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Strategic fashion brand management of today
25 January 2008

While, in the past, the critical concerns for fashion companies were the product and manufacturing technologies, today, the winning factors have become a series of intangible elements, such as brand and retail management. 

Today's consumers are increasingly aware of their own personality and purchasing behaviours. In order to meet their needs, the brand – even more than the product - plays a fundamental role since it represents a tool capable of maintaining the relationship between the company – or one of its product lines – and a given segment of consumers who identify with that company.

Brand management is the philosophy and core behind all business development. It is the application of marketing techniques to a brand, a specific product or a product line, which helps to increase the product's perceived value to customers and, in so doing, increases the brand's franchise and equity.

Despite the omnipresence of brands in today's fashion industry, the European clothing industry saw a significant downturn in advertising investment in 2005 and 2006. In 2005, print and TV activity was valued at €1.6 billion, while, in 2006, the figure had dropped a whopping 20 percent to €1.3 billion. This phenomenon illustrates the way that consumers' buying habits today are affected less by propaganda than brandidentity.

Customers now have the awareness, knowledge and power to demand better. Their trust islow and loyalty is rare. They are different and discerning, and their expectations are incredibly high, so good branding makes the product special and separates it from the rest. Good branding also results in loyal customers and existing customer relationships are the key to profitability. Branding may be for a specific product or could cover an entire corporateimage.

Brand communications is notonly visual, but also multidimensional – "sensory branding" has been coined by marketers to express the concept of any form of communication between a brand and its consumers that involves the senses. Take Johnson's baby lotion as an example; the brand has had a signature scent for years that makes an impact in childhood and is built into our memories.

For brands that do not have that direct link, theuse of scent within the brand experience needs to involve more imagination inorder to be outside the ordinary and to convey the brand's character. In a bookshop, for example, the cookery section could smell of spices, while the business section could have a sharp, fresh smell to aid concentration.

Sometimes, customers grow complacent with the same old benchmarks – the familiar case studies, the innovations that become conventions, the same old stories of "legendary" service. Li Fung is a greatmould breaker, but the world continues to move on.

Smaller brands that lack the scale of economy in developing and building a brand canconsider partnering with other big names, but must bear in mind that their audience must see a logical link between the two brands in order to accept the partnership. Take Motorola and Dolce & Gabbana as an example: a fashion-conscious market will readily accept a fashion-conscious phone. This is especially true when it comes to new product development.

The worldwide media landscape isexperiencing an unprecedented change driven by major disruptive technologies and shifts in human behaviour. In Asia, marketers and their agencies are aggressively seeking newways to reach and engage with consumers, beyond the "traditional" media options. Driven primarily by new technology, and the rising cost and declining perceived impact of established media, 2008 will see marketers and their agencies looking to experiment with a host of new communications channels, among them branded content in TV shows, mobile phone advertising, social media, podcasts, user-generated video, in-game advertising and virtual worlds.

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