Why your tech product is actually a fashion brand in disguise.

If I had a nickel for every time a tech founder told me “We aren’t a fashion product, we don’t need to use social media to sell our idea” and later discovered this wasn’t true, I would have my own agency. Digital communication is now an inherent part of our culture, the same culture that influences and drives sales. At the end of the day, you presumably want your technology to be adopted by other humans, which means that you need to look at industries, like fashion, that understand consumer behavior and effectively create sustainable demand for their products. I am not saying that you should actually market your brand as one would a handbag, but there are definitely affinities in how you can develop, communicate and design your product.

What strategies tech companies can learn & implement from fashion brands

Developing a signature brand

You’ve certainly heard about the importance of building a brand, but what does that actually mean for tech?

“If you can’t communicate who you are as a brand and the type of person who would identify with your core values and aesthetic, then you won’t be able to sell it to them.” Joey Ng, VP of Marketing, Naja.

Tech, like fashion, is highly fragmented and competitive, with a new product launching every day that threatens to disrupt the market. Therefore, it is essential to define what makes your product distinctive and to communicate this effectively. This is something that should be established from the very start, and should govern all initiatives thereafter. Every department within your company, from development to design should be on the same page about what makes your product better or unique and how you intend to communicate this through every touch point. Implementing this on a day-to-day basis requires that your brand identity becomes an integral part of your product development process and that content teams work closely with product and design teams. After all, building signature content will set you apart from competitors or copycats. In fact, the most innovative players in tech have been so successful in creating strong brands and values that one may question if they should even be considered a tech company. Looking at products like Airbnb and Uber, it is clear that culture and the human experience is an integral part of their branding. The more disruptive a product is, the more important it is to build trust and reflect cultural values.

Building a community

Social media is a channel that the fashion industry knows well. In fact, the sudden rise of luxury fashion brands like Burberry or even startup brands like MVMT watches via social media is unprecedented. The great thing about social media is that it’s one of the most inexpensive ways to grow your brand and reach audiences for both b2c and b2b products. You would expect that out of all industries, tech companies would be the early adopters of social media, considering they invented it. To clarify, social media is not about “selling a handbag”, it’s about engaging a community of humans — note, not users — who are interested in your company and product. It’s the one place you can have an open conversation and iterate your product quickly to serve your community’s needs.

Mailchimp is an excellent example of a tech company that thrives in areas that even the most ambitious tech companies ignore. MailChimp’s founders built the company slowly by anticipating customers’ needs and following their instincts, and can proudly boast more than 14 million people and businesses around the world using their product. If you’re not convinced, read, Farhad Majoo’s New York Times piece “Mailchimp and the Un-Silicon Valley Way to Make it As a Start-up”.

Creating an experience

Tech startups tend to pride themselves in being “agile”, “iterative”, “dynamic” and whatever other “It” word arises to express the open-mindedness, responsiveness and flexibility these companies possess. Of course, there are the thought leaders, disruptors and innovators, but in terms of design processes and strategies, start-ups tend to follow the widely popular industry-friendly rules to building their product and business. The great companies among those may even acknowledge, or better still revolve around, user-driven design and persona building. Strangely enough even these companies rarely design and develop completely immersive experiences for their users. Perhaps the issue is that we refer to them as “users” or “personas” in tech, which makes us forget that they are actually humans who respond to things the way you and I do.

On a theoretical level, fashion brands are experts in understanding human behavior and designing fully immersive environments for their audiences. In Regine Gilbert’s article she discusses how approaching UX design with a fashion designer’s eye can lead to a deeper and more empathetic understanding of optimal user experiences. On an even deeper level, fashion brands, and more so luxury brands, move beyond beautiful aesthetic designs to build complex emotional stories for their audiences. This explains the rise in popularity for handmade fashion products with an authentic story. The most effective brands meticulously craft entire visual and emotional worlds for their customers that are both interactive and collaborative. Tech companies have a great deal more resources and skills to craft these worlds, and as Alex McDowell argues there is a new toolset and new mindset available to the designer to build these immersive environments and create experiences of the future.

If I haven’t convinced you yet take a look at one of your favorite tech companies, Apple. In the past few years they have aggressively poached as many fashion executives as possible to take on leadership roles.

Granted you may not be enthused by the new iPhone, but you’ll still buy it.