By Eleonore Marie Stifter
There is almost no business that is not yet affected by the spread of Coronavirus in the past weeks, however, few industries have responded as quickly in their consumer communications strategies as the fashion industry.
Fashion is no longer a newcomer to being socially active and vocal on global or local developments, such as natural catastrophes or social activism, with some of the latest examples being french luxury fashion groups Kering and LVHM pledging a total of 300 millions euros to help the repairmen’s of the Notre Dame or Australian brands such as Faithful The Brand or Sass & Bide donating all their proceeds to Wildlife Rescue Organisations or Firefighters during the Australian wildfires in the first weeks of 2020 (Yotka; 2019. Kent and Hall; 2020). Activism is increasingly one of the most important parts in the marketing mix and communication strategies of fashion brands, as especially Generation Z, who influence around 40% of todays purchases, are drawn to brands that stand for a larger purpose and give back to causes they care deeply about, like the LGBTQ+ community, environmental change or female empowerment (Kent and Hall; 2020. Interbrand; 2019).
And also during the current global crisis, the spread of the coronavirus, fashion brands have been getting especially active and vocal on their commitment to help fight the pandemic and its impacts. Fashion brands globally are helping their local governments and the health care systems to combat the fight against the virus, especially in Italy, the current epicentre of the virus, big names such as Armani, Gucci and Versace are not just donating money, but reshuffling their whole company structures. (Davis; 2020). Giorgio Armani was one of the first fashion brands reacting to the rapid spread, as they already decided in February to hold their Milan Fashion Show behind closed doors to protect not just their guests, but also their team (Holland; 2020). Since then he not just donated 1.25 million euros to help Italian hospitals, but also all of his Italian production sites switched to producing single-use medical gowns for local hospitals which are running out of equipment (Moussavian; 2020). Gucci on the other hand, has launched a new Social Media strategy, encouraging followers to make donation to their “We Are All in This Together” campaign, of which the proceeds will be divided between the World Health Organisations Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund and the Italian Civil Protection Department, as well as informing their following extensively on measurements such as hand washing, precautions and indoor activists for quarantine times (Moussavian; 2020. Gucci; 2020).
One specific trend in fashion brands’ responses to pandemic found biggest approval amongst customer: converting their production from their normal fashion lines to medical clothing and face masks. The global facemask shortage, has led to a rally for fashion brands to react the fastest and be able to switch their manufacturing sites within hours and days to produce much needed protection gear for front line workers such as public transport or supermarket workers (Zhou; 2020. Reagan; 2020). Beside many smaller fashion brands, such as Rika Studios in Amsterdam, bigger brands such as The Reformation have launched together with the City of Los Angeles an initiative to provide a Millions of Masks for the people in California (The Reformation; 2020). Through their website you can purchase those non-medical grade masks for personal use (a set of five for £28 / $25), but also donate the same set for the same price to people in need of masks.
With almost a third of the global population in some sort of lockdown, it is only natural that most people feel anxious and worried about the virus (AFP; 2020). In mid-march, nearly 60% of the respondents in a survey by GlobalWebIndex, said they were very to extremely concerned about the spread of the virus in their countries, and many believing that this crisis will last for another 2-3 months or even longer (GWI; 2020). With this, purchasing behaviour is changing: 74% are stating to buy more Food and Beverages and other survival Products such as personal care items, household cleansing items and medicine (GWI; 2020). Being faced with a global crisis, most people focus on the necessities and ‘survival’ items, and cut back on fashion and beauty items, in fact, 68% of US respondents stated they already stopped purchasing apparel while facing the virus (McKinsey; 2020. Fernandez; 2020).
This puts many retailers and fashion brands at risk of loosing important revenue, profit they need to order upcoming collections, pay store rents and salaries of employees. However, communicating rightly throughout a crisis, can help a brand to boost brand trust and strengthen brand community during and after the pandemic and have a positive influence on the business in the future. Especially brands who are changing their consumer messaging to inform their consumers on the crisis, distract and calm them with informational podcasts or other content that can be enjoyed from home, will build a deeper connection with their consumers (Stephens; 2020).
One of the examples is Marc Jacobs: They are offering their followers on Instagram to tune into several informative, calming and entertaining activities through Live Stories. Their first week of scheduled programs started with fashion illustrator Jenny M. Walton, hosting a Live Drawing Session in which she explained her usual process of creating Illustrations, her thoughts on social distancing and her favourite candle scent. Her chosen Still Life was posted before hand on the Marc Jacobs Instagram Feed as well as hers, and displayed their newest Handbag Launch filled with tulips on a stack of books. The image playfully represented the brand identity, their product and the character of the illustrator in an honest and not too overpowering way. The Life Session was viewed by approximately 350 people throughout and several viewers shared their illustration afterwards. The follower-artworks have all been featured on the Marc Jacobs Stories, and the next day, on the feed.
This illustrated an easy, honest and fun way of communicating with your following through a crisis: through the subconscious showing of the logo, the shared activity and the calming atmosphere of the content itself, consumers are building an emotional connection with the brand that will last.
Net-A-Porter is following a different strategy, through Instagram and their Website, they announced the closure of all their distribution centres in Europe and the US as well as took down their website for a few days. Since then, you can access and browse on their e-store again, however, orders will be held until it’s safe for their employees to return to the logistics and shipping facilities. Furthermore, they offered their delivery cars to multiple charities in London, helping them distribute care packages to elderly, ensuring they are being supplied with enough food and medical equipment during the Corona crisis.
Taking this step, is a clear demonstration that community and health is a priority for Net-A-Porter, instead of selling their products. They smartly recognised, that even though many people are stuck at home with not much to do, a scenario that usually would increase their sales and traffic, that luxury fashion items are currently not a first concern, as many consumers are shifting their spending priorities amid the uncertainty of the crisis (Porter and Holman; 2020. Tafreschi; 2020). Many speculated that with the closure of fashion brick-and-morter stores, e-tailers would see a rapid growth of order, but so far consumers are showing a contrary behaviour (Tafreschi; 2020). In fact, online sales growth has plunged from a steady growth rate of around 30% to zero since the beginning of march, showing just how different the mindset of consumers is at the moment. (Porter and Holman; 2020).
Through Net-A-Porters action to put community before sales, they are transforming their brand image from being a just a luxury online retailer, to being a more approachable and human company, helping within their direct community and focusing on the current concerns of the people instead of profiting from the crisis.
But also smaller businesses are changing their communication and distribution strategies. The Small Boutique Henri in East London has taken the decision to empty their fashion rails and shelves and started to sell and deliver fresh food boxes filled with produce from closed restaurants in the area, offering their community and followers a chance to buy healthy ingredients that otherwise would go to waste. As currently food andand other necessities are top of people’s minds, they quickly adapted to meet the needs of their consumers, widen their audience organically and honestly as well as deepen their relationships with the neighbourhood and community.
In total we identified five communication strategies fashion brands have adopted during the coronavirus spread: