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  • 1. Branding of Fashion Products: a Communication Process, a Marketing Approach Graça Guedes, Universidade do Minho (Portugal) Paula da Costa Soares, Instituto Politécnico do Porto – ESEIG (Portugal) Abstract Fashion is a form of direct and individual communication. It also nourishes an industry with high research requirements due to its present characteristics: fast mutation of its specificities, its time to market and the obsolescence of its products. The understanding of consumers’ desires, behaviour and of the purchase process of fashion products is extremely important to the design of fashion products collections as well as to the placement of these products in the market. Considering a marketing approach, a fashion product must satisfy the demands of the target, so the main idea (message) behind the brand (sender) must reach the consumer (receiver). The questions are: a) how to develop the brand through the main idea in each seasonal collection; b) how does the message, created in the very beginning of the marketing plan, get through to the final consumer. This paper presents some approaches on how brands of fashion products can reinforce their fashion image each season and how the image of fashion products can, by itself, become a utility tool in the development and communication of the brand image, through the visual merchandising. Fashion Products: a Concept At the end of the 20th century fashion is no longer à la mode (Baudot, 1999: 381) and had lost their ability to dictate trends (Agins, 1999: 8). This total change of the market of fashion products is a consequence of the evolution of society and its new trends which emerged after the 50’s (Sommier, 2000: 52). Currently, the fashion concept demands an approach to the brands culture because the consumer looks for the brands that belong to a known universe that guarantees the benefit of identification with a specific group and/or lifestyle1 (Lipovetsky et Roux, 2003: 58). To the three components of the fashion – style, acceptance and timing, announced by authors like Frings (1982: 52), Packard et al (1983: 17) and Wolfe (2003: 65), a fourth element has been added. Those three components orient this new element, the brand, but they are also determined by it. From this new trend, with social and economic implications, emerge two different concepts of fashion products: the fashion global product and the market segment fashion product. 1 […] celles des années 2000 fait dépendre ses affinités et identifications affectives aux marques qui savent projeter leur identité, en la réinterprétant de façon créative et cohérent, dans l'époque ou un autre univers. (Lipovetsky et Roux, 2003: 108). Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005 Copyright 2005 Association for Business Communication 1
  • 2. Figure 1 Different Concepts of Fashion Products FASHION CONCEPTS GLOBAL Market segment PRODUCT PRODUCT Product for Personalized market niches product The fashion global product, in contrast to what is established for other products, is not necessarily the same fashion product for all buyers at a worldwide level. Dickerson (1999: 20) defines the globalization of fashion through its adoption in a global base, but he adds that the fashion product is interpreted in accordance with the local acceptance of style and ethnicity. A global product implies the uniformity of styles and apparel codes, without distinction of nationality, race or colour. All over the world, global brands present the same image of fashion, supported by franchising chains and marketing communication activities. This was the achievement of global brands that approached individuals of all nations and submitted them to the same fashion trends. However, the idea that the global brands are identical in all aspects in all the countries will be a myth very soon: local store managers of global brands select the collection items for their stores taking into consideration the characteristics of local markets. This means that the products they sell in each store are not the same in all markets. Only the global brand concept and brand image remain the same. The market of fashion products can be divided in two big segments: the products created and produced in atelier with personalized attendance, which Volli (2003: 139) calls griffe, and the ready-to-wear products developed for small market segments or niches. The design of collections in fashion ateliers, or griffe, is some times referred as a form of artistic expression, since its creative side is individual and strictly linked to the stylist. Moreover, the image of these products is usually overlapped with the fashion image of the designer, who projects it unto the products by his (her) presence in fashion shows and during the personal attendance of his (her) customers. The ready-to-wear fashion products for market niches are produced in series (on a small scale), and do not depend on creators’ image nor extremely personalised attendance to clients. The concept and image of the brands are focused in the clients as a group and aim to satisfy their values, tastes, demands and desires. Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005 Copyright 2005 Association for Business Communication 2
  • 3. The Message behind the Brand In the two mentioned concepts of fashion products, the consumers look for specific aspects that correspond to the fashion image that they intend to adopt. According to Rogers et Gamans (1983: 11), selling fashion is selling an image, and when profit is a goal, the perceived image of the merchandise must coincide with the perceived self-image sought by the target markets served. To maximize the impact on the market, it is necessary that the products of each brand can be immediately identified with these aspects and/or a differentiated image. Therefore, the brands are now driven to focus on specific areas of fashion, which allow them to be tuned with the individual motivations of customers and with the most recent fashion trends. Therefore, the brands of fashion products demand specific care in its image design. This message is transmitted by an idea that should be considered and developed, through the seasonal collections design and the marketing communication plan, to create a total image2 called approache globale3 by Sommier (2000: 56). Figure 2 Marketing Communication Applied to Fashion Products MARKETING COMMUNICATION Advertising Public Relations Promotion Direct Marketing Special Events Fashion Shows Sales Force Store Visual Merchandising The market of fashion products is a highly competitive market whose main characteristic is the similar positioning of a large number of brands and, in this respect, the brands’ image developed by marketing communications can influence the adoption process of the products. This process, the marketing stimuli4, assigned with the intention to influence the purchase decisions, must transmit similar messages in all communication supports. The harmony of 2 La identidad de la marca es la dimensión que debe distinguirla a lo largo del tiempo, desarrollar sus promesas a los clientes y definir las asociaciones que aspira obtener. La identidad es lo que hace única y singular a la marca y la diferencia de las demás. La identidad de la marca es distinta de la imagen. Mientras que la imagen de la marca refleja las percepciones actuales, la identidad es la aspiración y refleja las percepciones que deberán desarrollarse y reforzarse para que ésta perdure. (Mestre, 1999: 407) 3 L’évolution d’une marque requiert ainsi une approche globale intégrant structure de collection, produits, communication et mise en scène dans le point de vente. Ce besoin de cohérence rend en rupture forte si elle n’est pas également soutenue par des investissements de communication massifs. (Sommier, 2000 : 156) 4 The marketing stimuli can be divided in two types: primary (or intrinsic) stimuli and secondary (or extrinsic) stimuli. Design of collections could be considered as an intrinsic stimuli and all the plan of communication, including, visual merchandising as an extrinsic stimuli (Assael, 1995: 186). Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005 Copyright 2005 Association for Business Communication 3
  • 4. this complex process must consider such aspects as the brand awareness and the brand image, both determined by the characteristics of consumers’ perception. The image is a mental representation of the brand or product attributes and benefits. It is a multidimensional phenomenon that depends on the perception of those attributes and benefits (Mestre, 1999: 407). In fashion products, both mental representation and its perception are built in a continuous way, and developed through the image of fashion transmitted by each seasonal collection and by all the activities of marketing communication. The overall effect of fashion products branding depends on the integration of all the components of the marketing communication plan, including visual merchandising, with the product design. All these three elements have an impact over the adoption process and a similar final goal: to influence the purchase options of fashion products through the satisfaction of a certain fashion image demand. Figure 3 The Brand Image in the Marketing Communication Process Brand identity IDEA Brand awareness Personality Brand Characteristics Product Brand Image Benefits User Attributes This system reinforces the need to develop of the brand's image considering the implications over the brand identity and awareness of what confirms the importance of fashion products branding (Breaden et al, 1989: 215). The brand may benefit from a greater reputation and a higher proximity to its buyers if the design of each collection takes in consideration the following aspects: in order to keep or develop the value of the symbolic speech of the products, the brands’ image management should be focused in one particular style; the consumer buys/uses fashion products of different types and styles of fashion; an effective fashion image, developed through the seasonal collections, allows the brand to achieve image coherence and to capitalize on it in the market by building the global brand (Sommier, 2000: 56). The design development of the seasonal collection must, on the one hand, answer the consumer's demands of fashion image and, on the other, strengthen the brand’s image through the adaptation of each seasonal collection to such image. Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005 Copyright 2005 Association for Business Communication 4
  • 5. The adoption process of fashion products reflects the great influence of the image of fashion that it transmits as well as its inherent identification potential (social, cultural and economic), besides its basic function – to protect the body. Following the idea presented by Rogers et Gamans, for whom fashion products are products associated to the image, Sommier (2000: 44) states that the brand offers the consumer, through the fashion collections, the possibility to choose a distinguishing personal image between the two principles: To be – "Ce que je suis au fond de moi ": the adoption of a fashion image and the acquisition of concordant products allows the individual to make a statement and to communicate it through the values of the brand he chose; To seem – "Ce que je veux montrer ": the fashion image adopted depends on the psychological needs of the consumer and its satisfaction through the attributes and benefits of the brand. This point of view is strengthened by the reference of Winters et Goodman (1984: 158) to the conscience of the consumer concerning his identity and individuality, made possible by the freedom of choice he has when facing a vast offer of fashion products with similar positioning: Recognizing this, the consumer searches for fashions that more nearly fit his or her own needs and wants, rather than those of the idealized people who in the past have appeared in advertisements and commercials. Figure 4 The Fashion Image in the Marketing Communication Process Consumer profile Lifestyle Product value Seasonal collection Aesthetical aspects IDEA Forecasting services Street research Sales analysis The identity search is obviously one of the aspects to consider in the design of fashion collections and in the message to use in marketing communications. The identification of the fashion image, which Wolfe (2003: 17) classifies as a social need, is one that most strongly influences the adoption process. Through its intrinsic factors, such as tastes and values, the brand image of fashion products expresses the social role and image that the consumer intends to communicate and that allows him to be identified with a particular lifestyle or social group. Agreeing with the idea presented by Wolfe, Barnard (2002: 9), describing fashion as the most significant way in which social relations between people are constructed, experienced and understood, defining it as the most direct and individual form of communication in the group and society. Baudrillard agrees with this idea (1995: 94), when he considers the system of Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005 Copyright 2005 Association for Business Communication 5
  • 6. communication of fashion as a code of signs continuously emitted, received and invented, that allows the exchange of the differences that stamp the integration of the group. This process is possible only because the decodification of the message, transmitted by the product or image of fashion adopted by consumers, has a symbolic code. Nevertheless, that depends on the social and psychological demands of each consumer, which are defined through values transmitted by the society itself. The importance of visual merchandising in marketing communication is determined by: promotion of the image in real language 3D at the store; information of the new trends of fashion through the fashion image proposal in the interior of the store and in its displays; sales force and offered services (Wolfe, 2003: 397). The store image development, schematized in figure 5, is established through its geographical location, the commercial zone where it occupies and its external design, as well as by the products that it offers and their presentation in the internal space of the store. The combination of these factors defines the store atmosphere or look 5 (Kotler, 2000: 527), or the personality of the store, which image of itself should match the customer's impression of the store (Wolfe, 2003: 240). Figure 5 The Store Image in the Marketing Communication Process IMAGE STORE IDEA GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION VISUAL MERCHANDISING EXTERIOR DESIGN INTERIOR DESIGN OTHERS Architecture Space design Sales assistant Layout Displays & fixtures Package Windows Lighting & music Signs The total image created by the interconnection between the fashion image with the brand’s image, will allow the decoding of the message at the store through the visual merchandising. Still, to obtain this, it has to be done at several levels: 5 Atmosphere is another element in the store arsenal. Every store has a physical layout that makes it hard or easy to move around. Every store has a “look”. The store must embody a planned atmosphere that suits the target market and draws consumers toward purchase. (Kotler, 2000: 527) Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005 Copyright 2005 Association for Business Communication 6
  • 7. the available merchandise, considering the cycle of fashion life; the physical space of the store (creation of the environment and the rank of the product in displays); sales force (the appearance, the availability and the position); the offered services (for example: credit privileges, return service, telephone orders, home delivers, space presentation of the dressing rooms, bar, free parking, alterations and repairs) (Wolfe, 2003: 240). The disposal of the fashion products at the store implies an adequate distribution of items on the shelves and stands and can be carried through the presentation of the main subject or colour palette of each collection, or by the exhibition of an item that permits a good subject definition (Rogers et Gamans, 1983: 261). The use of the aesthetic aspects and the harmonious co-ordination of the elements of design of each collection, associated with the environment created by the decoration, the rank of the displays and other elements like the music, lead to the development of the atmosphere in the store able to call the consumer’s attention and to show combinations of items of the new collection. Conclusion The main objectives of a marketing communication plan, in an integrated perspective for branding, are to influence the buying process, to increase brand awareness or to conquer the consumer through the fashion image they desire to adopt. This means that the brand becomes a guarantee for fashion image and lifestyle demands, or for the identification with a specific social group. The success of this communication process between the brand and the target audience depends on the idea of continuity, initially defined for the brand and for the product, and usually called the message. This should lead to the selection of themes for the product design of each collection and the marketing communication plan, including visual merchandising at the store. The main objective of the continuity of this process is the development of the brand awareness, built through its total image. Figure 6 The Idea Development in Branding of Fashion Products Sender Receiver Brand Consumer Brand image Store image IDEA Marketing communication Fashion image Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005 Copyright 2005 Association for Business Communication 7
  • 8. As a communication process fashion becomes a code used by the brands to answer the target needs and desires. The idea that the brand intends to communicate should influence the theme selection and design elements for all the items of a seasonal collection, which implies that the fashion image (figure 4) adopted for the brand should be flexible since the desired fashion image may change. The brand message will achieve its goal only if all marketing communication efforts (figure 2) present the same language or code, even if they communicate through different channels and media. This process implies a context presentation, where the product and the fashion image, presented by the brand for a specific season, is shown to the target audience. In order for the message to be understood and accepted by the consumer it should be according to the fashion code and image the brand intends to create and, above all, it should develop expectations and curiosity about the seasonal collection. The adoption of the fashion image and the buying process will be influenced at the store. That is why the same idea should be used as a guide to atmosphere creation at the store. The visual merchandising needs to use the same language (theme and design elements) of the product. The store image, as presented at figure 5, is a crucial element of the brand total image, because it is where the consumer will meet the product and will decide the purchase. References Agins, T. (1999). The end of Fashion: the Mass Marketing of Clothing Business. New York: William Morrow and Company. Asseal, H. (1995). Consumer Behavior and Marketing Action, 5th edition. New York: International Thomson Publishing. Baudrillard, J. (1995). A Sociedade de Consumo. Lisboa: Edições 70. Bearden, W. O., Ingran, T. N., LaForge, R. W. (1998). Marketing: Principles & Perspectives, 2nd edition. New York: Mcgraw-Hill. Barnard, M. (2002). Fashion as Communication, 2nd edition. London: Routledge. Baudot, F. (1999). A Century of Fashion. New York: Thames & Hudson. Dickerson, K. G. (1999). Textiles and Apparel in the Global Economy, 3rd edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Frings, G. S. (1982). Fashion from Concept to Consumer, 3rd edition. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Kotler, P. (2000). Marketing Management: The Millennium Edition, 10th edition. London: Prentice-Hall. Lipovetsky, G., Roux, E. (2003). Le Luxe Éternel: de L´Âge du Sucré au Temps des Marques. France: Gallimard. Mestre, M. S. (1999). Marketing Conceptos y Estratégias, 4ª ed.. Madrid: Ediciones Pirâmide. Packard, S., Winters, A. A. & Axelrod, N. (1983). Fashion Buying and Merchandising, 2nd edition. New York: Fairchild Publications. Rogers, D. S., Gamans, L. R. (1983). Fashion: a Marketing Approach. New York: CBS College Publishing, Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005 Copyright 2005 Association for Business Communication 8
  • 9. Soares, Paula C. G. da Costa. (1999). Desenvolvimento e Gestão de Colecções de Vestuário. Universidade do Minho, Escola de Engenharia, Tese de Mestrado em Design e Marketing. Sommier, É. (2000). Mode, le Monde en Mouvement. Paris: Éditions Village Mondial. Voli, U. (2003). Semiótica da Publicidade: A Criação do Texto Publicitário. Lisboa: Edições 70, col. Arte & Comunicação. Winters, A. A., Goodman, S. (1984) Fashion Advertising & Promotion, 6th edition. New York: Fairchild. Wolfe, M. (2003). The World of Fashion Merchandising. Illinois: The Goodheart-Wilcox Company. GRAÇA GUEDES, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Textile Engineering - Management and Design, at Minho University; Course Director of the Master in Design and Marketing; and Course Director of the graduation course in Fashion Design and Marketing at Minho University. She is also scientific supervisor of post graduate students (MSC) and PhD students. Her research interests include marketing; marketing and design interfaces; innovation processes; new products development; and branding. PAULA DA COSTA SOARES, Ph.D. student at Minho University (Portugal), is also an assistant professor of Design in Context, at the Design Course, School of Industrial Studies and Management of Porto Polytechnic Institute. Her research interests include fashion, fashion design and marketing interfaces, branding of fashion products and fashion products marketing communication. Proceedings of The Association for Business Communication 7th European Convention, May 2005 Copyright 2005 Association for Business Communication 9