Plain and simple: the internet has killed the majority of original thought. It’s now easier than ever for an individual to duplicate nearly every aspect of their competitors’ products, marketing strategies, and overall business practices. Simply competing at a product and pricing level is no longer an option. Out-pricing your competition is a short-lived advantage and ultimately devalues your own offering. Competing head-to-head with quality is again short-lived as competitors can easily link up with the same manufacturers, artists, and contractors to produce products with equal quality and design.
So what does this mean for you? How can you edge out your competition in this technology-driven day and age? It’s not simple, but with the right focus it can be done. I’m not saying you should abandon everything in regards to remaining competitive with your pricing and the quality of your goods. But this alone will not elevate your brand above others; everyone else with even an ounce of business sense is going to be doing the exact same thing. So what do you do? You shift your focus upward and compete at the brand level. In the highly-competitive fashion industry, customers ultimately make their purchases from the brands they like the most. Not necessarily the brands with the best artwork or even the lowest prices. As an entrepreneur in the fashion world—you are selling a brand—not a product. Everybody can print on quality fabrics, everybody can create quality artwork (either by themselves or through contracting), and everybody can work with top-quality manufacturers. But not everybody can sell a brand. There are lots of ways you can sell customers on your brand and yourself as a brand owner. Below are three ways you can start competing at this level almost immediately with little to no cost.
Interact with fans/customers
We live in a “social first” society. Customers expect to be able to get a hold of an actual person and not receive some automated response or even worse, no response at all. Actively engage with your fans on social media outlets, answer you customer emails, and be honest. Talk to them as a person, not as a corporation. Most importantly: have fun, there is no reason to keeps things all business all the time. Your fans aren’t reaching out to you so they can talk with a robot, they want some genuine interaction, give it to them. Offering awesome products will create fans, but connecting with those fans will create customers. Your competitors might have more fans, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have more customers.
Step out from behind the curtain
Think of your favorite brands. Chances are you know who owns them and you have become more loyal to that brand because of it. Too many brand owners stay behind the curtain and don’t want to be upfront with who they are. If you want to remain mysterious, that’s cool, but doing this will limit the chances of customers really connecting with your brand. From the highest tier of corporations you have men like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs; in our independent fashion world you have guys like Johnny Earle and Bobby Hundreds. All of these guys have been extremely upfront as ambassadors for their brand(s) and have seen great success. People like to know who they are supporting, especially when that support involves spending their hard-earned cash.
Offer a complete story
Branding. This one word is more important in the lifestyle and fashion industry than any other. Your customers are paying for a name, a reputation, and a lifestyle. Think of it this way: take a book, remove a few chapters, then ask somebody to read it. What do you think would happen? It’s obvious, the story wouldn’t flow, the conclusion wouldn’t make sense, and well, the book would suck. Branding can be viewed the same way, if the pieces of your story don’t make sense, customers won’t be compelled to continue on. Independent fashion is not an impulse buy; chances are the majority of your customers will visit your site several times before they actually buy something. Every time they visit your site they are reading a little more of your story, building a connection with your brand, and eventually this will lead them to the conclusion of making a purchase.
Be deliberate with everything you do. If something doesn’t fit your brand direction, no matter how cool it is, don’t do it. When you are consistent with everything you design, produce, and market, your customers can easily identify with and “buy into” what you are selling. Once you’ve defined your direction, stick to it and do everything you can with writing, design, product offerings, and marketing materials to support it. Solid branding is what makes or breaks a clothing company.
Short-n-sweet: competition is everywhere—and if you’re talented—your designs, style, and ideas WILL be copied. That’s the harsh reality of the internet, current technology, and lazy individuals. Remain competitive with the basics of quality and pricing, interact with your fans, be someone people want to support, and offer a complete brand message to ensure yourself a spot in front of the pack.