Q&A with Quynh Mai: fashion brands crippled by fear online
Fashion brands, long used to working season to season, are maturing in the digital space, where content and communication by its nature is a day-to-day commitment. Quynh Mai, founder and CEO of Moving Image & Content, says that many fashion brands are afraid to use online as a test-and-learn environment, for fear of causing brand damage.
We caught up with Mai ahead of her keynote later this month at the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival Marketing Breakfast, to talk digital content, distribution strategy, what fashion marketers are doing well and where they need to do better.
Mai knows content. At Moving Image & Content, a digital marketing agency for fashion and luxury brands, the goal is to create compelling online content in any form, whether it be photography, video, spoken word or animated GIFs.
And she knows the fashion industry. Mai was senior vice president of fashion and luxury advertising agency Lipman, working on accounts such as Burberry, Smartwater and Diane von Furstenberg, and has also worked on the side of the image-makers as a producer and agent. Now at Moving Image & Content, the client roster includes Estée Lauder, Mugler, Carine Roitfeld and Elizabeth Arden.
Marketing: Your agency is launching its own media property, StyleCore, a premium fashion YouTube channel. Is that a sign of the times, in a way, as brands are told to be more like media brands?
Consumers want to be informed, entertained – it’s not about being sold, but about creating curiosity, interest, and I think that consumers don’t really want to watch advertising online, especially because it’s such an opt in medium. You don’t necessarily have to watch it. You can click off of any page and bypass, you can close any tab at whim. I think brands are quickly realising that the old ways of communication in advertising just don’t work in this medium.
In your view which brands are leading the way in this sense?
I would say that the one brand that obviously comes up often is Burberry in that they are looking at it from a full picture. They’re not just looking at social, but they’re looking at new technology, they’re looking at branded content, they’re looking at music and sound. I think because they devote heavily their marketing spend on digital, I would have a guess that it’s even more than print at this point.
Other stands outs are Tory Burch, by creating her blog and running her content almost like a magazine – in fact, she has an editor-in-chief of her blog. And her blog for her brand has a very strong editorial voice, and it’s run almost like a magazine. It has Honor Brodie, who is the editor-in-chief. I think that’s a big stand out in fashion right now. Certainly she doesn’t have the same budget as Burberry, but I think that she’s carved out a wonderful niche for herself online.
Other brands that have been doing it well, I think Estée Lauder have been doing really well with it. They’re one of our clients. We do a lot of video content for them, but they have a whole mix. They actually are one of the few brands who I think have a digital marketing position dedicated to digital marketing, which I think is very smart.
I think the key is either you have the funds where you can play in this space quite broadly, and if you don’t, going really deep in one area to own that space, and really make it a commitment knowing that digital is a daily occurrence, whereas I think our industry is so used to working in season, and digital is making people rethink how they communicate, because it’s really a daily thing.
How long do you think it is before digital content strategy starts leading marketing strategy, rather than being something that’s added on afterwards?
I think that when you look at the new generation of designers like Alexander Wang, who actually started marketing online before he started doing print, it really is something that’s leadership led. I really do think that it comes from the CEO or somebody in the C-suite position determining that that’s a goal for them. And oftentimes it’s somebody from a younger generation or somebody who is a true digital native, who is comfortable doing that.
As quickly and as rapidly that we’re seeing online media consumption shifting, I think that’s going to be sooner than we think before that has to be the cornerstone of communication, because, frankly, that’s where your audience is.
Marketing today has to be ‘catch them where they live’, not the ‘build it and they will come’ strategy that has been a part of the fashion industry for so long. Our mandate in the past which lasted a few decades has been create a beautiful ad and they’ll come to you, they’ll seek you out. But that’s not the case online because as consumer media habits become so splintered and so complex we’re competing with so many others for attention.
Obviously creating quality content is great, but would you say that the distribution strategy then is even more important?
I think that’s the biggest fault right now in the fashion and media space is that, because our industry is so consumed with the way things look, people will spend weeks, if not months, conceptualising what things will look like – what will it sound/look like? What will a campaign look like? What will a digital program look like? But we don’t spend any time or real money on how that’s going to be distributed. The idea of something going viral just doesn’t happen on its own, it’s carefully calculated.
The biggest miss right now is most people don’t think of a distribution strategy, and they don’t think of a platform strategy, whereas one piece of content on Pinterest is not going to work the same on Instagram or on Tumblr. You have to be able to have a mix of content types for different platforms so that they are platform-right. I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes happening right now in online marketing is creating something beautiful, and you think that because of that people will want to watch it. It’s finding a grain of sand in the ocean – people don’t even know it exists unless you market it out to them, unless you distribute the content to them.
You mentioned Tumblr and animated GIFs, and we’ve heard comments recently that Tumblr’s quite under-utilised by marketers. Would you agree with that?
100%. I think it’s because the community is so foreign to marketers. I think that people think of it as the platform for blogs, but in fact it’s a social platform built upon discovery and imagery and ideas. I think that people believe that it’s another WordPress, that it’s something you go to for a cheap solution because you don’t want to build that new blog.
What people don’t realise is that there is a completely developed and robust social community inside of Tumblr. And actually, funnily enough, I was just on the phone with Tumblr before this, and in one year, their user base doubled. It’s close to 100 million right now. It’s doubled in one year. What’s particularly interesting on Tumblr versus the other platform, certainly Pinterest and Instagram, is that it’s the consumer who loves fashion – and this is a statistic I heard just a few hours ago, that 17% of all blogs on Tumblr are fashion focused. That’s a staggering number.
So I don’t think that marketers understand what it is, and they’re using it purely as a content platform and not as a social media platform, which I think is a big mistake.
Are there any other platforms that warrant greater attention?
Well, emerging platforms like The Fancy just haven’t reached enough of a critical mass to change consumer behaviour. I think that The Fancy would be the one that I would look towards now. It’s certainly large enough but hasn’t become a household product like Pinterest.
When we work with our brands, we really advise them to not be on every platform, but be on the platform that makes sense for their brand style and their social media strategy and mission, because when you look at sites like Pinterest, people are updating up to 100 times a day on Pinterest because it is such a cluttered marketplace. If you’re a brand who can’t commit to that sort of commitment, that platform actually doesn’t suit you well if you’re uploading content once a week, for example.
What do you think fashion marketing is doing really well that other industries can learn from?
I think what fashion is doing incredibly well is reaching out to influencers. Their embrace of bloggers, YouTube bloggers, individual voices, even the bloggers on Tumblr are seeing great collaboration with brands. It took fashion a while to start collaborating with independent voices online, but I think now, beyond other industries, beyond music or film or other entertainment/commerce industries, they have been incredibly good at harnessing the power of individual talent, individual voices, and using them in collaboration. By far, when we compare ourselves to other industries, it’s one that has the most interesting collaborations.
And what do you think fashion could learn from other industries?
There is so much. I just feel like fashion is so far behind, and rightfully so, fashion brands are very conscientious of how their brand looks online, but I think that often times it’s a barrier for them to experiment. One of the things about the digital space in general for all brands globally is it’s a test-and-learn environment, and I think that brands in fashion sometimes hold back from experimenting in order to test and learn because they’re fearful of how it might reflect badly on their brand. And that fear, it’s crippling to them.
But when you look at someone like Diane Mumford, who showed Google Glass on her runway show last season where she had her models wearing Google glasses, but having them launch and won’t launch probably for another year, that either has been a total disaster or a total triumph. One doesn’t know. But the fact that she took the risk and played within the tech space buys her so much kudos not only in the fashion industry but in the tech space.
So I think the biggest thing that we can learn from other industries – and I always look at packaged goods as an industry that’s really pushing the boundaries online – again, they’re mass market, so they have a lot more wiggle room on how they play, but they are pretty solid brands, and you look at these brands online, whether it’s Coca-Cola with what they’re doing with their ‘Be Happy’ campaign, or a few years ago what Old Spice was doing with their campaign. They’re really taking risks. They’re really trying new things, experimenting, being creative. Being that fashion is one of the most creative industries out there, I think we can learn a lot from packaged goods, even, in how much we can experiment and have fun. Online is a medium of entertainment and information, and sometimes we, as an industry, focus so much on information and not as much on entertainment.
The L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival is taking place 18-24 March, with the Marketing Breakfast on 22 March at the Sofitel Melbourne.