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Decoding Decoded Fashion & Beauty – Our 6 Key Takeaways

Last week, the Automat team had the chance to attend the Decoded Fashion & Beauty Summit in New York and learn from a truly impressive set of speakers about the trends and opportunities faced by some of the largest beauty and fashion brands in the world.  Our own CEO Andy Mauro contributed to the conversation with a well-received session on “Bringing Beauty Into the Messaging Age” (reach out if you’d like a copy or summary of his talk).  We thought we’d keep the conversation going (and start some new ones) by sharing our key takeaways from the event.

1. Customers are in the driver seat.

Fashion and beauty brands are going above and beyond to become or remain consumer-centric. There was not a single brand we met at Decoded who isn’t obsessed with consumer experience. Far from passively noting that Amazon has irreversibly changed consumer expectations, CEOs, digital managers, and marketers are doing everything they can to transform their organizations.

Everyone started with the same observation: to reach and exceed consumers’ expectations, data and consumer insight are essential. Kate Twist, Chief Digital Officer at Xcel Brands, told the audience how her company is investing heavily in AI and data-parsing technology to collect data that will transform their marketing, merchandising, design and planning departments. For her, there is little doubt: this is the future for fashion.

Brands are moving faster, becoming more flexible and above all are putting the consumer experience first. Brands no longer want to guess what consumers want based on their online behavior. They are using quantitative and qualitative research to ask them explicitly: what do you value? What moves you? What bores you? Inclusion is now a pillar of many brands’ communication strategy. They have shifted from campaigns based on models, to influencers, to individuals. The trend is here to stay.  And chatbots have a key role in collecting consumer insight.  When Andy asked who was either working on or thinking of working on a bot, 80% of the room raised their hand.

2. Personalization is key.

If we had to pick one word to summarize the two days at Decoded, it would be “personalization”. Fashion and beauty are personal by nature, from look preferences to skin types or color matching. And as the market evolves to cater to the large Millennial audience, there is really no other way to go than to be personal.

Many noted that consumers are now ready to provide more information about themselves than ever, especially if they understand the value in doing so. They want to talk about themselves and be heard, which represents a huge opportunity for companies to truly speak to and connect with consumers. Brands don’t need an army of creatives or data scientists anymore as technology is helping scale marketing efforts in a much more personalized way, allowing for contextually relevant communications that rely far less on promotions since customers enjoy interacting with brands if they’re understood and content is tailored to them.

But be careful. As Amanda Tolleson, CMO at Birchbox, reminded us, “customers are happy to share information but when they know you have it, they demand you use it in the right way. If you ask but don’t circle back in a relevant way, you’re making things worse”. Tracy Sun, Co-Founder & VP of Merchandising at Poshmark, added: “Preferences change. Personalization is never done. It’s essential to keep the conversation going.”  As a team that spends all its time thinking about how conversational marketing can help brands serve their customers in a hyper-personalized way, we couldn’t have said it better.

3. Tech is not here to replace. It’s here to enhance.

Collecting insight, exploiting data, and delivering a truly personalized experience cannot be implemented at scale without technology.

Tech is helping brands connect to consumers by listening and learning what they want. At Automat, we believe that this is where the biggest opportunities stand for brands. Our CEO Andy explained how conversational marketing campaigns we developed for L’Oréal and Covergirl helped collect rich profile information that then fueled amazing engagement rates. Leah Anathan, CMO at Qubit, spoke about the role artificial intelligence can have: “AI enables brands to tackle scale in a meaningful way, despite thousands of combinations of data points that could personalize an experience”.

Discovery and inspiration are two other examples of how technology can help brands serve their customers better. Amazon has habituated consumers to fast, transparent, and affordable shopping experiences, but fashion and beauty brands are observing a backlash. Tracy Sun explained that her customers also want to be inspired and they cannot turn to Amazon for that. They crave interactions, deep expertise and personalized advice that helps them discover products they love. Companies like Poshmark use tech to create new marketplaces and provide consumers with highly individualized experiences.

In her keynote, Lucinda Newcomb, VP Digital Product at Sephora, explained how they use technology to build communities, educate and inspire their customers. Even if they value their friends’ opinion, clients are looking for unbiased experts that will know more about the product and will be able to make tailor-made recommendations. Technology like Modiface’s virtual try-on enables Sephora to make advice and expertise scalable through a mix of automated technology and by also connecting similar consumers together so they can help each other.

4. Every brand needs a voice.

Influencer marketing is an ideal opportunity for brands to connect with their customers, beyond the transaction. Everyone has worked with influencers in some way, and the results are strong. But the space is getting saturated, and to maintain high engagement, fashion and beauty marketers are asking one question: how can we use influencers in an authentic way?

Choosing the right voice and persona and bringing it to life is of utmost importance. For Jamie Mandor-Glassman, SVP Marketing at Rituals, the answer is clear: “Authenticity exists but what used to work doesn’t work anymore.” She made a good point that partnerships should be based on a grounded mission and a shared values-system, over long-term relationships instead of one-off posts. Panelists agreed that those partners are not necessarily mega-influencers. In our work with Covergirl, for example, it was Kalani Hilliker.

Influencers are by no means the only option. Shannon Goldberg, VP Marketing at MDNA Skincare, pointed out that  it can even be “your service providers, like your facialists, or your makeup artists: those are the ones who know your products and they’re the best to talk about them in an authentic way.”

Once you find the right voice, it’s all about using data to understand consumers to pick the right social channels and content for those consumers. MDNA, for example, uses Youtube for educational content while Rituals relies heavily on Instagram to spread global awareness.

5. Luxury is in the midst of a deep culture shift.

Luxury is rooted in heritage and legacy. As such it can be challenging keeping up with fast-moving, digital and omnichannel shopping trends. Many luxury marketers don’t want to lose control of their brand story to influencers or alter tradition to include consumer insights into the process of product creation. It’s not that luxury brands can’t see that consumer expectations are evolving, but the luxury industry has a very low tolerance for imperfection which makes the digital mantra of ‘move fast and break things’ tricky to emulate.

Lisa Pomerantz, CMO of Bottega Venetta, testified to the challenges traditional luxury brands can have when evolving their culture towards the modern customer. “I know people are sick of hearing about the ‘customer journey,’ but our focus right now is on creating an efficient, on-demand, well-organized customer journey. Organizations that are siloed are no longer going to be able to properly reach today’s customer.” For Pomerantz, luxury has focused on product for a long time but they’re now re-thinking the whole experience. “Customers expect brands to know When What Where. To serve them at this level, you have to rely on technology and data.” Karin Tracy, Head of Industry Fashion, Beauty, Retail and Luxury at Facebook, seconded her opinion and advised brands to stop focusing too much on their traditional competitors and look at the digital disruptors instead.

Lisa Green, VP Fashion & Luxury at Conde Nast, provided a creative way to get there. “There is a danger for luxury brands to behave like tech companies,” she said. Their customers simply won’t tolerate any hiccup. But Green encouraged luxury brands to open their ecosystems to find partners who can help them deliver the experience their customers are looking for. We obviously share this approach: when they pick partners with the right technology and the right experience, luxury brands become unstoppable.

6. It’s not all about digital.

It’s impossible to ignore: retail is still core to the consumer experience. People are looking for more experiential shopping and the right connected online and offline experience can truly fulfill on meeting consumers’ needs and building an emotional connection.

But the value proposition of retail is changing. As observed by Arun Gupta, Founder of Grailed: “Today you’re can get more value out of a customer coming into your store and taking pictures of it for Instagram than actually selling something to her. This is a huge shift!”.

Successful retailers are the ones who exploit every online and offline interaction to create a 360° view of each customer, available for everyone in the organization. There is a great opportunity to capture insight from customers while they are in store and having a discussion with the sales team. And, with chatbots and other technologies, there is no need for the conversation to stop when the customer leaves.

Decoded Fashion and Beauty decoded.

There you have it.  Our six key takeaways from Decoded Fashion and Beauty.  If you have your own takeaways from the event or want to dig into any of these topics in more depth, please reach out!

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