Dedicated Followers of Fashion... and their friends

Bristol_PunksDedicated Followers: Firing up Referrals in the Fashion Industry

Picture the scene.

It’s a hazy spring afternoon in 1970 as a couple of kids walk the length of Carnaby Street, formerly the centre of Swinging Sixties Britain, asking each bemused ageing hippy boutique proprietor in turn:

‘Do you have trousers with lots of zippers, straps, chains, rings and buckles that have a kind of, you know, a kind of…eh… Bondage and Sado-Masochistic look? Oh…and preferably in tartan’.

Of course that never happened! Who on earth ever dreamed of the monstrosity that was bondage trousers until they saw the Sex Pistols on TV? And who would have ever heard of Malcolm McLaren or Vivienne Westwood either?

The point is that most of us have no clue what clothes we want until we see them. And we see them either as worn by celebrities and models in the media, or by our friends, family and other people we interact with daily. In other words, fashion is all about influence. We’re either influenced from ‘top down’ trendsetters or ‘bottom up’ grassroots or street fashion.

Wasting money on PPC and Affiliates? 

So why do fashion brands waste so much money on paid search and affiliate marketing when those channels rely on people knowing exactly what they want, and then searching by brand name or type?  

Surely it would be more productive to try to influence the next fashion trend. As we know from brands like Speedos, Stetson and Spanx, those that kick-start the trend often lend their name to the whole fashion genre, leaving challenger brands paying search engines and affiliates dearly for bringing them people who typed their competitor’s name into Google. Even if you cannot hope to create a whole new genre, you can and should try to influence your potential customers' fashion preferences so that they want to wear your clothes and get them in front of the people they themselves influence.  

While it will always remain an integral part of the fashion industry, paying models, film and sport stars to wear your clothes costs a fortune and is only an option for the deepest pocketed brands. Enlisting bloggers and curating content on platforms like Pinterest does aid discovery, but even with the addition of ‘buy buttons’ it’s unlikely to create much viral sharing amongst potential buyers - and you pay handsomely for each click.  

By far the most affordable and accessible strategy is to get customers to recommend to friends, family and fellow members of their ‘fashion tribes’. Given that these people are generally good arbiters of our tastes, and perhaps better judges of what we wouldn’t be seen dead in, they’re well placed to know what we might like. Unfortunately, most attempts to bring refer-a-friend to the digital and mobile age have failed to deliver any meaningful incremental customer acquisition. This is because the incentives tend to be staid ‘voucher for you and voucher for me’ schemes relegated to the end of the check-out process that treat all customers the same, regardless of the effort they undertake or are capable of undertaking.

A better way to get incremental customers

Fortunately some innovative brands and retailers such as Warehouse, Oasis and Paul’s Boutique are adopting smarter ways to get their wares in front of potential customers by firing up informal influencer communities and injecting social buzz to encourage a large number of customers to share with friends and family across social networks and by email, text, IM and offline ‘word of mouth’.

They are doing this by carefully combining concepts like tiered rewards, gamification and communal targets to provide incentives for every type of potential referrer to share with friends and family; from those who can bring one or two new customers to those who can bring a couple of hundred. Tiered rewards means rewarding customers for each friend they refer, while gamification encourages ‘super referrers’ to compete to win special prizes, and communal targets incentivises the whole group by rewarding everyone equally if they reach a shared referral goal. 

In particular, fashion brands and retailers can supercharge referrals by offering top prizes that are both 'on brand' and relevant to their audience such as personal shopper experiences with a spending budget or wardrobe makeovers. And, by allowing referrals to count against any purchases made online or in-store, customers do not have to recommend exactly the same clothes to their friends to earn rewards.  If done right, brands and retailers do not even have to discount to encourage this kind of viral sharing.  

Accessories brand Paul’s Boutique is doing this really well right now, offering referrers and new customers £10 credit for each new purchaser brought in. When a customer brings in five new customers, she not only gets £50 off future purchases but a new handbag as well, and super-referrers can compete to top a leaderboard and win rewards of up to £200.  

The lesson here is that innovative brands and retailers willing to rethink their digital refer-a-friend schemes - incorporating smart incentives for all types of customer and recognising and rewarding ‘super referrers’ - now have the means to really supercharge word of mouth online.

How you can supercharge your customer referrals?

If you would like to know more about how leading fashion brands and retailers - and other businesses - are using Buyapowa’s customer-get-customer platform to drive incremental customer acquisition, please drop us a line or book a demo.

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An abridged and amended version of this article was originally published Fashion Capital.

Image attribution: Creative Commons Paul Townsend and Enric Fradera