Fashion has always existed at the nexus of art and commerce. It is an endeavor that strives to balance emotional connection and profitability. And it requires a left and right brain approach to be successful.
For years, capturing and analyzing data has supported fashion companies in their efforts to better understand, target and engage their customers. This data mining operation—driven by complex algorithms and information engineers—has largely been under the auspices of financial and marketing departments. But over the years, the world of big data has creeped into the creative process.
Schanel Bakkouche, founder and creative director at SFB Creative, as well as editor and stylist for Vogue International Publications, says that this shift to data provides fashion brands with a competitive advantage. “Data can provide access to key market insights that allows a creative director to focus on what’s important to the customer, thus increasing speed to market, efficiencies and overall engagement.” She emphasizes that fashion can be very subjective, but data can help point creative teams in the right direction. “Data can help eliminate confusion internally and create consistency and transparency across all channels. It can also help to set manageable expectations, even optimize what works best.”
From a business perspective, data allows companies to see many permutations of their business. In particular, it can be aggregated to see big picture trends across multiple business segments, which is particularly important for brands that operate globally. But Schanel points out, “Data also facilitates personalization, which becomes increasingly important as customers can more easily access and choose from a vast array of products and services.” Additionally, as consumers demand more authenticity from their interactions with brands, data can help companies to localize their efforts and experiences, while still retaining their core USP.
When it comes to data mining, a common concern is that catering to exactly what a customer wants, or already knows, alleviates the potential for surprise, or the possibility of introducing the customer to something new. It’s perceived as an innovation limiter. And while that is a concern for Schanel, she emphasizes, “Data provides the foundation for what customers want or will accept. Knowing this up front, gives creative directors the opportunity and challenge to focus on being creative and distinctive. The more you know, the more creative you can be.”
Many start-up companies are embedding data analytics into their core business model, whether it’s facilitating size, fit and styling choices, or even supporting localized marketing efforts. It’s been more difficult for larger companies to achieve the same results. It takes training and development to bring a big organization to understand and adopt the power of data across departments. Notwithstanding, there are some notable exception s, including Chanel’s We Love Coco platform on Instagram. “People can create their own content, tag it with @welovecoco and then essentially get a chance to be featured on the account, with the full support of the Chanel brand. It’s created a whole new market for user generated, aggregated content.” Not only does Chanel benefit from this highly interactive endeavor, but the data that comes from the content is used to inform more traditional marketing campaigns and business decisions. “It’s a win-win for everyone,” exclaims Schanel.
Incorporating data analytics into a fashion business doesn’t happen overnight. It should be part of an ongoing strategy involving all stakeholders in the company—creative and business—to determine what data is most meaningful and actionable. As brands begin to incorporate data into their business, they will be rewarded, says Schanel. “It’s a chance to see the actual effect on your work and your creative vision—how it drives sales and engages customers.” And she adds, “the ability to effectively combine data and creativity, will set leaders and brands apart.”