The Digital Innovators: How Key Brands Are Reshaping Digital

fashion digital

Much like “curator” and viral” the word innovator has become a mainstream buzzword, with brands and designers (even bloggers) using it frequently in press releases, mission statements, and bios. To find the true pioneers of digital, one has to dig under the PR jargon and see what exactly brands are offering to their users. Is it an authentic online shopping experience, exclusive access to never-before-seen collections, original content? Not all digital marketing endeavors are created equal and we're kicking off a three-part series dedicated to Fashion's digital innovators. From beginning to end, we will discuss what it means to be an innovator and what we, the blogger and consumer, can expect from these influential brands.

What exactly is the word innovator? Why is it being used so much? And, lastly, who in the industry truly deserve that lofty title?

club monacoSimply put, to innovate means to invent or begin to apply. When I think about innovation, I immediately think of invention, research, creation. Other words that come to mind are bold, trend-setting. Head of Digital Innovation and Strategy for Group Partners, a London-based business strategy firm founded by John Caswell  and Retail & Business Columnist Macala Wright defines innovation as “When someone creates something that fulfills an unarticulated need (for people or groups of people). As an individual, when you're innovative, you're different, marching to the beat of your own drummer and doing things in ways no one else is.” For a specific brand, innovation is about offering an experience that your customer has never had before.

“Innovation is really defined by providing untapped value for our target audience,” says Club Monaco’s VP of Marketing, Ann Watson. She states, “Embracing change and having a culture that supports taking risks of course plays a big part in innovation, but ultimately it’s the ability to be a leader that constantly rethinks the way we do things today, and doesn’t just following trends or best practices within the industry.”

However, L2 Think Tank‘s Research Advisor Andrea Derricks states that innovation doesn't necessarily mean churning out new technology. “‘Innovation'” could mean that a parent company is integrating the same back end technology across all of its brands to gain efficiencies, or it could mean that a brand has decreased its checkout process to one click. These aren't trendy initiatives, but they are digital advancements that are making a huge impact on the way that brands sell to and engage with consumers online,” says Derricks.

Who can truly claim the innovative title?

Many brands aim to be innovative but only few come to mind.  Mashable’s Associate Business Editor Lauren Indvik states that brands who are doing inspiring creative digital work are ”Burberry, Oscar de la Renta, Net-a-Porter, Topshop. I think Club Monaco has really stepped up its game since it launched e-commerce, too.” From live-tweeting runway shows to offer Facebook exclusives to their fans, these brands are leaders because they not only have successfully launched new digital initiatives across multiple verticals, but because they have done so consistently and within their brand’s voice. Another leader in digital innovation? Tory Burch. Derricks explains, “The brand launched its first e-commerce site in 2004, and today is its biggest door globally. The brand has also led one of the few reported successful F-commerce experiences in the industry, providing its fans with exclusive sales and discounts.

The curious case about Oscar de la Renta, a major digital player in the industry, is that most of their digital marketing tactics have been geared towards a younger demographic than what their brand has traditionally targeted. From live-pinning to livestreaming front-of-house and backstage at their latest runway show, Oscar de la Renta isn't afraid to give complete access to their public. Another interesting note? These moves have been all low to no cost to the brand. Smart and savvy, as always.

Two other brands who are seeing success both digitally and socially are Modcloth and Bonobos. Maybe it's because they are both web-based and have already identified and implemented larger digital strategies but both Modcloth and Bonobos use these new platforms as a way to drive engagement and sales with creative sites, unique social campaigns and strong email marketing tactics.

Burberry Fashion

Last but not least, we have Burberry. Considered to be fashion’s ultimate digital trendsetter, CEO of Burberry Christopher Bailey recently shared with Mashable how he handles the race to innovation.

“I’ve never thought that we have to check a box every season to do something new, something that was newsworthy. It’s more for me that we’re doing things authentically.” It’s Bailey’s clear focus on his brand and consumers that allows him to take Burberry into new arenas without ever losing his audience or brand voice, which is something everyone (brands, bloggers) can learn from . It’s not enough to just grow, you have to grow well and authentically.

L2 Think Tank explains that brands like Burberry who constantly evolving and trying new tactics are able to break boundaries because of overall corporate culture and internal support. Derricks writes, “Many of the brands embracing digital from the top of the organization are the ones that are being allowed the most room to innovate. Burberry is a prime example of this, with CEO Angela Ahrendts consistently leading with digital on earnings calls. Her relentless support for digital and drive for innovation, combined with Christopher Bailey's creative vision, has resulted in cutting-edge initiatives such as Art of the Trench, Burberry Bespoke, and Burberry World Live – a 360 degree immersive experience that even included digitally-produced rain.” Innovation, much like creativity, doesn't breed when boundaries or restrictions are placed. An open mind and supportive team allow brands like Burberry the ability to push the boundaries.

And the ROI of Burberry's digital efforts? Talk about tangible results. Derricks states, “All of these digital projects combined appear to be paying off in tangible business results for the brand. For instance, Burberry is now driving 29.1% of its e-commerce site traffic from Facebook, compared to 1.9% in 2010.” For those who state that these new digital marketing tactics offer little ROI, I'd suggest them to refer to the case of Burberry and see the major takeaways. When done right, digital and social marketing can drive consumers straight to your sales. All it takes is a heavy dose of creativity, branding consistency and well-done execution.


How do you define innovation? What brands leave you the most inspired? Don't forget to stay tuned tomorrow for the second part of our Digital Innovators series where we will be talking about why brands don't embrace more adventurous digital tactics.

Image credit: (Oscar de la Renta Fall 2012 campaign by Craig McDean via FGR, Club Monaco lookbook via website, Burberry Resort 2013 collection via FGR)


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