Luxury brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton stand in the center of our pulsating pop culture, pumping out new trends and reaching consumers across generations. And their customers take pride in sporting Gucci G’s and Louis V’s. The value of those logos enables the brands to reap advertising benefits, long after their products are sold.
In many ways, that’s the promo industry’s ultimate dream: Getting end-users to wear a client’s logo with pride, accumulating brand impressions for months and even years after the merch is created. So, it’s worth taking a look at some of the tactics high -end fashion brands use to earn prestige and build customer loyalty — and how industry suppliers and distributors can adopt those same strategies in their own business models.
1. Keep up with trends and understand the marketplace.
“Fashion brands are just on the cusp or on the front lines of where our society is going,” says Jeremy Picker, creative director and CEO of Colorado-based apparel design and branded merchandise firm AMB3R Creative (asi/590243). “They start the trends two to three seasons ahead of time.”
Trends trickle down from high-end brands to smaller industries like promo constantly. For instance, streetwear styles that started with brands like Off White or Yeezy have now become a norm across industries. Even the color segmentations seen in the Yeezy brand, including many nudes and earth tones, have infiltrated retail across the world.
“For those distributers who are wanting to set themselves apart and become recession-proof, you have to know the marketplace – not just your opinion or your designer’s opinion,” Picker says.
It’s important to pay close attention to what’s happening online with other brands, especially since we live in such a digitally connected world, says Vicki Ostrom, futurist and trend analyst with Top 40 supplier SanMar (asi/84863).
The promo industry is targeting the same consumers who are surfing websites, seeing ads and receiving email blasts from hundreds of other brands. This exposure shapes consumer expectations. “When they look to us and our industry, they expect to see similar types of imagery, similar types of fonts, similar ways that the pictures are graphically put on the page,” Ostrom says. “They expect it to be seamless.”
Picker and Ostrom agree that ignoring other brands will set promo brands behind. “If we don’t change, we won’t be relevant,” Ostrom says. Whether it’s flipping through magazines, searching online or perusing social media, “You need to go where the consumers’ eyes are,” Picker says.
2. Use collaborations to connect to wider audiences and establish the brand.
In high-end fashion, famous models and celebrities constantly partner with luxury fashion houses. At events like the MET Gala, for instance, interviewers stand atop the red-carpet stairs, ready to ask not “What are you wearing?” but “Who are you wearing?” are you wearing?”
While it hasn’t been a typical practice of the promotional products industry, it could be worthwhile to collab with relevant figures for the target consumer base. And it may not require searching far and wide. “A smaller company could look right around in their own hometown and do a collaboration with someone local,” Ostrom says.
Co-branded merch and limited-edition drops are ways these collaborations surface in promo. Distributors could fulfill product needs for the next co-branded partnership, providing the canvas for new logo designs that combine brands, companies and figures. Some successful partnerships of the Recent pasts include Megan Thee Stallion and Popeyes, Subaru and LL Bean, and Nike and Apple.
Partnerships help brands establish credibility, and limited-time merch drops feed into a scarcity mindset that urges consumers to act fast. With proper digital marketing and relevant collaborative pairings, these high-end fashion tactics would work well in promo.
3. Pay attention to current social and cultural issues.
High-end fashion brands aim to appeal to broader social and cultural issues, whether that’s sustainability, diversity and inclusion, LGBTQ rights or gender equality. The luxury paradigms that once focused on gatekeeping consumers from the brand narrative have shifted to make consumers more included by reflecting their values.
The Luxury 3.0 report from HIGHSNOBIETY and Boston Consulting Group works to quantify “what matters most to the new generation of luxury consumers.” This report found that young consumers are seeking out inspiration and community and are connecting most to brands with cultural credibility.
“The luxury brands now, to younger people, really represent sustainability issues and all these very important social, cultural issues that matter to them,” Ostrom says. In fact, the report states, “Desirability in luxury today is driven by cultural credibility as much as by high-end products and experiences.” Brands who don’t pay attention to the values of the next generation lose relevance with them.
To reflect these values, there are a number of things suppliers and distributers can do. If the goal is to support sustainability efforts, look to using recycled materials. To promote racial and ethnic inclusion, diversify models used in catalogs and marketing materials. It might even be as simple as altering the product description to add greater appeal.
“People don’t want to be spoken to; they want to be a part of the creation of things now,” Ostrom says. Rather than being told what to wear, consumers are attracted to brands they feel a part of — ones that amplify their voices and provide products they see themselves using or wearing.
4. Don’t just sell the product — sell the lifestyle.
It’s undeniable that luxury brands are selling far more than just the handbag or the shoe; they sell the prestige and sense of exclusivity that follow, feeding off a need for creative self-expression, all in the context of a desirable lifestyle. Products are more likely to speak to consumers if they align with their lifestyle, or one they hope to adopt.
In order to help consumers envision themselves in the brand, they need more than a bland catalog picture. For promo, this means displaying products in a real-world setting placed with other complementary products. “Just putting a product on a blank background does not give any life to it,” Picker says.
One example of a supplier with appealing, effective lifestyle imagery is HanesBrands (asi/59528). Its Alternative Apparel brand is designed to resonate with those who value health, comfort, sustainability and minimalism. Models are photographed in a way that appeals to that aesthetic , pictured in lounging positions with white-washed brick backgrounds.
5. Be creative. Be daring. Be fun.
In an inherently creative industry like promo, Picker says it helps to allow designs to be curious and childlike to emulate the creativity of the fashion world. High-ends brands are constantly manipulating their logo when launching new lines. The fabrics, prints, colors and styles that gain popularity in the luxury fashion realm can be used to refresh a company’s logo. Stagnation and rigidity are the Achilles’ heel of a design-oriented industry like promo.
“The most important thing that we can learn from high-end fashion is its ability to break the rules and have fun with the product,” Ostrom says.