Lilly, You Tease

Lilly Pulitzer fans, raise your hands.

Now tell me what you thought about the Target collaboration, beginning to end.

Since I am not a Lilly Pulitzer super fan, I did not experience the Target collaboration first-hand, that is I didn’t stay up all night nor did I stand anxiously in line before opening hour at a location to put my hands on one of these highly coveted pieces. I did, though, follow the collaboration from a marketing perspective through the tremendous publicity it has received from the day it was announced to the day it was released and beyond.

First of all, who doesn’t love Target collaborations? (Believe me when I say that Lilly also managed to prove that there are people who don’t, but more about this later.) I appreciate Target’s initiative to make high-end designer products available to a wider audience through lower prices. I think it is an amazing way to gain brand awareness, both for the retailer giant and the brands it collaborates with.

As Phil Wahba of Fortune put it: “Designer collaborations like the Pulitzer line are important to Target, not because they add much to its $73 billion-a-year in sales — they barely make a dent in it — but because they are essential for the discount, mass merchandiser to be able to maintain its “cheap/chic” cachet, and thereby attract affluent and middle-customers along with lower-income shoppers, and give them a reason to go visit Target instead of Walmart for everyday stuff.”

Very well said. But when Target announced its collaboration with long-time American resort wear favorite Lilly Pulitzer in January, reactions were coming from all directions, both hot and cold. If you make any kind of effort to follow the happenings in retail world, you couldn’t not hear about the uproar of Pulitzer fans. Many criticized the upcoming collaboration, expressing deep disappointment with the fact that now “anyone” will be able to wear the dresses they had to spend upwards of $200 on.

Of course there were many others who couldn’t wait to shop the 250-piece collection, which involved clothing as well as home goods. So much so, that when the day of the launch came on Sunday, Target’s website crashed and racks in stores were empty by 8:10 am. How is that for anticipation? The company has produced sell-out collaborations before, but none of this scale.

While there many (many many) unhappy customers who waited long hours to be able to shop the collection but failed to acquire a single piece, from a marketing standpoint Target once again proved that it is the king of designer collaborations. “There’s no such thing as bad press,” goes the saying, which was especially true on Sunday. Adweek published a great article where people interviewed stress the amount of publicity Lilly Pulitzer is receiving through this event. Moreover, due to the limited amount of goods, the brand wasn’t diluted. That’s what I call genius!

FURNITURE, PUNS & WEDDINGS

You thought there were some things that just couldn’t be done online, like a wedding, for example? Well, you, my friend, along with probably millions of other people, are wrong.

Yesterday IKEA launched its newest service: Online weddings. No, this is not a joke, nor is this a drill. It is a real thing, dear readers. You can now plan your wedding, choose your virtual location and invite as many of your friends as you want, no matter where they are in the world. Formalities included (which means you are actually getting married on paper), and did I mention that it’s all for free?!

“Love at its simplest,” says the Online Wedding landing page. The explanation goes like this: “The best sort of love is easy and effortless. And promising one another eternal devotion at a wedding should be just as simple. That’s why we’ve created a new type of wedding that’s neither expensive nor complicated. Invite your friends – as many as you like and wherever they may be – and celebrate together via a video link. And if you’re not walking down the aisle (yet), we’ve got some inspiration and ideas for other parties for you. But if wedding bells do start to chime, then organizing a wedding is just a few clicks away for you and your partner.”

How is that for an innovative idea? Yes, there is this underlying love-hate relationship with IKEA that we all have (which is heavier on the “love” part for me, I must admit), but let’s be honest, they are always able to surprise us. Not only with home furnishings (and the amount of time they take to assemble), but with creative ideas like this one.

I must also add that I appreciate Ikea’s light-hearted approach when it comes to their advertising and appearances on social media. Take the Shelf Guru for example. After Groupon’s banana bunker viral hit on Facebook, Ikea was quick to come up with its own attempt to create a viral thread on their Facebook page. The Shelf Guru’s “pun intended” answers to customers’ questions were received well by the public and did in fact make it on to news sites.

Speaking about furniture that is time-consuming and sometimes very frustrating to assemble: IKEA wasn’t shy to own up to these facts and used it as a fun and quirky advertising piece. What better way to tell their customers about the assembly service they offer?

The idea came from the German agency Thjnk, who also came up with this genius out-of-home advertising campaign for the company in 2014:

In any case, some wit combined with lots of creativity keeps the Swedish furniture company fresh and top-of-mind year to year. Hats off to that (and the fact that they somehow managed to lure me into becoming an IKEA Family member, even though I’m not particularly fond of memberships)!

Oh, and in case you want to plan your online wedding tonight, you may do it here.

DOING IT RIGHT (WHILE REMAINING HUMBLE): PATAGONIA

I have never felt particularly close to Patagonia, the outdoor apparel brand. Perhaps this was because of my childhood that lacked the craze for outdoor activities and the gear that goes with them. My parents are not to blame – the area of my hometown, Budapest, or Hungary for that matter, does not have the best offers for mountain climbers or serial hikers. The only time I would be somewhat close to being an “outdoorsy” person was when we visited Austria and would go for walks on mountain trails; even though we would have loved to, we could barely call our activity “hiking” or describe our gear with such adjectives.

So what changed? Not the hiking part, I can tell you that much. I still don’t go mountain climbing or take lengthy hiking trips, but I very much enjoy following Patagonia as a brand. There are multiple reasons for this, including their conscious brand-building efforts that begin with selecting and training the right employees and the philosophy of their current CEO, Rose Marcario.

I enjoyed reading about how Patagonia immediately gives its employees “a hands-on education in Patagonia’s active culture” in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. The article described the new habits of the company’s Vice President of Marketing, Joy Howard, who joined the apparel brand about a year ago. Colleagues urged her to broaden her workouts outside, so she now does trail running and surfing on a regular basis, telling me that it is not only senior executives who must lead the “Patagonia lifestyle.”  It is very apparent to me that the company places huge emphasis on finding the right fit, someone who believes in the philosophy and will be happy to go out and share it.  Such brand-building may not be obvious to every company today, but in my mind is essential to creating pillars, or in other words, brand communities who will be the strongest advocates of the lifestyle and gear that must come with it.

As of Rose Marcario, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Patagonia, I discovered her story while reading the February issue of Fast Company. She was interviewed by the magazine due to her unusual business initiatives. When taking a look at Patagonia’s strategy in the past years, one might not assume the tremendous growth the company has gone through since Rose Marcario joined.

Prior to her career at Patagonia, Rose fulfilled the Chief Financial Officer position at General Magic, a company that is often referred to as Apple’s mockup brand. She brought fifteen years of corporate finance and global operations experience with her when she joined the company in 2008. Since then she has fulfilled the roles of COO and CFO, and became President and CEO in early 2014. According to several sources, Patagonia has doubled its scale of operations and tripled its profits since Rose joined the outdoor apparel company. She stresses innovation and environmental initiatives, while continuing to work on global expansion. Some of Patagonia’s most recent unexpected moves include starting a venture capital fund and a new sustainable food line.

I am intrigued by Rose’s persona first and foremost because she is an incredibly successful woman in a powerful position, and because her leadership efforts and overall business philosophy appears to be different from the majority of CEOs today.

NEED A NEW SPOTIFY PLAYLIST?

Jay-Z doesn’t think so. Yesterday he announced his new music streaming service, Tidal, the first of its kind to be owned solely by musicians.

This comes during an on-going debate between musicians, record labels and freemium music streaming services about whether the latter is good for the industry or not. Artists are not pleased that the streaming services enjoy popularity while they barely get a return on their work. Some artists, such as Taylor Swift, have not been afraid to express their concerns. Swift went as far as saying “no” to Spotify, the freemium service that has about 20 million users worldwide, 15 million of which are paying customers.

Her words in her Wall Street Journal article couldn’t be clearer: “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.” If you wanted to hear Taylor Swift songs for free now or anytime in the future, you are sure out of luck.

Jay-Z and Co. certainly agrees with the quoted lady. Tidal is now live, and it is not free. Basic subscription costs $10/month, while the upgrade will pull $20 from your account on a monthly basis. What will you get for $20, you ask? High fidelity music quality, which in more simple terms means CD-audio quality, and high definition music video streaming. Basic subscription allows you to listen to music in its compressed format, a standard for digital streaming services.

Jay-Z’s plan of differentiation involves as many artists as he can get on board who will then provide exclusive content through the service, often for limited time. At the unveiling event in New York City on Monday Jay-Z was accompanied by his wife, Beyonce, Rihanna, Madonna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Jason Aldean, Jack White, Daft Punk, Arcade Fire and Alicia Keys among others. All artists are said to be owners of Tidal.

As of now, it is unclear who will really benefit from this new venture. The musicians’ main goal is to draw more attention to the issue of artists not benefiting from the popularity of their work and the unfair economic model of current streaming services. At the news conference, participating artists signed a statement and expressed that they would like to “forever change the course of music history.”

The hashtag #TidalforAll became leader of the promotion by all artists on Twitter, while the news also received heavy criticism. Some predict failure as soon as 2016 comes, some hope that it will truly bring a change in people’s attitude towards the way the listen to music on a daily basis. Tidal received hot and cold, as you may see in this article by Uproxx. The goal is respectable, but do you think it is sustainable? In other words, would you pay $10 or $20 for your daily music streaming with so many more economical choices out there?

As Jay-Z told the New York Times: “I just want to be an alternative. They don’t have to lose for me to win.” Let’s see if Tidal can solve one of Jay-Z’s 99 problems.

“COLLISION OF PHYSICAL AND DIGITAL”

The article I am reading in Fast Company’s April issue sparks this blog post, as I connect the dots between Gap Inc. CEO Art Peck’s words and my recent encounters of online vs. retail store shopping.

Danielle Sacks reports about Gap’s new CEO and his vision of regaining the company’s iconic reputation it once had. As Sacks puts it, after a “15-year reign over classically cool, affordable style,” Gap “slept through the fast-fashion revolution […]; overexpanded; and became too ubiquitous for today’s niche-minded fashion crowd.” In the article, Peck calls Gap’s heyday Retail 1.0, followed by the fast-fashion wave, Retail 2.0. Now, he is out to win in Retail 3.0: “a mobile-fueled future in which physical stores will have an entirely new role.”

Yes, we have heard predictions about mobile becoming the leading form of digital media. But hold on a second. Physical stores will have an entirely new role. This is where my mind quickly turns back to the conversation I had with my mother two days ago.

Lately I have been entirely preoccupied with finding the perfect furnishings for the apartment we are moving in to next month. As I like to hear a second opinion, I discussed some of the options I was weighing with my Mom, sending her numerous product links of online offerings. Soon overwhelmed, she cried out asking me why I am so keen on shopping online for furniture, especially since it is impossible to find the perfect couch or rug without seeing it in person. I found myself slightly annoyed by having to respond to her question, but then I realized that the answer wasn’t obvious at all. “Well, it takes lots of time to go to all of these stores, Mom,” I explained. “I’d much rather check out the selections online and visit the stores to see and feel specific products I already know I like. Since I probably won’t make the purchases in store, I will end up coming home and ordering what I liked most online.” Even though it might sound like a long process, in my mind this is the most practical and comfortable way of doing it.

Some call this behavior showrooming, something I have been engaging in a lot lately. Partly due to the fact that waiting in any line in Manhattan can get nerve-racking, I prefer to go to the stores to see certain products, perhaps try them on in case of clothing, and order them online from the comfort of my home.

This is why Art Peck’s forward-thinking attitude caught my attention in the Fast Company article. “What will that store of tomorrow deliver?” is the million-dollar question, a puzzle he is working on solving as we speak. I came to find out that he was the one behind  the introduction of the “Reserve in Store” and “Find in Store” features on the Banana Republic website, both of which I have used successfully and can only wish the furniture stores in question would also have on their websites. They would save so much time!

Focused on developing omnichannel offerings that bridge the gap between physical and online stores, Peck is experimenting with showrooms, mobile registers, interactive digital walls and even some vending machine formats. He admits to not having the exact answer just yet, but he knows that he would like to make mobile the “central point of all customer interactions:” No one knows what the retail store of the future will look like and the road to finding out will be rocky, but Gap is headed in the right direction under Peck.

Instagram’s Not-So-Secret Magical Ingredient

Instagram has become my favorite form of social media over the years, hands down. Ever since I joined early in the application’s lifetime, I have posted and witnessed my friends post thousands of different snapshots of their lives. They became tiny colorful squares on my feed, showing each person’s unique point of view of their surroundings.

What I’ve enjoyed from the beginning is looking for scenes and angles that would allow me to take a picture from a new point of view, at least one that’s new to me, and share it with the rest of the world. The filters and adjustments were fun to use in the beginning, but as I got more into it, I aimed to keep the photos as realistic as possible and turned away from ornate filters. Now I have two applications on my phone that I use to prepare my photos for Instagram, one to adjust colors and contrast, and one to adjust size or placement of the image within the square space.

The image is not all, though. Recently I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal about how the caption of photos is just as important, if not more important, than the image itself. I was instantly intrigued by the choice of topic for the article, because reading it made me realize how I’ve been gravitating towards different images and Instagram users lately. I’ve always enjoyed following great photographers of the “Instagram community” who share amazing photos of New York City or their travels around the world. What differentiates them from the rest, I came to realize, is that most of them also make an effort to complete these fantastic shots with engaging captions – whether that be a random thought, quote, or lyrics of a familiar song. Some even go to the extent of sharing short stories with their followers, some of which may have nothing to do with the image above them.

As the Wall Street Journal put it, “the right caption helps a picture rise above the digital clutter and gain likes, and, most of all, it adds an unexpected layer of meaning.” I must agree. I too have been drawn to images with thoughtful captions more than to those without meaningful words below them, or even worse, a cloud of hashtags suggesting desperate scrambling for new followers. Moreover, I must admit that I have put an image aside before to post later if I didn’t feel that I could come up with an appropriate caption for it.

Some brands are already doing great with amplifying their Instagram posts by adding inspirational quotes or simple statements that don’t necessarily have to do with the image. Although short captions dominate on this social media platform, a research conducted by Simply Measured suggests that there is “no significant correlation between text length and engagement rate,” a point also mentioned in Adweek’s list of 14 Instagram Data Findings That Every Marketer Needs to Know. Options are endless and they won’t set you back! Is this truly the way to stand out from the crowd of the picture-sharing community? Hard to say, but I think there is a strong element of storytelling here that has huge potential and is already explored by many users and brands.

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A personal favorite – we all know the abundance of sunset photos on Instagram, but this one managed to stand out with the quote, giving the image a deeper meaning and a new interpretation.

Please do share your take on this topic. Do you give your captions on Instagram any special thought?

#NYFW and Social Media

As New York Fashion Week wound down last Thursday, the fashionistas of the world flocked to London for Round 2 of the Fall 2015 presentations.  Now that the trending hashtag has been switched up from #NYFW to #LFW, we may take a look at how brands used social media throughout fashion week in New York. Since there are only two weeks a year when fashion companies get increased attention on social media, they are all looking for innovative ways to leverage their power through their owned media channels. With digital becoming the most important way brands engage their followers during Fashion Week, virtually anyone may keep up with what’s happening on the runway and backstage in real time.

All those interested had to do was search the most popular hashtags on any social platform: #NYFW, #MBFW and #FashionWeek. For the first time this year the official Fashion Week website created a “Social Hub,” a central location to browse all things related to the events making it easier to browse tweets, Instagram images and Facebook posts as the shows were happening.

Sendible Insights collected the 6 major ways fashion companies used social media during NYFW:

  • Pinterest: Pinterest teamed up with Fashion Week insiders to provide a comprehensive outlet covering the shows, backstage preparations and other events.
  • Twitter: Twitter’s #FashionFlock program was in full effect with the start of Fashion Week, involving 50 major designers and celebrities tweeting all sorts of insider information about the events.
  • Instagram: Instagram has become the fashion industry’s best friend: according to Curalate, there were more than 100,000 images shared on the platform with close to 11 million engagements. Ellen DeGeneres’ most popular fashion week image received more than 200,000 likes and more than 3,000 comments. It is also essential to point out that Fashion Week’s popularity grew tremendously since last year on Instagram: there were twice as many likes, comments and engagements in 2015 than in 2014. For more numbers and record setters, see the infographic embedded below.
  • Live Streaming: For a couple of years now, brands not only provide live streaming of their shows on their websites, but they also team up with influential fashion bloggers who embed the streaming on their sites to reach as wide of an audience as possible.
  • Facebook: Since Facebook’s video feature has become more competitive, brands worked hard to publish short clips and videos the day of their shows. As pointed out in Adweek‘s article, videos showing shots from the runway were more popular than scenes taken from backstage. BCBG Max Azria was the forerunner of attempting to capitalize on Facebook’s updated video feature by publishing 12 videos.
  • Tumblr: Tumblr continued its effort to broaden the reach of Fashion Week by adding 20 New York based bloggers and 20 designers to its fleet for the events, a collaboration that will result in a gallery exhibit.

The number of shows and attendees has increased over the years, but most importantly, the audience became much wider thanks to social media. As Leandra Medine of the ManRepeller told the Huffington Post: “The seating system is no longer a meritocracy. It’s not about your work as an editor or as a buyer; it’s not about how many accolades you can muster anymore. Instead, it’s about how many Twitter and Instagram followers you have. It’s about the brand getting exposure through those outlets.”