Written by Alma Laihanen
With the myriad marketing messages and the vast amount of information available online, more and more companies are considering new ways to grasp the attention of their customers. Building buzz; creating authentic, user-generated content; and harnessing the power of community in social media are crucial for maximizing brand management efforts in today’s marketing scene (Christodoulides, 2009; Fournier & Avery, 2011). These features of the age of social media have contributed to create new platforms, one of which is fashion blogs. Fashion blogs are constantly increasing in popularity, which can be clearly seen in the Swedish context. Many Swedish fashion bloggers consistently reach large audiences – already in 2013, often over 100,000 readers per week (Pihl & Sandström, 2013). This trend of consumers turning to blogs for shopping advice and inspiration poses a promising opportunity for fashion brands – but which factors should companies consider before catching the wave?
This paper, concentrating on the Swedish fashion blogosphere, will first discuss two important features of fashion blogs – the power of bloggers as opinion leaders, and blogs as a source of authentic and trustworthy information for readers. Examples from a Swedish fashion blogger, Hanna Stefansson, will be used throughout to illustrate these two features. I will then discuss how these two features concern fashion brand managers and will offer practical advice on how fashion blogs can be included in fashion brands’ marketing strategies – and why this is an opportunity that these brands shouldn’t miss.
The new pack of opinion leaders
The influencers in today’s society are less and less frequently the big, multinational brands. Consumers’ trust in brands is declining (Smith & Taylor, 2004), which has contributed to the rise of a new type of opinion leaders in the modern marketplace – the fashion bloggers. These powerful individuals might be hard to identify, as “they are not formal experts, they do not necessarily provide advice but other buyers are influenced by them” (Smith & Taylor, 2004, p. 77). In Sweden, several fashion bloggers who started blogging as a hobby have made fashion into a career and have a great degree of influence over their readers. They have a strong reputation for their fashion knowledge and many are even considered celebrities (Pihl & Sandström, 2013).
Hanna Stefansson is an example of this new breed of Swedish celebrity fashion bloggers. Having started fashion blogging in 2008, she now has her own blog at Elle.se, and has over 55,000 followers on her Instagram page.
Swedish fashion blogger Hanna Stefansson. Picture from hanna.elle.se, with caption: Coat from Mads Nœrgaard, red cashmere knit from Radical Zoo, jeans from Levis, earrings from H&M, boots from Zara and bag from Marni. [Accessed 13 November, 2016]
The picture used above from Hanna Stefansson’s blog exemplifies the growing trend of a specific type of post – called ‘outfit of the day’. This post type is becoming increasingly popular among Swedish fashion bloggers, whereby bloggers post a picture of themselves in the clothes they are wearing on a certain day (Palmgren, 2009). This is a promising opportunity for fashion brands, as bloggers often include information where they purchased each element of the outfit in the blog post – and if they don’t, readers are usually quick to ask about the pieces that they are interested in. Influential bloggers who post about the clothes they are wearing attract a large audience and as a result, increase awareness among their readers of the fashion brands or particular pieces of clothing that they have chosen.
Especially celebrity fashion bloggers with large numbers of followers are often sponsored by fashion brands and for that reason mention outfit details in the caption. However, even more unprofessional bloggers often include details in their posts and are genuinely willing to share their finds or good deals with their followers – and as opinion leaders, their recommendations will likely be listened to.
Blogs – Sources of authenticity and trust
Today, customers trust messages that come from another consumer, who gives a genuine recommendation based on their real experience – and less and less likely the messages that come from the brand itself. It is in the best interest of the brand to show itself in the best possible light – fellow consumers, on the other hand, don’t have the same ulterior motives and are thus more likely to be honest about the brand and its performance and benefits. Indeed, the popularity of fashion blogs is strongly linked to the fact that they are perceived as sources of authentic and trustworthy information. Consumers tend to find bloggers’ recommendations credible – many bloggers have created strong reputations for their knowledge of the best places and brands to shop. What’s more, consumers often trust bloggers significantly more than other media sources (Johnson & Kaye, 2004; Pan & Chiou, 2011; Hsu, Lin & Chiang, 2013; Pihl & Sandström, 2013).
This illustrates the fact that brands cannot hope to get their message across merely through traditional marketing and advertising means anymore. In today’s consumption environment, consumers are bombarded with different messages, making it difficult to know which information to trust and which not to. Thus, being considered authentic and genuine is one of the most valuable characteristics that modern brands can possess. As Fournier and Avery (2011) describe: “The authentic brand is willingly open and honest. You see what you get with an authentic brand, for that brand has nothing to hide.” (p. 198) This perceived openness and honesty of brands can be increased when fashion brands are featured on fashion blogs. If the brand image portrayed on the fashion blogs is in keeping with the image that the fashion brand itself presents, the messages that consumers receive on these different platforms will match and will serve to give an image of a genuine, transparent brand. What is said about the fashion brand is no longer controlled solely by the brand itself – instead, the generally honest and genuine recommendations by fashion bloggers are increasingly shaping the image of fashion brands.
The fact that fashion bloggers often use a personal, interactive writing style and may even share private details about their life in their posts further contributes to the feelings of authenticity that readers attach to blogs and, in turn, possibly to the featured fashion brands. Seeing fashion brands in the setting of the blogger’s private life can indeed make the brand seem more genuine and close to the customer (Pihl, 2013). The personal connection makes readers feel involved in the post and the blogger’s life, enhanced by the fact that bloggers frequently respond to reader comments and questions too. Personal communication style is exemplified in this blog post by Hanna Stefansson:
I’ve finally found it. My scent. Remember when I was in London earlier this summer? Me and Sofia visited the Le Labo store in Shoreditch and I fell in love with the bottles and the scents. Tried the Thé Noir which I also really love but this one is it!
From Hanna Stefansson’s blog, bloglovin.com. [Accessed 16 November 2016]
Addressing the readers and using a casual writing style, for example, make the blog feel more personal and approachable – and it would seem safe to say that it increases the perception of the brand mentioned as well.
What does this all mean for fashion brands?
Fashion bloggers today are powerful influencers whose recommendations can have an impact on various stages of the consumer buying process, from recognition to information search to the final purchase decision (Hsu, Lin & Chiang, 2013). Thus, working with fashion bloggers – both celebrity bloggers and less professional ones - can bring fashion brands awareness, an increased chance of being considered in the search process, and eventually new customers. Pihl (2013) suggests the creation of a portfolio of brand ambassadors for fashion brands, and fashion bloggers offer a great opportunity for this - especially in the Swedish context where fashion bloggers are both numerous and have significant influence and status. However, there are some important considerations that brand managers need to take into account when leveraging the power of the fashion blog.
Consumers, especially young ones who are accustomed to a myriad of marketing messages targeted at them constantly, can be suspicious of overtly commercial messages (Liljander, Gummerus & Söderlund, 2015). This applies in the context of fashion blogs as well – consumers today are critical and aware of the marketing tactics of brands. Blog posts that are too evidently sponsored by a company can not only negatively affect the purchase intentions and decisions of consumers, but also hurt the credibility of the blogger (Pihl & Sandström, 2013; Liljander, Gummerus & Söderlund, 2015).
Thus, brand managers need to ensure that the sponsorship is revealed in an optimal way in the blog post. Because of the suspiciousness and strong reluctance to be deceived of today’s consumers, honesty seems to be the best policy. If a blogger is paid to feature a product on their blog, they should acknowledge it openly, but in a positive light – thus, not overemphasize it (Liljander, Gummerus & Söderlund, 2015). In this way, the consumer is left to make the final decision whether to purchase the product or not, without feeling coerced.
Thus, fashion brands should seek out influential bloggers and ensure that they are talking and creating conversation about their products. However, having the brand worn by the bloggers and shown on their blogs is not sufficient. Brands also need to make sure that consumers can easily convert the recommendation into a purchase decision – the blog should have a working link to the brand’s shopping website, and the website should have the recommended products easily available (Hsu, Lin & Chiang, 2013). The company can also feature the blogger/blog post on the brand’s website or highlight the blogger’s recommendation in an email or SMS (Hsu, Lin & Chiang, 2013). Further research is needed to investigate how well each of these strategies translate into increased sales, and what other steps fashion companies can take to optimally benefit from cooperation with fashion bloggers.
Social media and user-generated content are becoming an increasingly large part of consumers’ everyday lives. The way in which consumers perceive brands is changing, and new players have a growing control of these perceptions (Pihl & Sandström, 2013). It is no longer enough for a successful fashion brand to design the most fashionable collections – they need to be able to act in this modern and multi-faceted marketplace, and understand the new channels that consumers turn to. Over the last decade, the whole shopping experience has overcome a dramatic change, and fashion companies need to understand where today’s consumers go when looking for inspiration and shopping for clothes – and in the Swedish fashion context, it seems that more and more often, their journey starts at fashion blogs.
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