The global coronavirus pandemic has affected businesses of all segments and sizes the world over — both in ways that negatively impact the bottom line and, in a rare few cases, can actually boost it. And in a new normal that sees large portions of the global workforce working from home (where the dress code is typically more relaxed than in the office, to say the least) and that has also decidedly changed the way consumers shop for wardrobe additions, the pandemic has created dramatic shifts in a number of business areas for apparel brands.
In this article, we’ll examine the many ways the coronavirus has impacted the apparel industry, look into how apparel brands are coping and, perhaps most importantly, shed light on a collection of tried-and-true tactics that apparel brands can employ to increase their sales and generate “brand love” among their consumers. Read on for some insights — all successfully employed by clients of The Brandon Agency — that could help your apparel brand leverage opportunities to grow in today’s challenging business environment.
The pandemic’s impacts on apparel brands
Some of the most obvious affects the pandemic has had on the apparel industry can be seen among brands’ sales channels. Facing a dramatic reduction in foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores as consumers practice social distancing and limit their movements outside the home, many retail outlets have suffered temporary and even permanent store closures. Another result of reduced in-store shopping by consumers: Many apparel brands are seeing stores’ clothing orders being delayed, cancelled or even sent back. And as shoppers move away from in-store visits and toward e-commerce options, apparel consumers are placing increased reliance on online shopping — leading to an explosion in online sales for e-commerce leaders such as Amazon and Walmart.
Supply chains are another business-critical area where apparel brands have seen major setbacks during the pandemic. For long periods, and especially during the early stages of the pandemic, China was largely shut down — causing extreme production disruptions for one of the world’s largest and most cost-efficient suppliers of garment-making materials. And even for apparel brands whose products are primarily cut and sewn in India, a major player on the global garment-production stage, the previously mentioned shortage of China-produced materials caused major apparel-production disruptions.
Additionally, consumer preferences among clothing styles have seen significant shifts during the pandemic, as the move toward a work-from-home culture has led to a drastic reduction in consumers’ needs for suits, formal dresses and other formal attire, all of which have been largely abandoned as consumers move their primary focus to casual clothing. Further, as unemployment numbers rise — and as both large corporations and small businesses institute furloughs in an effort to get through the lean economic times — the discretionary spending upon which many apparel brands rely for their sales is seeing substantial drops as consumers by and large tighten their financial belts.
How apparel brands are coping
At The Brandon Agency, our apparel clients have seen considerable sales successes — and even growth — during these challenging times by focusing added attention on retail avenues lending themselves to online shopping. With guidance from the TBA team, their strategies have included placing a greatly heightened focus on direct-to-consumer channels (primarily through their own websites) and their Amazon and Walmart Marketplace sales channels. Additionally, to supplement their paid creative messaging and to ramp up their communications with potential customers during these times, they’ve also put increased focus on growing their owned media assets, including their websites, blogs and social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For these clients, the results have been impressive — and have far outperformed the norm when compared with the typical in-pandemic sales figures of apparel companies as a whole in 2020. Even as consumer spending on apparel has been shrinking nearly across the board, TBA apparel clients Fish Hippie, Frogg Toggs and Heybo have all seen their retail sales rise year over year during this time — all by over 100%. But even if extraordinary by industry standards, these increased sales may not even be the most important feat these brands have achieved during such trying times … as they’ve all also managed to simultaneously increase their “brand love.”
Brand love: A marketer’s holy grail
So just what is brand love? A bit harder to quantify than sales — but obvious (and nothing short of delightful to the marketing team) when it’s seen — brand love is what drives loyal consumers to take the next step and become active advocates and influencers for the brand. This is a marketer’s dream, as for most consumers, few purchase motivators are more powerful than recommendations from friends and family members, or than word-of-mouth from other satisfied (and even enamored) consumers. Further, once set in motion, this powerful, needle-moving tool doesn’t cost the brand a dime, as it’s spread via brand lovers’ conversations with friends, via their shares, likes and comments on social media pages, via the stickers on their car bumpers and coolers, and more.
For brands, the key to growing brand love is to intently focus on the consumer experience at every touchpoint in the customer journey — both online and offline. And while for most brands there is a lengthy list of touchpoints to consider, a few of the top contributors to increased brand love that brands can leverage with relatively minimal investments include:
Social listening —
When you actively monitor social media channels for mentions of your brand and your product categories — a task for which using the right tech tools can lend a huge assist — you can join in the conversation to engage with consumers when they’re discussing your products. Social listening also offers the opportunity to gain insights regarding consumer sentiments about your brand and your competitors, then respond strategically with your business decisions. Other areas where social listening can help boost your brand include managing crises, discovering pain points, generating new sales leads, and identifying and leveraging influencers and advocates.
Brand touchpoint analysis —
This valuable tool helps brands examine each and every step customers take along their journeys to purchase, then determine which are causing problems so they can address any issues and improve the customer experience. By doing this — and keeping the customer top of mind at every touchpoint — brands can boost customer satisfaction and help elevate customer loyalty.
Net promoter score measurement —
By measuring how willing your customers might be to recommend your brand’s products to others — quantified on an index ranging from -100 to 100 — you can tap into the brand loyalty of those with the highest scores to help spread your brand’s message, plus work to raise brand satisfaction among those with lower scores. Along the way, the process enables your brand to gain meaningful insights on which brand characteristics and tactics are most effective among high scorers, along with what can be improved in the minds of lower scorers.
Employee advocacy —
There are few people more invested in your brand’s success than your own employees, and leveraging their outside relationships and connections — both on social media and in the real world — can be a powerful way to extend your social reach. Using an employee advocacy program, your brand can turn your employees into your most passionate and driven brand ambassadors.
Delivering a “wow” unboxing experience —
When customers have made the decision to purchase, the unboxing process offers a unique opportunity to really “wow” them — at a moment when the emotional connection with your brand is running especially high. As such, a memorable unboxing experience has the potential to move the needle a long way from simply creating a satisfied customer with your product toward catalyzing a true brand advocate/ambassador by going the extra mile. Exhibiting a tactic that leverages this opportunity in a powerful way, TBA client Heybo is now including free items in all of its online-order shipments in an effort to boost customers’ positive perception of the brand. As an example of how effective this can be in building brand loyalty, one recent customer who received a free license plate, tumbler and stickers in his product shipment was so moved by the experience that he emailed Heybo to express how special the free items made him feel — and to say that he would remain a customer for life … providing a clear sign of a move toward brand loyalty, brand ambassadorship and brand love.
Delivering a “wow” post-purchase experience —
In much the same way that customers can feel a heightened emotional connection to a brand during the unboxing process, following up with a customer just after a purchase — when he or she is still feeling a stronger-than-usual brand connection — can help engender a sense that your brand truly cares about the customer and wants to ensure his or her complete satisfaction with your product. One simple way to create a positive post-purchase experience is to employ triggered emails that thank customers for their business and, after the product is delivered, send the customer info on product care and usage, along with invitations to provide product reviews and incentives to make repeat purchases.
In a time when businesses of all types are struggling to keep their heads above water — and in an era when the future has never been more uncertain — brand love is more important than ever. After all, for a brand, loyal consumers can make the difference between struggling to stay alive when hard times strike, and seeing sales multiply even when direct competitors — and nearly everyone else — are struggling in the red.
Could your apparel brand benefit from the kind of professional marketing guidance that boosts brand loyalty and even builds brand love? At The Brandon Agency, our team of certified brand strategists and data-driven marketing experts has helped an array of apparel-industry clients turn their everyday customers into devoted brand advocates who actively spread the word about (and the love for) their products. Further, TBA’s fully integrated marketing firm can cover the full spectrum of your brand’s marketing needs, including brand strategy, web design, creative, media, e-commerce, analytics, social media, SEO, conversion rate optimization and more — all of which can work together at every customer touchpoint to build brand loyalty. To get started with help ranging from a simple website analysis to a comprehensive strategy tailored to boost the performance of all of your marketing campaigns, contact us today.