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‘Luxuries’ in Marketing & Communication

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In his latest exclusive for WhichPLM, Michael Robinson of Manner Solutions lays out some necessities for marketing and communication departments – often labeled as ‘luxuries’ – and how linking successfully to PLM and other systems can offer multiple benefits.

Style metadata, holistic sample management, and technology are all luxuries for marketing and communications …but do they have to be?

Firstly, what does luxury mean?  Time? Convenience?  Quality?  Preference? Technology? Knowledge?  Comfort?  Style?  The list can go on, as it depends on you and your expectations.  Personally, when it comes to fashion, I love shoes and shoulder bags.  I will pay a premium for comfort and style – quality, uniqueness, and function.  For a bag, the shoulder straps need to be comfortable, and the look needs to be timeless.  Those characteristics spell luxury to me.

On a professional level, I work in fashion and help premium and luxury brands effectively communicate and market their collections.  I partner with design, production, marketing and communication teams to bring their unique product and positions to life.  Each brand has a custom approach to tell their brand story and seasonal product assortment.  Their strategic plans leverage editorial, advertising, social platforms and other marketing channels to connect with consumers. They all develop content – stories, images, and videos – that bring their luxury point of view to life.  These marketing mixes drive acquisition and retention and support sales teams across retail floors and e-commerce sites to ring up a sale.

Now, I wish I could say the process of bringing a seasonal narrative to life is easy.  But many of my clients struggle with outdated or missing information, small (or shrinking) budgets and talent pools, and limited business applications. They need to do more with less and struggle to stay current with style details throughout the development process.  They have limited exposure to style metadata, and often, multiple business groups do not have real-time access to a style’s updates.  They do not know if the delivery has changed, the style is an exclusive, or if it was dropped (or reintroduced) into the collection.

Frequently, when planning seasonal photo shoots – fashion, lifestyle, and e-commerce – marketing and communication teams are inundated with Excel files to access investment and business needs. They do their best to be strategic with these shots, so it’s a huge problem when outdated styles, or low investment items, are shot and showcased in seasonal assets for storytelling and content development.

Teams also struggle with a finite set of samples. There is an increased demand on samples, not only for trunk shows and editorial placements, but also for retail and wholesale, e-commerce and global market appointments. Recently, I heard from a client how they showed up for an international shoot and many of their reserved samples were not available because they were still out for editorial requests. This is not the first time I’ve heard this, nor will it be the last.

Imagine walking into a luxury retail store and seeing beautiful duratrans, window displays, videos, and other marketing vehicles designed to attract and engage customers. A group of customers enters and points to a video playing on a large screen behind the cash register.  One of the customers asks about the bag featured in the video, and another asks about the shoes.  The sales associates quickly comment that it’s the “x” bag that comes in the featured color along with three other seasonal colors and two fabrications – leather and crocodile.  However, they then say the shoe is a limited item.  The customer asks further, but the truth is the shoe was dropped and never produced.  The video display may have been beautifully executed and appealed to the target consumer, but marketing’s efforts are not reaching their full potential, so store associates cannot make a sale.

Based on my experience in PLM transformations and marketing operations, product knowledge from the style master, holistic sample tracking and technology to normalize (speak a common language) and work and collaborate in a dynamic environment should not be a luxury for marketing and communications. These business needs should be a necessity for them to manage seasonal campaigns, maximize sample usage, write copy, organize content, allocate asset, report and measurement and transfer knowledge to future campaigns and teams.

Let style metadata help tell the seasonal story

Technology is changing consumer expectations. But despite my adoption of the Kindle, I love a physical magazine, especially the September and March books.   Editorial still prompts my shopping behavior.  But, I know the struggles it took to get any asset to market.  I have already outlined some of these challenges, so now I want to focus on the opportunity and benefits of connecting marketing and communication workflows to the PLM system.

For years, I have preached “follow the style.”  It’s a simple philosophy — follow the style from concept to archive by operationalizing the creative and development process for design, production, content, and marketing/PR.  Put teams in a normalized and dynamic environment and aggregate the style metadata through the use of sample management for all business needs.  It’s like a rolling stone; every time it turns over, it collects more moss. In some cases, premium and luxury brands are starting to see the benefits, as now design, merchandising, production, marketing, PR, sales, customer service, and store associates all have a single point of access to style updates, assets, samples, buys, and KPIs.

However, there is more work to be done.  Recently, I was in a kick-off meeting with a variety of teams to implement a pilot that would link style metadata and sample inventory for Fall 2018.  Several teams were curious and excited about the concept of seeing real-time style information associated with sample usage and the ability to link product details to final selections from the lifestyle and e-commerce shoots. Basically, every time there is an update to the style master from the production, these updates will carry to each image and will be inherited to all the content developed from the asset. Yet, still, there was a skeptic in the room that felt marketing should just get access to the PLM. This was not the first time I’ve heard this. The issue is teams continue to work in silos. Our approach is to turn the silos on their side and create a pipeline from the style master to flow into marketing and communication content. If a style drops after the shot, teams will see real-time updates regarding the status and can pull the asset or sample out of circulation.

Further, teams will have access to key product details – Style Name; Description; Status; Fabrication; Season; Delivery; Look; Body #; Fabric Type; Category; Subcategory; Country of Origin; Fabric Construction; Trim Details; Size Scale; Exclusive; Retail & Wholesale Costs; Design Imagery and so on. All of these pieces of information can support copy development, customer service, and up-selling.  The copy team will have accurate details for writing the seasonal narrative.  Customer services teams can look up information to answer calls and customer inquiries, and sales teams can help match items and sell full looks.

PR needs samples, e-com needs samples, sales needs samples and there are still more sample needs!

If you read some of my previous articles this year, you will have heard me say:  sample management and tracking is an enterprise need, not just a PR and editorial.  Samples are a critical element in the development of creative assets and content for marketing.  PR, advertising, social media, visual merchandising, and other consumer engagement teams rely on samples for photo shoots (branding and product), editorial credits (features and product placements), and displays (windows and floor sets). The teams share a limited number of samples (typically, two sets early in the business cycle) across all these needs: retail, wholesale, e-commerce, and licensing, and requests with long lead times must negotiate strategically for quick use so available samples can be quickly moved to another use case.  The trend is to track PR and editorial samples, but samples are used and in demand by many other user groups, so why not manage all your samples in one environment and link your style metadata to the PLM?

No matter how you look at it, samples are a must to communicate a brand’s seasonal story, and they are not cheap!  They are an expensive line item on a company’s P&L and a pain to secure, manage, and reconcile.  There is never enough to address the long-lead needs; as the volume of requests increases, it usually becomes a tidal wave of products with little knowledge of style details or status (live or dropped), and when the season is done, usually, the retention of samples is very low.  I hate to say it, but this is due to shrinkage, a lack of respect for use, and just poor management.  Teams are managing multiple seasons (yesterday, today, and tomorrow) on any given day, and if there is no way to track and retain style metadata, then it is simply chaos!

I have seen first-hand how PLM systems and integration within other work streams benefit sample tracking and usage.  Most effective is when samples are treated as a company-wide use case, not a specific business need. There are sample tracking applications that are effective for specific needs, such as PR; however, when using and managing samples, company-wide demand needs to be addressed. More importantly, style metadata needs to be part of the sample tracking solution. As mentioned above, style/product knowledge is critical in bringing seasonal campaigns to life, and this happens when PLM feeds a sample management system, so make sure your solutions can integrate into the PLM. Too many times, I see sample management tools track the “to” and “from,” but trying to link style details is a manual process, and teams get lost in the round of changes facilitated in Excel. Like the line sheet, think holistic with your sample management solutions. Find something that will address all sample use cases and one that is dynamic with PLM.

Marketing ecosystem

In closing, as a PLM system operationalizes, improves, and streamlines productivity and creates a dynamic environment for design, production, tech, and sourcing, we should think about what a similar system, fueled by a PLM, for marketing and communications could do for the business. Global marketing teams work in a single destination for accessing current and historical marketing and communications – related creative and metadata for dynamic reporting (i.e., roadmaps, marketing plans, creative rotations, media plan. etc.). They maintain a unique ecosystem – a place to plan, execute, and refine efforts based on dynamic (real-time) product updates (drops or late deliveries).

How do you measure success against sales if you do not have the style information at the color / SKU level? This environment informs and educates marketing because they followed the style from sample requests to photo shoots to editing, retouching and to final approval. From there, teams wrote dynamic creative briefs, adding more normalized data to the information inherited from earlier in the process – all coming from the source. Product (style and color) is current and provides a means to measure against sales and other KPIs.

Teams can align creative assets against key investments, markets, availability, and status (live versus dropped after market because of lack of interest or change in design). These details and dynamic updates enable marketing to quickly request assets or make modifications. Teams can easily pivot and redirect campaigns and creative executions based on business trends and stakeholder and customer feedback.

Marketing and communications have one dynamic, efficient, dimensional platform which enables all departments to track and monitor every product against all assets and activations in real-time. Teams will collaborate within one system to develop, plan, execute and measure global content based on accurate product details as the product moves throughout its lifecycle. This environment will track all the details through each chapter of a collection, as well as break down silos to create a pipeline that tells the seasonal story.

Lydia Hanson

Lydia Hanson has been part of the WhichPLM team for over four years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.

Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.