Fashion Briefing: Is new access to data stifling fashion’s creativity?

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Creativity in the data age

Brands have more access to data than ever, and the current economic climate is pushing them to focus on short-term, data-driven decisions with the least amount of risk associated. Brands like J.Crew and Chico’s have turned their attention to marketing to their existing loyalty customers, for example.
But the reliance on data is a double-edged sword. For one thing, it can be complex to figure out which data points matter. A survey from February by Salesforce of 10,000 business owners found that nearly a third were overwhelmed by the amount of data to sift through. And in fashion, in particular, there’s the dual danger of letting data override creative decisions. Fashion brands are often successful based on their ability to stand out and set trends, but an overreliance on data means those brands are instead following trends.
“I started marketing in 2002, and I came into it as just someone who loved fashion and wanted to be creative,” said Jann Parish, CMO of the women’s boutique Francesca’s. “In the age of the glossy magazine, there was this adage that you couldn’t measure marketing, so all that mattered was: How good do the photos look? How beautiful is the product you made?”
That’s no longer the case, Parish said. In lean times, measurability often trumps creativity. For its part, as the economy has worsened, Francesca’s has more heavily leaned on readily reliable data than ever before. It now runs brand-building campaigns only a few times a year, with retargeting existing customers as the new priority.
In a World Federation of Advertisers survey conducted at the end of 2022 on what’s stifling creativity, more than 600 advertisers laid out what elements are hampering creativity in marketing. Fifty-one percent said a financial risk-averse culture, 48% said a short-term focus, and 44% said having too many decision-makers involved.
But some brands are still making an effort to try new things, whether that’s in marketing or product design, even without hard data to support the strategy. Jeff Rudes, CEO of the California fashion brand L’Agence, said he only relies on data for some things. For example, his team, including designer Tara Rudes-Dann, refers to data regularly when analyzing previous collections to see what kinds of products sold well and where. That data can then inform decisions like where to send inventory and where to open new stores. But when it comes time to design a new collection, Rudes-Dann is often guided more by things she’s picked up organically.

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