Who doesn't love style and fashion? Well, I suppose I don't love fashion, judging from my incredibly poor clothing selection skills (I rely 100% on my wife, who has mad skills when it comes to picking out good looking clothes) but I am in love with style. I love to feel cool. In my case this translates to gadget head stuff, but in the case of many, its clothes that make the hip man or woman.
But oddly, despite the fact that clothes and styles are a primo topic of discussion both at schools, on the street, while watching makeover shows, or "Who Wants to be the Next Supermodel," there have been no social networks or communities built around the retail apparel world. I'm not saying there isn't innovation or there aren't Facebook pages. Retail apparel companies galore have Facebook fan pages and they tweet. J.C. Penny's has a Facebook page targeted at teens that links back to an ecommerce site for back-to-school clothes. American Eagle has Mike Dupuis, a VP of Digital Marketing who works their Twitter, Facebook etc. strategy. Bebe's, Candie's and other apparel - especially younger apparel stores/chains have some presence on social networks of others creation.
But I gotta tell you, its taken a visionary dude that I met when both he and I spoke at the Global Retail Marketing Association (GRMA) - an rather astonishingly interesting association run by Stephanie Fischer - national conference in April to take the retail apparel world where it's supposed to go with social networks. That would be Jay Dunn, VP of Marketing at Lane Bryant, who, today, is hard launching Inside Curve - a social network, sponsored by Lane Bryant, for plus sized woman.
What makes this important is several fold (please see my article later this month on vertical communities at SearchCRM for more conceptual detail):
- Apparel of any size are an emotional buy - totally tied into style, look and feel, and even identity and self-worth. Studies have been done that show how emotional this actually is. One 2008 Fitness magazine study of woman who were trying on clothes in stores found that 64% (80% among those who thought they had to lose 30 pounds or more) of the women felt that shopping for clothes was bad for their self-confidence; 10% admitted to crying in the dressing room. Even trite expressions are tied to this intensely emotional activity and product - "clothes make the man." Of course, if that's true then I'm in real trouble. Sniff.
- Buying clothes is something that is important for socialization. Multiple studies since the 1980s and through today, have shown two things - 1. What kids wear is important for a child's socialization into the world of other children; 2. Buying clothes without their parents, with their own money is one of the more important acts of growing up as an independent person for a kid when they reach a certain age.
In other words, clothes - how you wear them and what you wear are a deeply personal part of a person's life, and, unless you're a nudist, skinny dipping or having sex (at least most of the time), a necessity of ordinary life along the lines of food and shelter.
So what's the Inside Curve story with all this?
A Really Good Inside CurveLet's face it. Plus sized women don't fit the stereotypical view of the perfect body. The fashion industry to give you a number, says a plus sized woman is size 14 and weighs 162.9 pounds. Let's hear what Jay has to say which will give you an idea of the beauty of Inside Curve as a community.
“The plus-size woman has been excluded from mainstream media, fashion, and advertising for 4 decades. If you think back to the 1950s and early 1960s, the icons of femininity were voluptuous women such as Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. In 1966, Twiggy hit the scene and the “thin is in” movement started and continues to this day. Kate Moss is Twiggy reimagined.
"The psychology of the plus-size woman has been altered by the fashion industry’s insistence on “beauty” as “thin.” As you look at the blogs and social networks you see those women have an immediate bonding, a commonality, a shared experience of exclusion that becomes the foundation of community. A “community by exclusion,” if you will.
"An interesting aspect of exclusion: when enough of the “excluded” bands together, their identity can change from “exclusion” to “exclusive.” Suddenly, a new tribe develops, with a language, rules, desires, and needs based on shared experience. And if you’re not one of them, if you are not a size 14+ woman, you do not belong. It is the power of the tribe, and the psychology changes from one of weakness to one of authority."
What Jay and Lane Bryant had to consider was how do you turn what organically was a community of exclusion and institutionally make the membership a powerful organized voice.
Lane BryantKeep in mind, Lane Bryant is hardly a stranger to the world of the plus size woman. They actually invented both the concept and the clothes. They have over 800 stores located throughout the U.S. that deal exclusively with this group of people. As Jay says, "Lane Bryant never deviated from the plus-size category. we invented it....For over a hundred years we've done only one thing and that's plus-size apparel for the American woman."
But that didn't mean that Lane Bryant was ready for the development of this ambitious social network project. Their focus and culture, like most apparel retailers, had been sales and product focused. It wasn't easy to go from a "plus-size retailer who sold women's apparel" to a "fashion-retailer who sells plus-size." While that might sound like marketing, its actually a culture change that takes the social customer's emotional experiences with not just Lane Bryant but why they buy clothes and want to feel good about how they dress and what they buy. That culture change took well over a year to evolve, but it did and Inside Curve was born.
Inside CurveSo what does Inside Curve provide to plus-size women that makes it something Social CRMers like us can be glad to see?
First, take a look at this image of the site: So you can think about it and feel it a little at the same time.
Inside Curve is focused on customer engagement. While Lane Bryant does advertise some of their wares, which is something which will test as good or bad over time, they also involve the customers in finding out what they think and how they think. Customer driven product reviews, design tips and style advice in the Buzz section not just from the experts but also from the customers themselves, discussions on fashion trends, behind-the-scenes exclusive stuff, and even promotions and savings for members of the network are part of the experience designed to reinforce the development of what Jay Dunn unashamedly calls "a sisterhood." Blogs are an integral part of Inside Curve, too. Blogs, articles, etc. are written by Jay's staff, with some forthcoming expert commentary from the Lane Bryant trend group and other fashion experts in the brand.
They aren't ignoring the glam either - which, regardless of how you view the fashionista world and the catwalk, is something that zillions of "ordinary" humans pay attention to. They are involving the Lane Bryant models "behind the scenes" content that would show what goes on in a photo or video shoot; content from the TV show More to Love with clips that will be for the site and other glitz of interest to the members.
While Lane Bryant plays a major role in the blogging and the content exclusive site, they are playing much more hands off when it comes to forums and groups. Not only are they allowing them to grow organically in Inside Curve, but also are encouraging external growth too. They are fully aware that their customers are using social media to communicate. Consequently, Lane Bryant sees its role as providing brand content.
"We want to allow 'inside' access to the brand, thus the name. If ever there were a brand with whom its customers feel a "lovemark" connection, it's this one."
As of this morning, Inside Curve had 3642 members - prior to launch - an auspicious start.
Thoughts? Of Course!A couple of things.
Notes to Lane BryantFirst, would I do anything different, add anything, or at least monitor some of the more touchy areas? Yes, of course. What would this be posting be without me being opinionated? Here are a couple of iniitial thoughts on that.
- I think that I'd minimize the advertising and clearly differentiate it from the brand content. Until the community is substantially large enough and has the confidence of its members, the advertising can be detrimental. I'd tread lightly.
- I think too that I would make a serious effort to encourage and support a blog or two from members of the community, not just experts.
Community Building NotesThere is one exceptionally important pioneering lesson in the Lane Bryant community that I want to make emphatic.
With the creation and launch of Inside Curve, Lane Bryant is institutionalizing an already existing community of people who have no organization and loose ties. The plus size women are as he called them "a community by exclusion" that grew organically - almost protectively. They've had a presence but no organization. Now they do have that presence under the umbrella of a trusted brand.
There are many groups like this out there that have grown organically and are loosely tied. You can point to the PC gamers community for example. If I were a business, I'd take the Lane Bryant lesson and find those that are there, identify who the influencers are and engage the influencers - who are the glue of the loosely tied - in helping me build my institution so that these loosely tied, organically created groups are supported by your brand. There is mutual value to be derived in that - more on that in an article I'm preparing for SearchCRM today.
What Lane Bryant has done is important - for plus size women and for Social CRM community practices. For the plus size women - they have a place to go to converse and benefit and in return, Lane Bryant benefits too. For Social CRM community practices - providing a model that recognizes that the community doesn't have to always be built - it can be captured.
That works too.