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How to Build a Footwear Brand with a Voice

From efficient sourcing and product design, to public relations and social media, it isn’t enough to just make pretty shoes. Successful footwear companies are seen and heard. During a FFANY presentation, Modern Pulse Consulting Group Principal of Product Development, Deborah Cianciotta, outlined ways footwear brands and retailers can hone their message and become a brand with a voice.

Do your research
It doesn’t matter if you are a new brand or an established brand, Cianciotta says to never stop researching and discovering where there are holes in the market. “Did anyone see what sneakers would become,” she quipped. “Footwear is a cyclical business.” By keeping ears close to the ground and eyes on the runway, Cianciotta says a company with a strong point of view can identify upcoming ‘It’ items and repackage them in a style that suits the brand. For example, Chanel may be known for ballet flats and quilted uppers, but the French fashion house knows how to take those signature elements and re-imagine them as details on snow boots, oxfords, thigh-high boots or whatever the season’s major trend may be.

Define your audience
Understand the benefits—and limitations—of a public relations company. “PR companies are not there to figure out who you are. They are there to turn up the volume,” Cianciotta said. “It’s up to you to tell the PR company who you are and who you are talking to,” she added. Whether you’re a shoe brand or a shoe retailer, Cianciotta stressed the importance of learning your customers’ habits. “Are they celebrity or sport inspired? Where do they vacation? Who do they follow on social media today, not yesterday, because it changes that quickly,” she said. Don’t be afraid to involve your audience. Instagram and Pinterest are not just branding tools, but can be quick and free ways to glean feedback from your customer base.

Be unique
“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Cianciotta asked. With that mindset, Cianciotta says successful footwear brands separate themselves from the rest through their creativity and clear and consistent storytelling. “If you want to make something new, you have to look at it in a different way,” she said. “There are way too many people doing the same thing. Make it your own. Don’t take it from somewhere else. There’s no excuse for it.” Retailers are recommended to apply the same approach. “Stores need to be a brand and have a story. Create an experience that makes a customer feel a certain way,” Cianciotta said, noting that Anthropologie has excelled in creating a bohemian and handcrafted environment.