How Online Apparel Brands Succeed with Digital Marketing
Of all the consumer goods available online, the apparel category—including clothes, shoes, and accessories—has seen some of the biggest gains.
Revenue for online apparel in the U.S. reached $80.96 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow to over $123 billion by 2022.
Online sales are expected to account for 40% of the apparel and footwear market by the 2030s.
In the past few years, major fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Gucci have begun shifting marketing dollars from print ads to digital channels in response to the steadily growing popularity of online apparel shopping.
Apparel brands that focus on their ecommerce presence have opportunities for dramatic growth as shoppers move online. But the competition is stiff. Big brick-and-mortar retailers like Macy’s and Kohl’s have been investing significant resources in building their online stores, and Amazon is cutting into the apparel sales of traditional apparel retailers with its low prices and fast shipping.
Niche apparel brands can’t compete with Amazon and other major retailers on price and shipping, so they must carve out a unique selling proposition—and clearly communicate that proposition to their target audience—to succeed online.
How are small- and mid-sized apparel businesses standing out from the competition and connecting with online shoppers? We spoke with three business owners (and Leverage’s own Director of Strategy, Dan Valle), to find out what digital marketing strategies have worked best for them.
Foolies: Developing a Buyer Persona to Grow a Brand
Niche apparel brands can’t succeed in a crowded online space unless they have a clear understanding of who their ideal customers are. This was something that Alex “Nemo” Hanse, owner of the T-shirt company Foolies Limited Clothing, learned as he built his brand. “When I started seven years ago, I thought that my brand was for EVERYONE,” Hanse says. “Incorrect!”
Hanse realized that he needed to focus on a narrower audience, so he began building a profile of his ideal customer, including details like where she works, what her goals in life are, and how his brand would bring value to her. One thing he realized as he developed his buyer persona was that he should be focusing on marketing to women of color. He stresses that this doesn’t mean other women can’t buy his T-shirts. “It just means I know who I need to talk to [in order to] get my message across and help my brand grow.”
Developing customer profiles, or buyer personas, can help brands like Foolies make decisions about where to engage with their audience, what content formats to try, and what messaging to use. While a buyer persona may begin as a semi-fictional representation of an ideal customer, apparel brands should use customer surveys, interviews, and sales data to shape their personas as their company grows.
T.C. Elli’s: Creating Content That Stands Out in the Fashion Industry
Content marketing allows ecommerce apparel companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors, attract more organic website visitors to their site, and convince shoppers to buy from them. However, new ecommerce brands may discover that the data-driven and long-form content that’s dominating other industries isn’t as effective for them.
Tahnee Elliot, CEO and founder of the Texas-based fashion boutique T.C. Elli’s, is quick to make this distinction. “Fashion retailers are competing with top fashion bloggers, magazines, and other influencers in a space that can only be described as crowded,” she says. “Content for fashion brands must provide benefits for the customer, be visually and aesthetically pleasing, and meet the ‘first, better, or different’ principle.” T.C. Elli’s mix of content includes a visually-compelling blog and Instagram posts that highlight ways to wear the brand’s pieces. Elliot says that by regularly producing high-quality content, “we managed to increase traffic both online and in-store, boost organic rankings, and build brand awareness.”
One Tribe Apparel: Finding the Right Collaborators
Influencer marketing—a partnership between brands and consumers with a large or engaged online following—has become a key strategy for many ecommerce apparel businesses. As a visual platform with 500 million daily active users, Instagram is an obvious place for fashion brands to find relevant influencers. But some apparel brands have found success by looking beyond Instagram.
Ryan O’Connor’s company One Tribe Apparel, which sells handmade clothes and accessories from Thailand, has gotten the best results from collaborating with bloggers in the brand’s niche. “I chose bloggers specifically because we can have many points of exposure with them,” O’Connor explains. “Not only do we usually get a product review with a link for SEO value, but we get photos of them in our clothes that are usually shared on their social channels as well.” O’Connor adds that many bloggers also run product giveaways, which allows One Tribe Apparel to grow their audience by requesting that social media users follow their brand accounts to enter the contest.
For O’Connor and his team, working with bloggers has a bigger ripple effect than working with social media influencers alone. “If we work with just an Instagram influencer, we usually get one to three posts from them, whereas with a blogger we get the SEO benefit, social media benefit, and referral traffic from their site.”
Leverage Marketing: Identifying the Best Strategies for the Brand’s Stage
At Leverage Marketing, we recognize that there’s no silver bullet strategy that will work for every apparel brand. Whenever we take on an apparel client, we look at where they are in their brand lifecycle and identify the tactics with the most potential for the stage they’re in. Dan Valle, Director of Strategy at Leverage, points to two specific cases where tailoring our tactics to an apparel brand’s stage led to significant growth.
“One of our clients was an already-established brand with a good amount of brand awareness and a substantial set of current and past customers,” Valle says. “With their target audiences, most audience members had heard of the brand and had a positive affinity for it. We saw an opportunity to expand into new audiences while continuing to build lifetime value for current and past customers.” Leverage began pursuing newly targeted, non-branded search terms to reach new audiences and grow the brand’s customer base. At the same time, we prioritized email marketing to cross-sell and alert past and current customers about new products, leading to an increase in repeat purchasers.
Leverage also worked with an apparel brand that was in the introduction stage of their brand lifecycle and had a modest budget. “We committed to improving this client’s brand awareness through influencer marketing and content marketing,” Valle explains. Leverage also began building out search engine-optimized onsite content to work towards the longer-term goal of helping the client rank for keywords with a high volume of monthly searches.
Valle recommends that every apparel brand looking to grow takes stock of their current audience and stage in the brand lifecycle. “With this knowledge, you can make better decisions about the tactics that have the most potential now and in the near future,” he says.
Using Digital Marketing to Make an Impact in Online Apparel
As an apparel company, you don’t need the marketing budget of a Macy’s or a Nordstrom’s to succeed online. What you do need is the ability to identify your audience, tailor your content to them, and provide value that they can’t find elsewhere. Taking a customer-first approach will help you win over online shoppers and keep them coming back to your ecommerce store.
Not sure where to start? Leverage Marketing can help you target your ideal customers, develop campaigns to stand out from competitors, and measure your results. Contact us to learn about our full suite of digital marketing services for ecommerce apparel brands.