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Gap, TechStyle Group Reveal Social’s Influence on Brand Marketing Today

Just how much is social media influencing the way fashion brands reach and market to customers?

At Advertising Week in New York City, Gap’s chief marketing officer and the chief media officer from TechStyle Group described how platforms like Instagram and Facebook affect how they market to consumers for whom the smartphone is but another appendage.

TechStyle Group rose to power on the backs of megawatt celebrities, but that could start to change in the near future. While some of the brands under its umbrella are virtually synonymous with a high-profile personality—such as Kate Hudson’s Fabletics or Savage X Fenty by Rihanna—TechStyle chief media officer Laura Joukovski said the digitally native company is rethinking its approach to connecting with consumers.

“I personally believe … that people enjoy discovering brands from [regular] people,” Joukovski shared. “The less glossy and slick your ad looks, the more people are inclined to feel good about that.”

Though flipping the script “is not easy for data-hungry people like me,” Joukovski said TechStyle is seriously exploring the mechanics of ceding content creation and audience reach to the talents of top social media influencers who can help the fashion conglomerate access new audiences and strengthen others. Plus, the young consumers who spend seemingly every waking moment of their lives on Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube gravitate toward “creators” like them rather than the carefully managed personas that Hollywood churns out, making TechStyle’s potential social shift a smart one.

As part of that process, TechStyle will be considering putting out not just stories about their products—from fashion-forward ShoeDazzle footwear to workout-ready Fabletics leggings—but also how people use and experience them and share their personal stories with others, Joukovski noted.

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Gap CMO on the power of a small idea

Walking into a brand with nearly a half-century legacy of iconic advertising is no small feat, said Gap CMO Craig Brommers, who joined the San Francisco-based apparel retailer in 2016 from Abercrombie & Fitch. But the rapid diversification of marketing channels and social media’s increasing prominence required Gap to “completely rework the way we do marketing campaigns,” all within the past 18 months, Brommer explained. The introduction of Instagram Stories, which has exploded to 400 million daily active users in June 2018, from 100 million in October 2016, has been particularly influential.

“Most of our customers are starting with the device in their hand,” Brommers explained. “That’s where we actually start the process from a campaign perspective.”

Thinking social-first can be a major adjustment for brands accustomed to conceiving creative for large formats like television and side-of-the-road signage, but these consumer-driven networks come with double-edged advantages, too.

“Platforms like Instagram and Facebook free us to make a quick mistake, but hopefully not a monumental one,” Brommers explained. “It’s actually allowed us to be better risk takers, knowing it’s not a Times Square billboard that’ll be up there for a month or two. Sometimes it’s a great place to push a few buttons and see what the customer reaction is, and double down on the things that work.”

Though marketers always aim for the big idea that creates a cultural moment, sometimes it’s the “small” moment—on a smartphone’s small screen—that ends up taking on a life of its own. That was the case for Gap’s February ad, posted on Instagram, that in promoting the brand’s new Love by GapBody line of intimates and sleepwear featured a black mother breastfeeding her child—and instantly struck a chord with consumers who praised the brand for its simple and sensitive depiction of a routine, but sometimes demonized, part of rearing a young child.

“Even the power of a smaller idea can go viral,” Bommers said of the campaign.

The marketing chief credits Gap’s investments in marketing and “big ideas” with data-driven signs of a brand turnaround in 2017, including not only the best traffic numbers in 11 years but also the highest brand health scores and the first positive customer acquisition trends in a half decade.