Tomaso Galli is the president of JTG Consulting, and has worked as communications director for Gucci and Prada. In 2010 he started JTG, a boutique firm specialising in marketing, image and brand management. Tank caught up with him to discuss the complex contemporary landscape of brands and consumers.
Interview: Masoud Golsorkhi
Masoud Golsorkhi From time to time brands need to reposition themselves as we have witnessed recently with the likes of Gucci and YSL. As journalists we are really excited by them, it’s fun and gets the creative juices flowing, but deep down I can’t help but wonder what happens to the existing customer.
Tomaso Galli That is a great question because the main risk when you reposition a brand is losing your customers in the pursuit of new ones. So a successful repositioning is one where you are not immediately changing your entire customer base, but you are slowly evolving it, adding new clients and keeping a significant part of your old customer base. Some typical cases of unsuccessful repositioning have been when the brand has alienated most of its old customers and has taken too long to acquire the new ones. The issue is, in fact, how to keep as many of the old customers as possible and rejuvenate or change or evolve to reach the new customers that better represent the new brand.
MG Is it a question of speed? What should be the frequency of acquiring new and losing old? I am assuming it’s impossible to do both.
TG First of all I don’t think that brands ever want to change 100 per cent of their customer base. Maybe it’s an attempt to rejuvenate or you understand that you’re not reaching a certain audience so you want to enlarge your customer base. The obvious answer to the timing question would be: “as quickly as possible”. But this process normally takes time. You can’t pretend to reach new audiences, to engage with them, to involve them and to acquire them as customers in the space of a few months. Typically, especially for a fashion brand, it is possible to quickly make an impact in the fashion community, meaning the press and the fashionistas but then in order to reach the real customer it takes a few seasons. It’s not something you can do in the space of one season, and most of the time not even in two.
MG It takes time.
TG If you look at Tom Ford at Gucci in the early nineties, that was a very, very fast turn around. But there you had the genius of Tom Ford and the Gucci brand … and that was happening a little over 20 years ago when there was a different appetite for fashion and there was a much less crowded market. Today I think it is a lot more complicated than it was at that time.
MG Yes, exactly.
TG Think about department stores, for example. They have so much choice. Typically when they observe a brand making significant changes or indeed repositioning, they will go to one fashion show, they will start to speak to the brand, they will go to a second fashion show, look at the evolution of the collection and the brand marketing efforts. They will want to see some continuity before changing their attitude towards the brand. So it naturally takes quite some time.
MG When a brand looks for and gains new customers, these people must be coming from somewhere. So brands have to cannibalise each other’s audience right? You have to stop being loyal to one brand and adopt a new one?TG Well, what I see more and more is that loyalty to brands has diminished substantially. Loyalty is something of the past. Who is now thinking about the “total look” anymore? Consumers today are looking for what they want now and whether they get it from one brand or another, doesn’t really concern them. Which is something that I find very healthy. Plus, think about the disruption brought by Zara and H&M. Today it’s all about mixing and matching. It has become totally acceptable to mix a beautiful luxury handbag with jeans or a very simple dress with incredibly beautiful and expensive shoes.
MG Do you think that the reason customers have become more promiscuous is only to do with fast fashion and the fact that there is a massive turnover of trends?
TG I think that there are a number of reasons, and one is definitely fast fashion. Another one is the range of products that the client has. In addition, society is changing and moving faster and faster. Look at the massive changes that are occurring in China; they have been very fast, and were mostly unpredicted. Until two years ago it was all about showing status and power. In the last 18 months, starting off with the anticorruption laws, but then going more deeply than that, it’s all about being more sophisticated in the way that you show your status: so no more logos anywhere. This has been so fast, it’s unbelievable, and nobody expected it. This is no insignificant challenge.
MG How do you advise brands based on that information? What is the best strategy as a business that needs to pay salaries every year and rents and overheads?
TG I’m not advising brands on how to evolve their style because that is the job of other people. What I’m telling fashion brands is that they have to evolve and learn how to analyse the markets and gather relevant information regarding consumers trends, fashion typically was lead by a PR and communications approach, where the job was “only” to get the brand message across. Now brands have to become a lot more savvy in terms of researching and understanding the clients and then engaging with them. Using the right tools and channels, providing creative directors and style bureaus with information about the market, that is a lot more valuable then it was 10 years ago. I’m not saying that creative directors have to rely on marketing to create, but I think they have to become a lot more marketing savvy too. Also, if you see the way that some of the younger creative directors are personally engaging with their audience by instagramming, tweeting, and by being in constant touch with their tribes, this is something that you would have never imagined in earlier times.
MG They become their own focus-group coordinators.
TG Sometimes yes, and I think that for some of the creatives of the past this might sound terrible, it might sound that it’s taking away their integrity. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, I’m just saying that’s the reality.
MG So do you think that as a result of these changes and these evolutions fashion advertising is going to become more and more like other forms of advertising? Because most of us have been with advertising agencies and attended focus-group meetings and know all about testing and evaluating objectively what an advertisement does. You know nobody would dare tell Miuccia Prada that her ad campaign doesn’t test well and we need to reshoot.
TG Well, I still haven’t seen typical advertising agencies doing great work in fashion.
MG That’s true.
TG The people who are involved in creating images for fashion have to become a lot more sophisticated in terms of understanding what kind of content the public wants. The kind of stuff that you for example are doing with Tank magazine and some of the innovations that you have brought, aimed at enabling brands to tell their stories in a more direct, stronger and more compelling way, that will continue to grow. When you ask many PR, communications and marketing people in some big brands how did their initiative go they will say, the designer – and I’m not going to name names – is very happy. That is the way they measured things but that is dying. Now, you not only have to do twenty shots for an advertising campaign but also provide images and videos of product and the brand all the time. The internet doesn’t stop in August when everybody goes on holiday in Italy and it doesn’t stop on Saturdays and Sundays and it doesn’t go for seasons, it is really 24/7. And you need people to provide content every single day. And, for that, you can’t rely on you know, Marc, Giorgio, Miuccia, Tom, Domenico, Hedi, Riccardo and Nicholas to approve every single cut and shot. It’s impossible. So you need people who are able to understand the market, who master the tools, and who have the professional skills to reach people, while also understanding and respecting the brand’s DNA and soul, and the message the designer is creating. It’s new and it’s creating the need for a lot of professional skills that don’t exist. And it’s difficult to translate from other industries into fashion.
MG Absolutely. One of the things that I have seen in other industries is that advertising and marketing campaigns are very market specific. So, for example, BMW never makes a global ad campaign, but one for China, one for Japan, one for Italy, and so on, because in each market its business concerns and business objectives are different. The brand position might be different, too. Fashion on the other hand is used to producing one campaign for all markets at the same time. Do you think that’s going to change?
TG I think at some point it will have to change. When you look at it. The typical answer of fashion people has been: we have one brand, one image and this is global. Which I totally understand and respect. But look at digital, social media. China, for example, doesn’t have the same social media that you have in the Western world. So it’s already happening that you need to address China in a completely different way. The interesting thing for me is that brands still need people who are able to distill the designer’s message and the storytelling into one global brand narrative that is consistently disseminated worldwide. Because it is always with the designer that the story starts. It’s with the marketing and communications people that it can reach a wider audience, along with customers.
MG What is the position of journalists and the fashion media in the new world of communications you describe? When designers communicate directly with their clients through Instagram, what use is journalism?
TG Independent journalism will continue to play a key role, as long as traditional media and journalists evolve alongside new technologies and new media. It is great for people to have an unfiltered view of their favourite designers. But it is also important to continue to have experts bringing us their point of view on the industry and its protagonists. What’s new, what’s relevant, who is emerging and who is ageing? Only through independent journalism is it possible to continue to stay on top of the game. When it comes to global news and events, personally I don’t trust uncontrolled sources and I only look at the Economist, the INYT or the FT. The same will continue to be true for fashion. The real issue is not Instagram, it’s when fashion companies become obsessed with editorial coverage compared to advertising investments.
MG As practices change they bring about opportunities but also risks. What are the risks of these new modes of communication for brands? Does it become easier to scramble messages?
TG The proliferation of communications channels makes it more complicated to ensure message consistency every day. How does one make sure that the brand narrative remains the same, when every medium requires adaptation, tailoring, compromise? As diplomatic as I am when dealing with people, I’m coming to hate the word compromise when it comes to image. Consistency in execution becomes more critical every day.
MG Finally, is there a risk in moving from a global message to multiple localised, specific market-driven communications?
TG The risk, as I said, is message dilution. But it is inevitable to localise, and even personalise, the narrative. You can’t stop, you have to embrace the new incredibly powerful opportunities to reach people with your story. And, this has created the need for even stronger central management of the brand, as all your localisation and personalisation must happen within the boundaries set by the brand custodians. §