“That’s cool–but what does it actually do?” was a recent question one friend asked me when hearing a panel about fashion technology startups. Have you had similar conversations lately about a new platform on which to contribute style advice, hear from celebrities, or buy emerging fashion finds? It does seem that style-focused digital platforms are launching like (glossy) popcorn everywhere you turn, which can be overwhelming for both the audience who wants to participate and for the entrepreneur seeking to launch. So how does an emerging platform differentiate from the pack of fashion and style-focused startups to stand out as an exciting and user-friendly site on the tips of every fashionista’s lips?
After covering the basics of developing a great team, seeking out sustainable funds, and honing your basic concept, here are a few basic branding-focused tips below:
*Pay attention to things outside of fashion, such as the economy and trends in media communication. No one has a crystal ball to predict a trend in what startup will actually pop next (even analytic reports fall short), but since the exponential growth factor in the startup space is variable, the more informed you are about the economy and trends in consumer behavior, the more you’re going to know where to steer your startup (such as why a recession-friendly platform for swapping clothes works when people are out of work or how to deal with a luxury-starved market). With regard to communication, look at how other sites and media outlets are speaking, to help hone your company’s voice. I will never forget the client who told me two years ago that “super cute” was something she would never say in copy, and I’ve since read that phrase on way too many blogs to the point where it literally has no impact. Make sure you are looking to what is already overused and differentiate.
*Take your business plan seriously (even if people tell you it doesn’t matter). If you know who your current direct competition is, make sure you look closely at how they consistently market themselves. Do not use the same phraseology on your copy–create a different angle, tell a different story, and be more or less daring in your communication. If Facebook had just simply imitated Friendster, what do you think would have happened? The worst thing you can do as a founder is to simply replicate the tone and the platform while relying on your network.
*Names matter. Take a page from the law of trademarks–the strongest and most protectable name is one that is truly original (and not even a word). This is a pretty simple premise but think for a moment about the implication: if you create a new word entirely, you are not preventing other brands from using a word in the English language. Now, for branding, that also means that you are distinguishing your company from everyone else’s–and after all, that’s what the Googles and Twitters of the world have done. So, if you’re a fashion tech company looking to come to market in a overly saturated “fash-” or “styl-“ think a little out of the box and take a new direction on the name (or, put the reference at the end of the name). Then check and clear it to make sure it really hasn’t been over-used and that the domain is affordable or available. Instructional or descriptive names are often also helpful (e.g. Rent the Runway–they make it pretty clear!).
*Be Brave. There’s a lot of friendly fodder in the fashion world that gets pretty boring. Go out on a limb–if you care enough to start a company, then make sure you also keep that momentum by putting out the content you really believe in and in a way that inspires a different type of interaction.
*Understand the interaction. Make sure that you know who you are speaking to: lovers of couture who buy Forever 21? Boutique-only Brooklyn girls? Whoever they are, make sure that the content and the copy are written to a certain percent to capture their attention, and not a generic “fashion” angle that doesn’t hook. Your soft launch will often help to determine whether or not you’re hitting the mark on interaction. Pay close attention to your analytics at this stage and what peaks user attention, as well as what actually inspires action.
*Give your audience a reason to be excited. There is so much opportunity to mix and match technology and content in digital, and it’s up to you to keep all of that engaging–make sure you have a content calendar but also leave room for the unexpected. Keep it entertaining.
*Calls to action matter. If it’s just cool, it’s not going to be something I come back to that much. So tell me you’re going to give me something–a discount, information, original content, style advice, whatever, but give a reason to revisit, often (which also means a regular feed and calendar of solid content).
*Remember that even on the web, democratization is not the only reality. It’s still fashion, no matter how many boundaries have been broken, so make sure your unique ties to the industry are solid and transparent if that is an important part of your platform (or not!).
And at the end of the day, refine, pivot, pay attention and keep going.
Christine E. Creamer is a guest contributor for Third Wave Fashion. Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.
Image via The Sports Book.