Lessons From Fashion Digital: The Divide Between Creative and Data

By ​Jacob Ajwani

June 18, 2013

A few weeks ago, I was at the Fashion Digital conference in Los Angeles, a gathering of the top fashion and apparel brands in the world. I learned a lot at the conference, and it was great to hear how leading companies are developing and executing their online strategies.

But throughout the conference, something had been nagging me. And on the plane ride back to the East Coast, I finally figured out what it was.

I realized most of the fashion brands I’d spoken with fell into one of two camps. The first camp was concerned almost entirely with the creative experience presented to customers online. The creative camp was focused on the appearance of its homepage, website, and landing pages. Much of this camp’s discussion was around website branding.

Meanwhile, the other camp of fashion brands was focused on being data-driven in order to truly understand their customers and deliver a relevant online experience. This involves creative assets, sure, but their conversations were centered on catering to the customer. These brands were talking about the importance of failing swiftly and often, and then iterating to quickly apply what they’d learned based on their data points. The simple fact is that the fashion companies focused on being data-driven in order to become customer-centric have been on a trajectory to increase revenue per visitor.

I thought it was an interesting split in philosophy for these companies, particularly as I spent more time speaking with those fashion brands in the creative branding camp. When I asked “Where do you see your business heading?,” those brands almost universally told me they wanted to deliver a personalized experience to visitors.

And it left me scratching my head a bit because that’s like trying to shift from first gear into fifth without hitting a gear in between.

So how can a brand that has been prioritizing branding and creative as the main driver of brand recognition and revenue make the switch to being data-driven and customer-centric? It’s not easy, because it does require a shift in mindset. But it can be done, and the rewards for companies that do it well are huge.

The first step in changing that mindset: Start with the homepage. The homepage is where many company assumptions live, and it’s the perfect place to begin allowing data to tell you what customers really want.

Let me give you an example. I know of one retailer that wanted to make sure the homepage experience it was delivering resonated with visitors. The brand had always relied on a tried-and-true wireframe for its website.

OutdatedLayout

Look familiar? It should. Many brands rely on a similar layout, with a giant promotion as the hero image offering free shipping or 25% off of your order. It’s not a bad layout, but it’s a blanket offer that doesn’t personalize the experience for visitors.

The retailer tried another homepage layout, one that had three columns promoting different categories and products.

NewArrivalLayout

After testing this homepage layout, the retailer found the three-column wireframe resulted in more than a million dollars of additional revenue every year. But even though the data showed that customers wanted that three-column homepage experience, the retailer reverted back to the original homepage layout.

Why? Why would a retailer that discovered a new layout that could drive more than a million dollars in additional revenue per year go back to the stagnant homepage it had always used?

This example points to exactly the shift that needs to happen for fashion brands to become truly data-driven. Being data-driven doesn’t mean A/B testing new website features and layouts only to go back to the one you’ve always used.

Rather, being data-driven means allowing your customers to tell you what they want and responding to that. It doesn’t mean testing a new way of doing things, discovering it works for your customers, and then going back to the same old way of doing things. It’s time, particularly in fashion, for there to be one camp. It’s time for all fashion brands to become data-driven and customer-centric, because the bottom line is that a pretty photograph and nice branding just aren’t enough for our clients anymore.

Fashion Runway image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Jacob Ajwani is a former strategic services director at Monetate. As an early member of the Adobe Test & Target team (back when it was called Offermatica), Jacob became an established voice within the industry, pioneering personalization strategies for premier brands such as Audi, Disney, and Condé Nast. Between Monetate and Adobe, Jacob spent two years as vice president of client services for Cognitive Match, which focused on display ads, big data, and relevancy. Jacob is also an avid guest-blogger for Econsultancy.com.

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