When Liz Met Twitter: Fashion Brand Taps Social Media

When Liz Claiborne relaunched its brand this year, 300 or so female consumers informed its marketing decision. Such insights weren’t culled from focus groups, but were pulled from online communications. Working with Communispace, Liz Claiborne execs considered the panel of 300 to be a “focus group on steroids” and were pleased with the results. Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman recently corresponded via e-mail with Dave McTague, Liz Claiborne’s evp, partnered brands. Here is their conversation:

Brandweek: Why did Liz Claiborne take this approach? Why not just use a focus group?

Dave McTague: We took this approach for the Liz Claiborne New York brand because we needed a more contemporary way to stay on the pulse of our consumers’ wants, needs, concerns and desires and an incremental methodology to connect with her. Social marketing is critical. And now more than ever, we must have a direct relationship with our customers in social spaces in order to thrive. Technology has allowed us to do this faster and more directly than ever before. Ours is a fast-moving industry and we need to be reacting to today’s needs as opposed to last year’s results. In order to get the insights and customer interaction we wanted, we partnered with Communispace to build a private online community to speak to our target in a meaningful way. The concept of a focus group, where a company engages with a small group of women at one point in time, taking her away from her normal day and routine, yields a very specific type of information and feedback. We needed this additional layer in real time and engaged her over an extended period of time. It’s authentic and goes deeper. We see the community not only as a group to test ideas with, but it also gives us the ability to stay on the pulse of what’s important to our consumers on a minute-by-minute basis as the world changes around her.

It’s like having a campus full of your customers down the hall and the ability to walk right in and sit down and chat with them at any time of the day or night. Then when you exit the room, because they like what you are doing with the brand and their input, they go out and tell their friends and family about your brand. That’s powerful content.

How did the 300 women contribute? Were they paid for their input?

The best insights we’ve gained were around her affinity for Isaac Mizrahi, our new creative director, and how happy she is to have him designing this line now. They love Isaac, they want more of him and they trust him. They see Isaac as the Martha Stewart of fashion and entertainment. They help us in a host of ways from checking out their local store sets and current product to previewing advertising imagery. We also learn a lot more about her from the engagement that is not even specifically about our brand or our product such as her financial concerns at the moment and how she prioritizes her life and time. As a true lifestyle brand, that kind of information is critical to ensuring that we are engaging her in a way that is always value added to her life — whether that means making her life easier, giving her solutions for her wardrobe or supporting the charities that she is most passionate about.

They receive rewards for levels of participation but are not overtly paid for that participation. We feel this is a more genuine approach — incentivizing with our own product and giving them first-time offers that they can turn around and gift to their own VIPs, fostering that brand ambassador role. These women are literally on call and we are able to tap into them for information as we desire. Within the course of a day we can deploy an inquiry or activity if we wanted to and get insight within the same day. These women want to be heard and we are listening and appreciating their efforts every day. Most importantly, we are delivering what she wants when she needs it.

How was the brand able to add these women’s voices to the eventual launch?

It’s helping us shape the way we market the product most of all. Isaac Mizrahi instinctually knows what product she needs and will look smart in season after season. The collaboration with the community helps us clarify the right product mix and assortments and fine-tune the messaging around it.

We learned a lot about what fashion means to our consumers and how she wants to be on-trend and smart in the way she appears. We gained a deeper understanding of her closet — the predominance of smart-casual dressing that is very much a part of our brand DNA. With that, we know that when she dresses for an occasion there are specific things she needs, looks for and expects from our brand and from Isaac. Our target consumer is the perpetual 35-year-old. We learned about what she thinks is pretty, practical, what she thinks is real and what she is inspired by.

Are there any downsides to taking this approach?

The only downside is the investment — it’s a very expensive investment to keep this community and eco-system engaged, but one we felt was very important to the relaunch of a brand as large as LCNY. We have Mizrahi and we have a celebrated 97 percent brand recognition for the Liz Claiborne brand name. A recent WWD published poll put us in the top 10 fashion brands in the U.S. and we are within the top five most important brands on our retailers’ floors now. While we went back to the true DNA of the brand, developed by Liz Claiborne herself over 30 years ago, we needed to confirm that the modernization and evolution was relevant to our consumers — most importantly our new consumers.

I know it’s important to hear what customers are saying, but shouldn’t a brand also lead customers to things that they don’t know they want (e.g., the iPod)? Is there a danger with listening too closely to consumers?

There is tremendous opportunity in connecting with and listening to our consumers. And there is an enormous amount of humility and respect we have for what is going on in her head, for what things are driving her crazy right now. And we know that apparel is a far distance from the priorities on top of her list. We must listen — and we don’t think we can ever communicate enough with her. That is where authentic innovation comes from. You just have to be smart enough to pick up on the cues and lead her to the next great solution, pleasure or fun that she didn’t even know she needed or wanted. And as that trusted resource, Liz Claiborne New York delivers great product in a way that is meaningful to our consumers because we are listening directly to her.