on the insight that "normal" means something different to everyone, Gap is celebrating basics, or normcore, with its "dress normal" campaign to differentiate itself from H&M and Zara's terrain. By improving brand clarity  and extending it through the customer journey across all digital and physical touch points, leading apparel brands are winning. They are enhancing the overall experience, nimbly meeting consumer demand, and finding unique ways to appeal to both broader audiences and individuals who rely on brands to help them express their personal style.