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What telecom can learn from fashion

Oct 01, 20026 mins
Telecommunications IndustryWi-Fi

Telecom does not have a monopoly on being a cutthroat industry. In fact, there are other good analogies to be made – the most frequent one being the airline industry, where traffic, routes, capacity and other themes are common.

Telecom does not have a monopoly on being a cutthroat industry. In fact, there are other good analogies to be made – the most frequent one being the airline industry, where traffic, routes, capacity and other themes are common.

Probably one of the last places you’d look for parallels is in the fashion industry. We find it hard to imagine Bert Roberts strolling down the aisle in the latest boxer accessories, or tabletalk at a conference being about the latest shoeware for tradeshows.

But the fashion industry is cutthroat, and the way they market is something to be admired, watched and learned from. We hear that new car model colors are influenced, in part, by the latest tie colors, as ties are somehow predictive of what people like to see.

Now, let’s start this off by noting very clearly – we’re no fashion experts.  Danny rarely gets beyond his boxer shorts and a t-shirt for a day in his home office, and Claudia is dressed for horseback riding half the time.

But being marketing strategists, we read a lot of marketing articles, fashion ones included. Fashion tells us a lot about consumer tastes and habits.

So how is the fashion industry working through these tough times? Seemingly by playing down its arrogance, becoming more practical, and catering less to neat new trends and more towards basics.

But being basic still needs to communicate a different approach, and many retail outlets are having problems with this, we hear. A trip through the mall today looking for back-to-school specials says one thing – everything looks the same. The wide and differential variety has been replaced by muted back-to-basics for styles and colors, in an attempt to not rock the boat and appease the largest segment of people. An article in the New York Times recently stated that this has backfired on the industry because it has made it easy for people to get the “same thing” at lower priced outlets. No one can tell the difference.

If you want to spark a purchase, you need to cater to the person inside. Fashion is the penultimate in buying on a whim and instant gratification. In thinking about where the Internet has taken us, it’s made us more “fashion-like” – we want it now, and we’re happy only when we find just what we wanted. E-commerce makes buying a click away, and is redefining the channels used to push fashion (although nothing beats the mall for teenagers).

Probably the most indicative of this trend is the magazine, Lucky. It’s doubtful you read this magazine unless you have a teenage girl in the house, but it’s a cross between a fashion catalog and a magazine – where every page looks like an advertisement, even the editorial content pages, but in a magazine-type way. The focus is on exposing would-be buyers to all their options in a given area – a buyers’ guide, so to speak.

The person who launched Lucky came upon the idea after watching “Clueless,” the 1995 teenage movie in which the main character (played by Alicia Silverstone) chooses outfits based on a whim and not on the season’s fashion mandates, wearing a miniskirt one day and a maxiskirt the next. One Lucky feature is the “trend of the month” – acknowledging the fleetness of trends. Lucky also lacks some of the coastal biases of other fashion magazines – displaying products that are only shipped nationwide, so it’s not pitching you stuff you can’t get.

Another area where fashion has adapted is logos. You see a lot fewer of them as conspicuous as before (although Claudia says they are still hip in Dallas and New York). If you get dragged into a woman’s store, and you actually look around, you may not see many CC’s from Chanel, G’s from Gucci, or LV’s from Louis Vuitton. Some fashion experts say designers are far more muted now in their approach to linking brands with their products. Why? They went overboard and emphasized these logos to the point of customer exhaustion. Customers just wanted a great looking bag or belt.

Across the board, according to various articles we happen to have read on fashion, the whole arena seems simpler, less logo-y, more varied, and trying to be full of customer choice, because they don’t know what customers are going to like from day to day. Betting on trends is simply too costly these days, we hear.

So how’s this like telecom?

  • People are buying what they need and want, not what magazines, analysts and other pundits are telling them to buy. The herd mentality is not as strong as it once was.  It does not matter what’s on the runway (at the conferences) or in the publications (fashion or telecom); people are simply making a lot of their own decisions, in their own way, at their own pace.

  • Publications are more and more saying the same thing, and there are fewer magazines around to say anything. The lack of anything new to really say is remarkable. The angle is more important now than ever before.

  • Logos and other marketing brands are not what they once were. While everyone knows a lot of brands, the stability and trust that comes with a brand cannot be relied upon anymore. So they are just not nearly as emphasized in the buying process.

  • Vendors need to be able to handle all sorts of requests, and yet it costs a lot of money to stock many interfaces and product lines. So companies are specializing, dropping lines that are not so focused. This places a stronger emphasis on those who put it together – the systems integrators/value-added resellers (SI/VAR) and the enterprises themselves. The carriers often take too long to make decisions for vendors who need sales THIS quarter. Indeed, three years ago, vendors used to talk about how critical the service providers were to moving their products into enterprises. Now, more talk is about direct-to-the-enterprise, SI/VAR channels, and direct ordering interfaces directly off vendor Web sites.

  • It’s no longer about trying to sell everyone that your product idea is the next big thing, because that alone won’t get you funding or sales. It’s about selling to a segment of the market that really likes and wants your product, and marketing very specifically to that group.

We’re not saying this is good, or the way a good market should operate. It’s the environment today, and it creates new challenges for service providers and vendors to articulate their value proposition and make it seem trendy, while at the same time being just what people need. Perhaps this is the answer for telcos – letting people know more about their overall options as opposed to trying to pick out the latest trends.  It’s just awful when you recommend plaid when someone wants pastel.