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Sportswear International - Nov/Dec, 2004 Issue

The Net - Barometer of Style

New marketing strategies are probing revolutionary ways of touching base with the fashion-wary, Internet-savvy generation. The quest for brand recognition and loyalty has taken companies into fresh Internet ground and to consider issues previously untouched.

Given the sensitivity of the young fashionista’s style barometer, the Internet is one of the few tools that can reflect a change in preference almost as soon as it has reached consciousness. A monitoring of “keyword” searches on major search engines is one way to throw up the patterns of behavior of potential young consumers. A San Francisco based e-business marketing company Stylophane has taken a step further and is breaking new ground with two indices that monitor inter-brand behavior – the “Jeans Manufacturers” index which ranks close to 50 brands and a “Brand Search Popularity Index” comparing around 310 brands.

These indices, using absolute keyword search volume, take the online temperature of individual brands on a monthly basis, allowing groups to monitor the impact of their ad campaigns, promotions and collections to see whether their image is still “hot”. “What is unique about this index is that it gives perhaps the earliest possible signs or ‘hard evidence’ of which brands are really growing and making a ‘real’ buzz,” says Alex Mendoza, a partner at Stylophane.

Stylophane clients Ben Sherman and Blue Marlin are happy with the e-marketing group’s policies. “Online sales have increased by a dramatic 50% (since Stylophane became involved around two years ago) and visitors to the site have increased by the same amount,” says Blue Marlin CEO Erik Stuebe. “The index is very interesting – we can see how our ad campaigns went very quickly.”

Michael Buckley, CEO of Ben Sherman in the USA says: “In 18 months we went from a few thousand dollars in monthly revenues to over $100,000 currently, and it (online activity) is now very profitable.” Ben Sherman is expecting “ significant” growth in the fall/holiday shopping season, thanks to the current strategies. “Generally the return on investment is $3 in sales for every dollar spent on marketing, but this can go as high as a 900% to 1,500% return,” Mendoza says.

Stylophane believes the key to online success is rooted in traditional business marketing – to grow a proprietary marketing platform – which is the email database: the bigger the customer database, the higher the sales. The group sends brand newsletters to tens of thousands of people twice a month as well as hosting interactive promotions. “Direct mail is one of the best ways of advertising with anyone,” says Mendoza. “With our clients we achieve a 40-50% open rate meaning that the email newsletters we design for our clients are actually read by 40-50% of the recipients. There is no printing and no postage costs. We can hit a large audience without breaking the bank.” Because aficionados voluntarily submit their email addresses, the drop out or cancellation rate with Ben Sherman and Blue Marlin has also been less than 5%.

In order to build its database, Stylophane runs several marketing initiatives for each client. There are shopping spree contests with online magazine partners such as Maxim, Stuff, Elle Girl, Teen Vogue, Wired Magazine and Lucky. The group also has many partners in the music industry. “We target a music genre that matches our fashion clients whether it’s house, hip-hop, Brit rock, or world beat and we do online cross promotions with associated artists of that genre,” says Mendoza. A recent promotion involved the artist Usher while his CD was #1 on the billboard charts. With increased marketing comes a greater possibility that fans will purchase clothes online. “The downfall with many companies is that they just use their websites for advertising. Many people are looking for new styles and there has to be the potential to purchase – that is the key,” says Mendoza. Interest also comes from people that retailers cannot reach – those who do not have a store nearby, even in metropolitan areas – and those keen to have the latest style that is already sold out. “After we send a newsletter, there is a 300% increase in sales for the next three days or so,” he says. “But the great thing is that the Internet is interactive – email newsletters are easy to forward, so it creates real, grassroots word of mouth.”