At this point in my career, I have talked to thousands of startup fashion brands. And, by talk to, I mean mostly listened and learned what it was they needed help with. Because, if I am going to spend the time and energy to create all of this free content, I want to make sure it's actually useful. So, from what I can tell, startup brands have two main problems. The first is finding supply chain partners. And, the second is actually selling their product. Today we are going to tackle sales and why a clothing brand marketing strategy is so important to your business success.
The fashion industry is hard to navigate but, I'm here to make it much easier for you.
A Little Back Story
This post is inspired by a Facebook group I’m in - Women In Sustainable Business run by Katherine Ann Byam.
I have done some killer networking in that group and learned so much just from other people’s posts and the communities responses. If you are looking for a community to join outside of the virtue + vice fashion startup community, I highly recommend it.
Anyway, a few days ago Katherine posted asking the group basically why everyone was there, and what she could do to help make the group more useful to their goals. Well, that basically turned into everyone saying they were there to increase their sales, and that they were disappointed that when they posted in the group no one was buying their goods or services.
Let me be clear.
What I like to call Facebook group shameless self-promotions is a terrible sales strategy - because that well has runneth dry. Meaning there are more brands than customers in these groups currently. We will talk about that in a minute, and what you should be doing instead.
But, before we really get into what a good clothing brand marketing strategy entails, first we need to understand what marketing strategies are.
What Is A Clothing Brand Marketing Strategy?
The first thing you need to know about marketing is that it's not just one thing. It's a collection of all the things a brand does to promote its business.
Marketing is advertising, influencers, photoshoots for ad campaigns, user-generated content, social media platforms, pr, email blasts, collaborations, sponsored events, and so much more.
And, the secret to good marketing is not just to be doing all of these things - it's to be doing them so they each complement one another. The trick is to have your social media channels help grow your email list, and your blog to not just get more sales but grow your community. All your efforts work together in a synergistic web.
Basically, marketing is all the sales levers working in unison. It's super complicated. And there is always more to learn and more to do. The work is never over. Which, is kind of good news for us, because that means there is always room to grow, scale, and increase sales by implementing new strategies.
Yea. That's normal.
But don't worry, the rest of this post will help get you started with your clothing brand marketing strategy. All of the strategies I am going to talk about (7 of them to be exact) are super easy to implement and super effective.
To Get Us Started, Let's Play A Game…
So, for the rest of this post, we are going to play a game that I like to call, Do This, Instead Of That. Here’s how it works.
First, I am going to list a clothing brand marketing strategy that many new brands tend to implement. Then, I am going to explain why it's wrong, and what you should try doing instead.
LESSON 1 - My Target Audience Is Sustainable Conscious 20-30-Something Year Olds…
Remember that story I just told you about the Facebook group? The problem of not getting business leads from a Facebook group is not a unique problem. It's all across Facebook.
I am a member of at least 30 different sustainable, ethical, conscious, zero waste, vegan, etc, etc, groups on Facebook. And, years ago when I first joined them, they were great places to network and learn. I learned a lot of cool stuff from people sharing information. But, in the past 2-ish years, the groups have changed. Now they are just an endless stream of desperate small businesses trying to sell their clothes, reusable q-tips, mason jars, or whatever else they have boxes of inventory of sitting in their closet.
Not only is it annoying (I already get endless sponsored posts being fed to me, I don't want to see even more shameless self-promo), it's sad.
Hundreds, if not thousands of brands are desperate to make a sale and think that maybe Facebook communities will be the life raft their sinking business needs.
The next thing I am going to tell you, is not to scare you, but to make you understand the reality of starting a business.
Most small businesses fail.
According to the BLS and Investopedia "Data from the BLS shows that approximately 20% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 45% during the first five years, and 65% during the first 10 years. Only 25% of new businesses make it to 15 years or more."
But here is the thing. If you are savvy. You can be one of the 4 in 10 brands that actually makes it.
And, The First Thing You Need To Do Is Step Outside The Sustainability Bubble.
Because here is the thing. If you go into this thinking I will post my sustainable clothes in a sustainable fashion group because you think your target customer is someone obsessed with sustainable fashion, you are going after the wrong target market.
The people who are hanging out in sustainable fashion groups aren't customers. They are brands just like you. With that fashion marketing strategy, you are literally trying to sell snow to a polar bear.
I know a lot of you are not going to believe me, but sustainability isn't a niche.
Sustainability is just something you do as an added bonus to whatever it is you're already doing. If you take anything away from this article, please, let it be that.
Making your clothes sustainable, ethical, whatever eco term you want to use, is not enough to sell them. You need to make a product that people want and that solves a real problem for them. Because here is the reality - there are more than enough conscious fashion options out there right now (from Walmart selling recycled water bottle leggings to small startups popping up every day) the market is saturated.
Again, Don't Let That Discourage You.
Instead, let this information help guide you to success by building a product around the right target audience.
In the Free 7 Day Conscious Startup Crash Course I go through an amazing exercise on how to transform your sustainable product idea into something that solves a real problem.
Reformation did a great job at this. They make clothes that appeal to a very specific type of woman. Are their clothes for everyone? No. But, they really resonate with the people who they are for - from the styles to the images on their social media, to the copy they use to communicate to their fans. They know who they are talking to. Then the fact that they make sustainably is just an added bonus to the already awesome and relatable product.
Still not sold? Think of these other three brands that are just as famous as Reformation - Everlane, Patagonia, and People Tree. They are all sustainable. But, they all have very different brand personalities and target audiences.
Lesson 1 Recap. Get Outside Of The Sustainability Bubble, And Find A Real Niche
Instead of thinking of sustainability as your market differentiator, think of sustainability as the icing on the cake.
Acknowledge that being a conscious brand is not what is going to sell your product. And, focus on customers outside of the "eco-bubble".
LESSON 2 - Sales Is The Easy Part, I Only Need Help Getting My Product Made
When I talk to new brands on the phone they often tell me that they don’t need help with the sales side of their business because they are going to hire a Facebook marketing firm or someone else (maybe themselves) to do that for them. So, let me explain why this can be a dangerous idea.
Early in my online career, I joined some elite seller groups. At first, they were kind of bad for my self-esteem. It felt like everyone was so successful, except for me. But, then I figured something out.
People make sales sound easy, when they are not. Here’s what I mean.
When people say they make 6 figures a year, most of them aren't talking about profit. They are talking about their revenue.
The Difference Between Revenue + Profit
Understanding the difference between revenue and profit is what is going to save you from being taken advantage of in the world of online advertising, but more on that in just a minute.
First, let's break down some business terms.
Is how much money you make selling your products. So, let's say you sell dresses for $100 each, and you sell 1000 dresses a year. Your revenue is $100,000.
And, technically you are a 6 figure seller.
Gross Profit Or Gross Income
This number is your revenue minus the expenses to make and distribute the dress. So, let's pretend each dress costs $30 to make, and you have another $5 in storage and shipping expenses. For a total of $35 spent on the product. The gross profit or gross income would be $100-$35, so $65.
When you take these costs into account the business isn't really making $100k, it makes more like $65k.
But, wait there's more we need to subtract from this number.
Net income takes that gross income and then subtracts all the operating expenses. Things like your website, social media content, advertising, a notebook for brainstorming, literally anything you spend money on in your business that will help you sell your product.
On average net income or your net profits, tend to be around 20% of your revenue. So, for someone who claims $100k in sales per year, they are really only making about 20k in profit.
Meaning on each dress you sell for $100 you are only really making about $20 when all is said and done. Meaning by selling 1000 dresses you are only making 20k.
See, I told you - sales aren’t that easy.
I know it's crazy, but 20% is the industry average when you sit down and actually do the math.
Check out this infographic about how Nike makes their money. You can see their revenue is 11.6 billion dollars. But, their profit is only 2.1 billion (right around that 20% benchmark).
That is why understanding what numbers you are looking at is so important to the financial health and stability of your business.
I think by now we all agree sales are a little bit harder than we might have originally thought.
Now, Here Is Where Many New Brands Get Taken Advantage Of By Online Advertising Firms
As we have already established, there are lots of desperate brands out there hoping for an easy way to get more sales. And, that is where advertising firms step in.
They promise to take your sales from $5k a month to $50k a month. And, they do. But here is the thing. They never promised what your profits would be. I have had some clients tell me that advertising firms they hired used $45k to get them $50k in sales, meaning only a $5k profit.
By understanding your numbers you can understand your deliverables and what to expect from hiring out a team.
Lesson 2 Recap. Sales Look Easy Because People Share Misleading Numbers
Instead of paying an advertising firm big bucks for "increased sales" understand what the numbers mean and then make more strategic business decisions.
Remember, "being a 6 figure seller" might mean only $20,000 a year in profits.
LESSON 3 - I Have A Huge Network, And They Will Support Me
Friends and family is not a sales strategy.
While yes, it is important to thank all the people in your life who have been incredibly supportive in your startup journey. And, yes it's nice to give people you know a discount. The reality is, most of them are not going to buy from you.
That is why lesson 1, knowing who your audience is (and, quick reminder, no “sustainable and ethical shoppers are not your nice), is so important. Let me be clear, friends and family are not a target customer.
So, just how reluctant are friends and family to buy from you? I did my own little experiment because I love case studies. I offered to give my friends and family free product (including shipping) yes $0, in exchange for a review. Out of the 30+ people I asked to do it only about 10 took me up on the offer.
And, that was for free. Imagine how many fewer people who have supported me if I had asked them to spend money.
Not Only Are Friends And Family Not A Sales Strategy...
But, reaching out to your personal contacts to buy from you kind of feels a little MLM, hey, want to buy my diet tea? My best advice is to keep personal relationships separate from business.
Now, don't feel discouraged, there is a better way you can get your friends and family to help you grow your sales, and it doesn't involve asking them to buy from you. Instead describe to them who your target customer (from lesson 1) is, and ask if they know anyone that sounds similar.
This way you don't have to feel awkward asking them to buy stuff from you, and they don't have to feel guilted into buying something from you, or bad for saying no.
For example. If you are selling organic cotton leggings, maybe they have a friend who is extremely sensitive to chemicals in clothes that would be the perfect customer for you.
Or, here is another example. Maybe you are making clothes for pregnant women - most of your friends and family probably aren't pregnant and probably don't need your stuff. But, I bet they all know someone who is.
Lesson 3 Recap. Remember you are not and MLM
Instead of thinking your friends and family will buy from you, use them in your clothing brand marketing strategy as a networking tool. Their job is to help spread the word and tell their friends who they think would love your product.
LESSON 4 - My Friend Is An Influencer And She Is Going To Post Herself Wearing My Clothes
Back when I was new to the world of clothing brand marketing strategy I paid an influencer (a friend of a friend) $250 to take a photo in a pair of shorts. She had hundreds of thousands of followers and her photos all got tens of thousands of likes.
I thought omg, this definitely is perfect, I am going to get so many sales and new followers. Well, I got exactly 0 new followers and exactly 0 sales.
How is that possible with such a huge fan base?
What I learned was that many influencers have very little actual influence. I say this all the time to my students - likes don't pay the bills.
So much so that influencers don't trust their own audiences either.
Let me tell you a story about a huge influencer, a youtube star with 200k subscribers and whose videos regularly get over 50k views and their order size. This influencer only felt comfortable ordering between 20-50 pieces per style based on sales data they had from past brand collaborations.
Let that sink in. An audience of over 200 thousand people and the influencer only thought they would be able to sell somewhere between 20-50 pieces.
I know it's crazy. So, before you go spending tons of money on influencers, try this instead.
It's Called Affiliate Marketing
And, it's even more effective than influencer partnerships at getting your brand out in front of potential new customers.
Basically, you join an affiliate network. And, what that does is create special links for influencers. They can use the special custom link on their Instagram, or Facebook, or blog, basically anywhere. Anytime anyone clicks the link, they are tracked through cookies, and if the person who clicks the link actually purchases the item, they are paid a small commission.
This is a much safer way to work with influencers, because they are only being paid for the sales they are generating.
The really good influencers, that actually have influence have no problem working this way because they know that if they post a link their audience will buy, and they will make commissions.
And, the influencers without influence, will almost always refuse to work this way and demand to be paid upfront. That is because they know their audience rarely actually purchases anything.
Lesson 4 Recap. Skip The Big Budget Campaigns And Think About Influencer Marketing Differently
Then, boost exposure and sales through affiliate partnerships for your clothing brand marketing strategy.
LESSON 5 - Thinking That Selling Retail Will Decrease Your Margins
Most of the fashion startup brands I talk to want to sell exclusively on their own online store, so they can get higher margins. And, in my opinion (unless they have at least $10-$15k a month to drop on advertising) this is a mistake. Because wholesale and retail is awesome.
Recently everyone has been obsessed with this "cutting out the middle man strategy", and selling online only. The hard truth is. Everyone is on the internet these days. And, there literally isn't a business out there that isn't using social media to promote whatever it is that they do.
And, because of that, the competition on the world wide web is fierce! There is no more "cutting out the middle man" and going direct to customers. Because now the middle man is online ad placements, boosted posts, and Facebook ads for social media marketing, and fashion marketing campaigns (by the way, I will be dedicating an entire blog post to digital marketing in February 2022 - so make sure you are signed up for the email list to get updates).
For all the headlines that "brick and mortar is dead", some of my brands are finding that online profits are actually lower than they are in stores.
So, Here's The Reasoning Why So Many Startup Fashion Brands Initially Say No To Retailers
When a brand sells its $100 dress to a retail store. The brand sells the dress for around $45 to the shop. About 55% off of retail, is the industry wholesale standard. But, some larger retailers will insist on up to a 75% margin, meaning you sell that $100 dress to them for only $25.
At first glance, it all sounds kind of unfair, and like a terrible deal for the brand. But, it's not. Because, remember, a marketing plan is part of a larger strategy.
And, the strategy with retail is not necessarily the bottom line. It's increasing MOQs, more digital visibility, and in-person buying.
Here's what your reduced profit gets you…
Retail stores tend to order 15, 20, or even hundreds of pieces of clothing. These larger orders can help your brand reach higher MOQs which means reduced prices. Creating better margins overall.
More Digital Visibility
When retail stores sell your product you get the additional benefit of being featured on their Facebook, Instagram, and any other promotions for their shop they do. Basically, you get free exposure to their audience!
This is especially important for high-quality items. It's hard to buy off the internet, and not be able to see and touch something. Buying in person, especially when your clothes are super nice and luxurious can lead to higher customer conversion rates.
And, there is an additional bonus to in-person shoppers. Reduced returns. When buyers can see, touch, feel, and try on the clothes, the chances of returns decrease.
And with decreased returns, comes a better bottom line. That’s because returns can be costly because many times the clothes will come back damaged and unsellable.
Lesson 5 Recap. Give Retail A Try
Instead of saying no to partnering with brick and mortar retail shops because you would rather get $100 for each sale of your dresses instead of only $45 - think of the long-term marketing benefits of being in stores.
Don't be short-sighted when it comes to your clothing brand marketing strategy.
LESSON 6 - Don't Get Infomercial Syndrome
What I mean by infomercial syndrome is being too salesy. Seriously. Used car sales reps have a terrible reputation for a reason. It all just feels cheap and sleazy.
I get it, new brands. You are anxious to get more sales. But, the secret to getting more sales isn't always going full sales mode.
Instead, it's what industry pros call know, like, and trust.
Here’s how it works.
First people need to know who you are. No one buys from a stranger on the internet (hello, stranger danger).
Then, they should like you. Because when people like you, they want to support you.
And, lastly, they should trust you. The best way to build trust is to create value for them. So this means creating content that is actually interesting, and not just a sales promo for your brand. For example. Someone who was making a sustainable tennis line could create content about the best free places to play. Or, tennis training drills.
When you work on building trust, what you are really doing is proving to future customers that you are an expert in whatever it is you are doing. So, when you finally give them an offer to buy something, they will snatch that deal right up, because you have already proven you can make their lives better for free.
Mastering know, like, and trust is a guaranteed way to build brand loyalty and increase sales.
Lesson 6 Recap. Skip The ShamWow Sales Pitch
Skip the OxiClean sales pitch, and think how you can add value to your target customers' life to increase your know, like, trust factor.
LESSON 7 - I Don't Need Help Marketing, Just Give Me Your Supplier List.
As a small brand, you will go through this transformation. And I swear, literally every small business owner goes through it. At the start, all of their effort and focus is finding suppliers and getting the product made.
Then as soon as the production order is placed, a whole new level of panic sets in… what if no one wants to buy my stuff.
And, the way to combat that inner voice is to already have a sales plan in motion. If you start thinking about sales and marketing after your product is made, you are behind.
Many brands have told me that when they first started out, they weren't scared at all about the marketing and sales component of their business. Then, after a season or two into running their businesses, they confessed that sales were one of the hardest things they had ever done, and the manufacturing part was a cakewalk comparatively.
For most brands, the only way to learn this lesson is to live it. I have taken countless calls from brands hoping I can give them some magic answer to help them sell their garage full of clothing.
And, I can't. There is no magic answer. Because the truth is, it takes time.
So, get started now. Like today. Start building a community in your niche. Again, it doesn't have to be related to what you are selling. If you are selling yoga pants, maybe you start by posting a yoga move of the day. Or, yoga progressions for people who are just getting started and aren’t that flexible. Again, you are trying to build your know, like trust, and you don't need a product for that.
Remember, marketing and product development should happen in tandem, not one after the other.
Lesson 7 Recap. The Secret To Startup Success Is To Think Of Your Brand As Two Separate Businesses
You are a product development and production business. And you are a sales and marketing business. Make sure you are working on your clothing brand marketing strategy from day one - way before you product is actually ready to sell.
Ok, That's It.
Remember to sign up for the email list so you can get new blog alerts. I will have a new article out in February really deep-diving into the world of digital marking and what you should be doing.
Still not clear on how to kickstart your clothing brand marketing strategy? Ask them in the comments!