Why is fashion branding so important? Just like your company name, branding is one of the first ways your customer interacts with you. Branding is your chance to show customers your personality. And, when brands have a strong, relatable personality, customers tend to feel more connected to them and become loyal patrons.
Most brands jump right into making their brand guidelines (template at the end of this post). But, they forget to do the homework to get them to that point. That is what this post is about. The preliminary work before you can even start your branding process.
And, as always, I will give examples from my brand virtue + vice to help guide you!
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Branding Is More Than Just A Logo
When people think branding they usually first think about a logo. But, fashion branding is so much more than that. Yes, a good logo is important, but more on that later.
Branding is everything, it's your logo, packaging, how your product is designed, and how you communicate with your customer.
Why Personality Is Important
Did you know that people make their first impression of you within the first 7 seconds of meeting you? That is really quick. And, once someone has a first impression it can be really hard to change their mind.
Fashion marketing experts will tell you that, good branding is your 7-second first impression. If done correctly, it's kind of like sorcery, it draws your customer in and makes people like you.
So, how do you weave fashion branding magic into your start up clothing line? Here are 11 important tips to think about before you get started on your brand guides.
What Are Brand Guidelines?
Brand guidelines are also known as brand style guides. They are basically a manual or rule book that shows how your brand should be represented. A brand style guide will lay out all the visual details like colors, fonts, and appropriate ways to use logos and copy, as well as important notes about the company's voice, tone, and messaging.
Every time your brand puts out content to the public, you should consult the brand guidlens and make sure what you are relaesing into the world in "on brand".
By creating a cohesive aesthetic and tone for your brand and using brand guidelines you create brand recognition and start to build customer trust and loyalty.
Before You Get Started On Your Brand Guideline Kit There Are a Few Things To Think About
Before you down load the Brand Guidelines template, take these things into consideration.
1. Be Real
Getting real, is one of my main focuses with virute + vice. The truth is, things like starting a fashion line, or living in India are hard. I like to share my failures, as well as my succeses, because they make the wins so much better. I also like to share the little moments that are part of what everyday life is like for me. Like, this is a candid moment spent hanging out at the house in Goa. It's not contrived or posed - it's just a memory of how things were at that moment. Personally I always perfer real content over staged smiles. And, I think more consumers are starting to prefer this type of content as well.
When I first started blogging and social media I was very corporate. I pretended like virtue + vice was this big brand. When I spoke about it I used "we". When in reality it was basically just me and a few unreliable interns. I put out extremely generic information, that was modeled after what other people were doing at the time.
What I notice were the articles that did the best on my site. Most of my posts that were in-depth and detailed always did pretty well. But, the articles and posts that did the best had my personality in them. The most likes I ever got, are photos of me. The most engagements and comments I have ever get on a post, are when I tell my stories about living and working overseas, and ask people if they can relate. And my most read blog posts almost always have at least one personal story about my time in fast fashion.
Track What Your Customers Respond To
I realized that people were reading because of me. And, so I changed the tone of virtue + vice. I use "I" now because virtue + vice is an extension of myself.
Being real has also allowed me to build trust with you all. I share my successes, but also my struggles. I'm not trying to pretend like I have a perfect life behind the computer screen. I am honest about what life is like as an entrepreneur in fashion. It's not all #girlboss and hanging out at The Wing - actually it's literally none of that.
I share things like the time I got stuck in a flash flood in India, or when I am living in villages without hot water and bathe from a bucket. That's me, it's real, and it's my life.
Try to add a little sincerity to your fashion branding to give it a human touch. So many new brands want to be perfect. The perfect solution to their customer's perceived problem, or convey the idea that they have it all figured out. When, in reality, no one does.
2. Decide On Your Brand's Core Values
At virute + vice my core is working with, and getting to know the people who make your clothing. And then, sharing what I learn with you. I value listening, and allowing artisans to speak for themselves, not thorugh me.
Your core brand values are what your company stands for. Everything you do as a brand should be guided by what you value. From the way you communicate with your customers, to the products you make.
Are you dedicated to low prices to democratize the fashion industry the way Target did with the designer collaborations? Altuzarra and Rodarte are some of my favorite Target collabs FYI. Or, are you dedicated to the very highest of quality down to the threads you sew with? Are ethics and sustainability a driving force in your brand? I hope they are.
There are brands dedicated to making mom's lives easier, creating clothing for specific handicaps, and almost any other niche market you can think of. Is your goal to help one of these groups?
Just saying you are sustainable and ethical is not enough.
Think long and hard about what you believe in, and what you are fighting for.
Determining Your Values
To get started ask your self these three questions. If you are working with a team, open up this exercise to everyone.
WHAT DO WE...
- Stand for?
- Value most?
- Believe as a company?
Now sit with it for at least a week. This is not a quick exercise. This should take time. Like all foundations of your business, you want this to be done right because it will guide you for years to come. Your core values should not change with time.
Next, refine your list. And, pick the ones that are most important to you. Here are a few tips to get it right.
Make Sure Your Core Value Is Memorable
Use short, snappy phrases, or maybe even some alteration to help you, your team, and your customers remember what it is you stand for.
Your Core Value Should Be Authentic
Don't just say what you think everyone wants to hear. People can see through this authenticity. Make your values mean to you and your brand.
Make Your Phrases Actionable
Saying something like women's rights doesn't exactly convey what it is you're trying to do. But using the term we empower women - that's actionable.
3. Think About Your Target Customer
Think long and hard about who you are going to sell to before you set up your branding plan.
You can even do an exercise where you make up a fake person and name them. In college, our final senior year project was to design and market a pair of jeans from seed to store. While the rest of our peers sold to the people they knew, themselves, our team had a little more fun with it and made jeans for the middle-aged man who wanted to feel cool. Because none of us was this customer, we spent a lot of time defining who this person was and what made them tick. Where did he live? What did he like? What were his hobbies?
The exercise of creating a fictitious customer is called a customer avatar. Here is how to make your own.
Making A Customer Avatar
There are 5 main categories to defining how your avatar thinks, and buys, they are…
- Goals and Values - What do they want from life, and what do they blu
- Sources of Information - Where do they hang out online and in-person? Forums, mainstream media, coffee shops, golf course? Where a person gets their info from tells a lot about them. What materials do they read? What experts do they follow and listen to? Maybe even think of podcasts they would listen to. Do they spend their time on Facebook Twitter Linkedin Instagram Reddit etc? What would be the best way to reach them on these platforms?
- Demographic Information - What is their name, age, sex, marital status? Where do they live? What is their job, and how much do they make? What is their education level?
- Challenges and Pain Point - What problems does your avatar have that you and your product can help to solve?
- Objections and Roles - Why would they not want to use your brand or product? And, what is their position in the decision process? Are they the ones that will ultimately be buying for you, or will they be influencing others to buy?
4. Analyze Your Competitor
What is your competitor doing? How do they position and brand themselves? What do you feel is working? What would you do differently? Look at everything from the words they choose to use, and their visuals, to where they market themselves. Use your competitors as a jump-off point for your fashion branding plan.
Check out this post that includes a SWOT analysis. If you don't need help with your entire business plan then just skip down to the middle of the page where there is a SWOT analysis examples for virtue + vice to give you an idea about how I analyzed my competition.
5. What Is Your Tone?
What do you think this ladies tone is? Remember, setting your brands tone goes beyond how you speak to your customers, it's everything from the images, to the colors you choose to use.
Having the right tone of voice will make your customer feel more connected to you. And, choosing the wrong one will drive them away. This is where your avatar comes in handy. How would that person want to be spoken to? How do they communicate? Is your customer going to know what YOLO means? Will they be offended by things that lean toward the more risque?
How do you want your customer to feel? Are you their friend? Or, are you positioning yourself more as an authority? Does your brand's voice feel attainable, like the girl next door, or is it out of reach like a celebrity on stage.
Once you decide your vibe, stick with it. Make sure your tone aligns on all platforms from website copy to social media, to quotes in publications. For me, the tone of virtue + vice is my voice. It's who I am. I speak like I am speaking to a friend, and speak authentically. As a one-person show, I think it would be tiring to cater to my voice as someone I am not.
A Quick Tip To Maintain Character
Have a point a view. Go back to your brand values, and use these to guide you in your brand's public comments on current invents or interactions on social media.
6. Remember, You Can't Please Everyone
Everyone is not going to be your target customer. Take the above examples of tone of voice. You usually can't relate to a 20-year-old LGBTQ person the same way you would relate to an 80-year-old war veteran. So, don't even try. Pick your people and focus on them. Let them know that you really get them, and are there for them.
For example, with virus + vice, I am not going to be helpful to every type of startup. I focus on fashion. Not on beauty, not on shoes, but, instead what I know - apparel.
7. Why Should People Buy From You?
I always joke that working with me means you are stuck being my friend for life. I think there are more than enough consultancy firms out there that will print up fancy reports about carbon credits, and supply chain road blocks. What makes people want to work with virtue + vice is my personal touch. This is a photo of me an Miranda Watson hithching a ride becasue it was too hot to walk while she came to visit me in India and work on her line.
Define what makes your brand different. Earlier we talked about standing out and not being afraid to experiment. Now, how does that translate into your brand and why people are buying from you. What solution to a problem does your brand solve that other companies don't?
At virtue + vice, my unique selling point is me. It's the decade of experience I have working in fashion, the literal blood, sweat, and tears I put into the industry. And, me giving that information to you.
This comes to mind when I think about a unique selling point. When I was worried about rushing my book out to get published before every other sustainable influencer, my writing coach Marissa LaRocca, told me this, "no one can tell your story".
And, I think that is very true, when it comes to branding as well. No ones can tell your story as long as it's yours.
8. One More Time, For The People In The Back Row
Repeat your brand message.
Don't assume that people know who you are and know what you are about. Even if they do know you, they need to be reminded. Constantly. Think of it like this. You know when you have to reintroduce yourself to an acquaintance that you only met once. That is what you need to do with your fashion branding.
Think of different ways to convey the same thing.
To make reminding people about who you brand is easier. Everything you do should always tie back to your brand values and message. Before you publish anything - a blog post, an Insta post, even a job listing, first think, is this part of my brand message?
For virtue + vice my brand message is always education. Before I post anything I always think, is there value to this? Will people learn from this. If the answer is no, I don't post it.
9. What Does Your Brand Look Like?
virtue + vice looks like real people. It is me, the people I work with in India and China, and the brands I bring to India on trips to learn more about their supply chain. It looks like real people working in fashion. This is a photo of Ariel of Four.Rabbit, who came to India with me last winter.
A brand visual creates an experience for the customer. It leaves them with something to remember. Your brand's visual identity will link back to your logo, typography, colors, packaging, and everything else.
Think about it, should a funeral home have a fun cutesy font in bright colors?
The visuals you choose are extensions of your values and brand. Make sure they align.
10. Getting Great Visibility
Now that you did all of this hard work. How will you get your brand out there? What type of media coverage are you looking for? Where are good places to advertise (by the way the brand avatar is a great start to narrowing down your advertising audience on social media platforms)?
Think about how your brand will interact with customers in the real world.
This is something I am working on. Most of my clients find me through word of mouth and referrals. Which is great. While I have been featured in some great publications, WWD, Souring Journal, Forbes, and even spoke at SXSW, this year in 2020 I am working on more advertising and publicity. I'll keep you updated on how that goes.
11. Exceed Expectations
Everyone wants to feel like they got a deal. And, when you give your customers a deal, they want more. Whether its freebies or exclusives for loyal customers, think of ways to give your customers more than they are expecting.
Your fashion branding plan should consider how you can make your customers feel like they are getting value. And, the easiest way to do that is to give them more than they expect.
At virute+ vice, I do this by giving away free content. Most people end up on my website after googling something random about fashion. They end up sticking around and clicking around because of all the free content.
Now that you have thought about all of this, and done your homework, the next step is creating a brand guideline.