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Blogging, Branding, and Business: Transforming a Fashion Blog into a Successful Business

As fashion consumers continue to stray from traditional fashion magazines—pushing the media landscape further into the digital realm and into the hands of independent fashion bloggers—burgeoning bloggers have experienced new opportunities to establish themselves in the industry and build their own businesses by creating an initial online editorial presence.

These independent fashion bloggers have quickly metamorphosed into “front-row” socialites sitting alongside photographers and editors from major fashion magazines at runway shows, and have successfully earned their place among the fashion elites.  They have revolutionized the fashion industry by asserting themselves as potential advertising platforms, powerful consumer influencers, and popular fashion icons in their own right. Most importantly, they have become formidable fashion industry entities by cleverly turning their blogs into brands, and finally, into full-blown businesses with promising potential for growth.

 An illustration by French blogger Garance Dore, first used as unique editorial content for her self-named blog, differentiating it from photography-heavy competitors.  Illustrations like this are now being sold on her online boutique.

An illustration by French blogger Garance Dore, first used as unique editorial content for her self-named blog, differentiating it from photography-heavy competitors. Illustrations like this are now being sold on her online boutique.

Among the most prominent independent fashion bloggers, the path from establishing a blog with a substantial following, to strategically developing a brand and, finally, to capitalizing on industry opportunities, has generally followed a consistent course of action.    The most popular fashion blogs began as nothing more than earnest attempts to create outlets to express unique creative philosophies through words and images.   Kevin Ma, founder of the streetwear-inspired blog Hypebeast, began his blog as a destination for sneaker and street style enthusiasts to browse through photos of urban-inspired shoes and apparel.  The beloved blogger-turned-fashion icon Leandra Medine, founder of The Man Repeller, launched her blog as a site for quirky high-fashion aficionados to browse through her comical commentaries and personal style looks consisting of unconventional designer pieces typically considered “repulsive” by men.  Her offbeat yet undeniably likable tagline appropriately reads, “The Man Repeller is a humorous Web site for serious fashion.”

Like Kevin Ma and Leandra Medine, the most distinguished fashion bloggers also attracted their initial followings by creating unique and specialized content targeted at niche audiences.  The process of creating distinct content based on compelling concepts easily differentiable from other fashion blogs not only serves to attract loyal readerships, but also serves to mold fashion blogs into brands with unique identities and dynamic personalities capable of crossing the boundary from editorial into business.

After relying on word-of-mouth communication and social media mentions to raise initial awareness, and on strategic branding to create loyalty and differentiation, the most distinguished bloggers-turned-entrepreneurs relied heavily on traditional banner ads, sponsorships, and collaborations to generate early revenue.   Scott Schuman, founder of the photography-based fashion blog The Sartorialist, began generating profit by selling banner ads to retailers like American Apparel and Net-a-Porter, and then to bigger companies like Coach and Tiffany & Co. as website traffic increased.   Sponsorships and collaborations with mega fashion brands have also been a major strategy in not only generating revenue, but more importantly, in increasing brand awareness and creating powerful associations with established industry leaders.  After appealing to advertisers, the popular beauty blog Into The Gloss, founded by Emily Weiss and Nick Axelrod, caught the attention of cosmetic giant Lancôme which collaborated with the bloggers to create sponsored content promoting Lancôme’s new lipstick line. Similarly, Leandra “The Man Repeller” Medine  collaborated with Michael Kors on a video to help launch a new store in 2012 and later partnered with jewelry brand Dannijo to increase sales by producing videos and blogging about the company’s new collections.

Photo featured on the blog The Sartorialist by Scott Schuman. Street photographer Scott Schuman differentiated his blog from other fashion blogs by blurring the line between fashion and photography and focusing less on trends and apparel than on capturing the "essence" of his subjects.

Photo featured on the blog The Sartorialist by Scott Schuman. Street photographer Scott Schuman differentiated his blog from other fashion blogs by blurring the line between fashion and photography and focusing less on trends and apparel than on capturing the “essence” of his subjects.

By capitalizing on opportunities to sell advertising space and collaborate with established fashion brands, fashion bloggers have been able to generate the capital required to expand their blogs into new spaces like publishing, designing, and e-commerce.  Both Leandra Medine and Scott Schuman have published best-selling books based on their fashion blogs.  Medine has additionally collaborated with fashion designers like Aimee Cho of Gryphon to create exclusive clothing lines, featured on The Man Repeller of course.  Kevin Ma, founder of Hypebeast, ventured into e-commerce, first selling apparel from several up-and-coming brands and then moving onto luxury designer labels such as 3.1 Phillip Lim, using an integrated approach to combining editorial content with e-commerce to create a unique shopping experience.  Similarly, French blogger Garance Dore, founder of her self-named blog offering aesthetically striking editorial and multimedia content, has also expanded into e-commerce through a small online boutique selling her illustrations.

As changing consumer behavior and the new digital media landscape continue to provide fashion bloggers endless opportunities for growth and expansion into industry sectors like e-commerce,  the power and prestige of leading fashion bloggers-turned-entrepreneurs is expected to rise among fashion industry elites. The rise of blogs as potent advertising platforms is a truly revolutionary phenomenon in fashion, which opens the doors to talented young entrepreneurial creatives with limited capital but limiteless drive.

As reported by the blog The Business of Fashion, Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist comments, “You can really make a living out of this. It’s tough, but if you work really hard you can create a business, if you’re smart about it and have something real to say.”

by Chelsea Olivera, JHU junior

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JHU AMA Presents: Student Alumni Panel

Earlier this month, the Johns Hopkins University undergraduate chapter of the American Marketing Association (JHU AMA) kicked off its Fall Speaker Series with a panel of JHU alumni working in marketing and advertising capacities. These alumni included representatives from Under Armour, AOL Digital, T. Rowe Price, Stanley Black & Decker, IMRE, and Factory Athletics. Students interested in pursuing careers in marketing, advertising, and digital media fields attended the event to learn more about the various industries represented.

Alumni Taylor Schulte, Tyler Goodell, Claire Sandgrass, Zoe Longenecker-Wright, Dave Carisiti, and Jason Budden speak at the alumni panel.

Alumni Taylor Schulte, Tyler Goodell, Claire Sandgrass, Zoe Longenecker-Wright, Dave Carisiti, and Jason Budden speak at the alumni panel.

The alumni spoke about several topics, most of which focused on breaking into the marketing industry, tips for surviving your first few months on the jobs, and other pieces of advice centered on helping current students make the most of their college experience to prepare for a transition into the real world. Richard L, an event attendee, commented that “thanks to them [the alumni], I feel much more prepared to send out job applications than I had before.”

Some key takeaways from the event:

  • Connect, connect, connect! Expand your professional network by reaching out to people in the industry via LinkedIn. (Note: always send a personalized message when seeking to connect).
  • Try it out. Find an internship, either during the semester or summer, in a marketing-related field, to see if it’s for you. An internship in this field is also critical if you want to land a job at a firm.
  • Clean up. Make sure your social media pages are devoid of undesirable content and make sure your resume is always updated and polished.

The JHU AMA will be hosting multiple upcoming events, the next of which is on Monday, November 10th. Hershey Associate Brand Manager Anthony Criezis will be speaking as part of the AMA’s Fall Speaker Series, and all interested parties are encouraged to attend a very informative discussion!

Native? Social? Both?

This summer, I interned at SocialToaster, a social media marketing agency that turns a company’s existing social media following into a team of organized brand ambassadors. Part of my job was to create blog posts and other marketing materials that reinforced SocialToaster’s core business concept, and I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned regarding native advertising and social media marketing.

Native Advertising: You’ve probably heard this term if you’ve kept up to date on the latest digital marketing trends. In short, native advertising is a form of communication that smoothly integrates with a user’s experience on a website or application. For instance, if you see a sponsored Facebook post that tells a story about a company’s new product, this is a native advertisement because it is part of the user’s core experience (i.e., not a banner ad). Online brand ambassador programs are also forms of native advertising: for instance, Maker’s Mark offers incentives for its ambassadors to share content about its brand.

Social Media Marketing, though, is the use of social media platforms to market a company to consumers or businesses. Examples of social media marketing are banner ads on Facebook, a company’s Twitter posts, or Instagram pictures with links directed towards purchasing or other landing pages. Social media marketing encompasses the development of marketing programs targeted at a company’s existing and intended social media audience.

Can Native and Social Intersect? Yes. For example, SocialToaster’s Super Fans (brand ambassadors) can earn prizes for posting a company’s message as a status update or sharing its content on Twitter. Native advertising can be seamlessly integrated into social media marketing because people use social media all the time. Therefore, native advertising and social media marketing are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are two effective forms of marketing that work incredibly well together.

InfluenceofBuying

The Numbers: Consider some facts from a recent Gallup poll:

  • 94% of social media users do so to connect with friends and family
  • 62% of social media users do not believe social media influences their purchasing decisions
  • 29% of social media users use these platforms to keep up on product reviews and trends

That 94% is important, because it means that over 9/10 people who use social media connect with people they (hopefully) trust. Now, if you’re part of the nearly 30% who use, say, Facebook for product recommendations, what are you more likely to look to as a source: a friend’s recommendation, or a banner advertisement? If your friend is a Maker’s Mark brand ambassador and posts a picture of delicious bourbon on Facebook, you’re statistically more likely to click on this post than you are to entertain a traditional advertisement.

But do you even realize your friend’s recommendation for Maker’s Mark is an advertisement? According to the study, 62% of the time, you will not.

And that’s why native advertisements on social media work. Companies can employ people you trust to recommend their products, meaning you might not even realize when you’re being advertised to. But you might find some great products in the process!

-David

JHU Graduate Produces Mother’s Day Video.

Ever since I started my graduate school adventure at Miami Ad School San Francisco (a portfolio school for advertising), I have been shown the true value of personal projects.

Personal projects that allow one to freely execute a campaign without being limited by the corporate aspects of advertising; personal projects that encourage individuals to pursue something true to themselves, while having fun playing with social norms.

This is how the idea of “Call Your Mom” came about. Everyday, we walk by so many strangers without interacting with them at all. My team and I wanted to break this social norm and get to know strangers in a unique way – by gaining insight into their relationship with their moms.

We therefore took to the streets of San Francisco and asked people when they had last called their moms. The end result was beautiful, and fully supported a notion we strongly believe in: if you are passionate about an idea, go and execute it. The benefits of advertising don’t just have to come from the professional workplace.

 Jiayi Wang ’13

I hope you enjoy it …

My Movie Internship: Hollywood Is Just As Business-Orientated As Wall Street.

Many people overlook the fact that Hollywood is just as business-orientated as Wall Street. From a strictly business perspective, a movie is a staggering—and very risky—investment: producers and studios can pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a single production in hopes that the revenue generated from ticket sales, home-video sales, merchandise, etc. will turn a profit. Investing in a movie is precarious because of the underlying notion that no one can predict whether or not a movie will be good, and if it is good, if audiences will want to see it and purchase tickets. In order to dilute the risk factors, then, studios rely on securing high-profile celebrities and creative teams, reverting to known blockbuster genres, remaking classic hits, and making sequel after sequel (Saw 7, anyone?).

Unsurprisingly, box office sales are the primary way a movie earns money, and most movies earn close to 50% of their domestic gross in their opening weekends. The rare exceptions are the movies with strong legs, like Gravity or Avatar, which hold well in the marketplace for continuous weeks. Thus, luring audiences into the theater that opening weekend is especially critical, and consequently studios carefully deliberate release dates and spend huge amount of money marketing a film. In fact, most tent-pole movies (a movie, usually a blockbuster, that ‘holds up’ or balances out a studio’s financial performance, e.g. Despicable Me 2 or Harry Potter; they’re often expected to turn a profit in a relatively short amount of time) can have advertising budgets comparable to their production budgets. That is to say, if a movie’s cost is $80 million, it could have close to that in marketing efforts behind it. Additionally, if a studio knows a movie is going to be a flop, and they generally do, they might increase or decrease the marketing budget, either to make one last push to persuade audiences to see the film or to cut their losses. Securing a strong opening weekend turnout is also the reason why movies with widespread critical acclaim publicize their reviews early, while studios with flops on their hands tend to keep poor reviews under wraps until the last possible moment in order to prevent them from discouraging audiences.

From trailers and posters to TV spots and other publicity efforts such as Comic-Con parties and online presences, creative advertising attempts to both raise awareness about the movie as well as highlight it as worthy of the ten-dollar ticket price to see it on the big screen. A film’s trailer is without question its strongest advocate, and as such, most studios begin creating a trailer months in advance of its release. Studio executives work with the filmmakers as well as with external production companies (known as trailer houses) that specialize in either print (the poster) or audio-visual (the trailer) media to design a campaign that positions the movie in a particular, meticulously crafted light. Everything from the music and dialogue to the font of the copy (text) to the emotion the trailer evokes is highly scrutinized and debated because the trailer is not only the first glimpse audiences will have of the movie, but also, if constructed successfully, the most influential marketing tool.

Executives begin researching the campaign by reading the film’s script and watching trailers for similar movies. They study those trailers to understand what worked well and what did not, but to see how other marketing departments have approached a related topic: what angle on the story did they take? Was the focus more on the visuals or on the story? How much of the plot was revealed and in what ways? While they are researching, executives meet with filmmakers to decide how they want to advertise the film, read the script, and look at dailies. Dailies are visuals (both photo and video) of everything that has been filmed, uncut, on a single day; as filming progresses, the quantity of dailies increases and the executives have more footage to work with. The creative process really begins here, when executives work with trailer houses to select and edit the footage, piecing together the trailer that aligns with their vision about how they want the film to appear. The trailer houses send a number of versions of each cut of the trailer to the executive, each with varying music, copy, visuals, etc. The executive then considers what works well and what needs to be changed, and the trailer houses then make the edits. This editing and re-editing usually lasts several weeks. Once the trailer is ready, and the filmmakers have given their approval, the trailer is usually screened before several test audiences of various demographics. These test audiences comment on not only whether or not they like the trailer, but if the trailer is effective at accomplishing what the studio intended, e.g. was the film’s plot clear? did the jokes work?  When the trailer is finally ready, it ships, or is released.

Timing the shipping of trailers is crucial, as there are often specific movies to which the executives want them to be attached or accompany. Attaching a trailer to a movie means that the trailer will always play before a certain movie in the theater; the term comes from when the actual 35mm film of trailer would have to be physically attached to the film of the movie. Perhaps the most well-known recent instance of this was Warner Bros. attachment of Man of Steel’s teaser to The Dark Knight Rises. Studios can also vary attachment based on theater type, i.e. if you go and see the newest Thor in 3D, you would have been treated to a five-minute sneak peak of the upcoming Captain America. This strategy is more commonly exhibited with IMAX screens, as an added incentive to pay the higher ticket price. If a trailer accompanies a feature, it will often play before that film, but it doesn’t have to. Studios work with theaters to have their trailer shown before a movie, but the theaters have the final say and usually make their decision based on the expected audience of the film playing and the release date of the advertised film. In other words, the theater might not choose to screen a horror trailer before the latest Pixar film. This is why if you see a movie in theaters more than once, there may be different trailers before it each time, or if you see a movie at a different theater, there will also be different trailers.

While premiering a trailer in theaters remains the most common approach, in recent years studios have begun exploring other avenues by which to do so, such as on late night talk show’s (Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy trailer premiered on Jimmy Kimmel), during major television events (Universal’s Neighbors, the new Seth Rogen comedy, first aired its trailer during the Roast of James Franco), or at events such as Comic Con. This strategy is becoming increasingly popular, as with certain events or television programs, studios can target a more specific demographic. With the ability to watch trailers anytime online, the timing of shipping the trailer might appear to have lost some of its importance, but the opposite is true. The Internet can create immense hype for a film when a trailer is released and shared across various social media platforms, and studios need to time this hype to prevent it from coming and going too soon.

– Andrew Townson ’14 atownson@jhu.ed

Selfie Nation

A few years ago, I would cringe when I saw a selfie posted on a social media website, immediately thinking of the selfie bathroom pictures that frequented Myspace. However, the selfie has surged in popularity, with self-taken photos and videos being utilized as a tool for self-promotion and expression. Even Oxford Dictionaries highlighted the trend when it proclaimed the selfie to be the 2013 word of the year.

President Obama's famous selfie at the Nelson Mandela memorial

President Obama’s famous selfie at the Nelson Mandela memorial

Companies have released a wave of selfie marketing campaigns, aiming to transform their customer relations by focusing on individual experiences with their products. Instead of producing professional and poised photos, brands have tapped into user-generated content. Raw and unedited evoke feelings of trust, as consumers rely upon each other to identify new deals, brands, and trends.

Coach has launched a particularly successful selfie marketing campaign with its #coachfromabove hashtag. Customers are encouraged to share pictures of their Coach shoes around the world on Twitter and Instagram, with the possibility of being featured on the official company website. Other companies, such as Applebee’s, are using self-taken videos as a promotional tool. Applebee’s is giving customers the chance to be featured in national TV commercials by posting their reactions to new menu items on Vine with the hashtag #BeeFamous. Even museums have caught onto the selfie trend by promoting this past January 22 as #MuseumSelfie Day, sparking fun and ridiculous selfies posted by museum enthusiasts across the globe.

A selfie of Eminem with the Mona Lisa

A selfie of Eminem with the Mona Lisa

However, some selfie campaigns have drawn mixed reviews, such as Dove’s selfie film for their Campaign for Real Beauty. In the film, women exhibited self-portraits and wrote complimentary notes to one another. Although the video promotes redefining standards of beauty, critics have scoffed that the video is contrived – and obviously so, as the video is ultimately designed to sell Dove’s beauty products. Many selfie videos are artificial and contrived, such as the Turkish Airlines YouTube video featuring Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi. The two athletes have a staged selfie shootout, and the fun and successful video has over 130 million views.

Celebrities have also come under public scrutiny for posting too many selfies on social media. In reponse to critics, James Franco wrote a defense of the selfie for the New York Times, emphasizing that the selfie is a legitimate and powerful tool for self-promotion. He wrote, “selfies are avatars: Mini-me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are.” Over the past year, I’ve come to terms with the selfie. I’ll send selfies to friends on Snapchat, and even upload a selfie to Instagram or Facebook every once in a while.

One of James Franco's many sefies

One of James Franco’s many sefies

A selfie I took in Havana, Cuba by the Malecon

A selfie I took in Havana, Cuba by the Malecon

Do you use selfies on social media? Should businesses continue to use selfies in marketing campaigns, or do you think there will be a new trend that will redefine social media marketing in 2014?

– Kara

How the Internet and Advertising Technology Destroyed Newspapers.

Newspaperdeathwatch.com” dedicates itself to “chronicling the decline of newspapers and the rebirth of journalism,” and tracks an ever-growing list of newspapers that have gone bankrupt since 2007 when the site began. Dozens of revered daily newspapers have closed their doors in the wake of one of the most pronounced cases ever of technology disruption of an industry. All newspapers, especially those that focus on local news, have faced shutdown or drastically downsized operations.

The reason for this decline has less to do with the fact that readers consume news on their computers, tablets, and phones as most people suspect. Readership numbers are not down; if anything, total reader numbers have surged since the internet has made content more accessible for local newspapers. Rather, the decline has occurred due to fundamental issues of supply and demand of “advertising inventory,” which represents total, sellable available advertising space. The internet, as well as advertising technology, has created infinite advertising inventory in a world that previously had a finite amount inventory, all of which sat with newspapers and magazines.

Newspaper Advertising Revenue
In 1994 if a brand wanted to reach a national audience that reads news, or on a specific day (rather than a weekly or monthly magazine), that brand could advertise on either The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, and to an extent The Washington Post and USA Today. Advertising inventory to target newspaper readers was scarce, and limited to these newspapers with a broad reach. Newspapers contained a fixed amount of pages and square inches that could house advertisements, and with this limited supply came a high price for advertising space, and incredible power and influence for these newspapers. Rumors of the golden age for advertising salespeople include tales of newspaper ad salespeople being entertained, perversely, by brands that hoped to be moved up a “wait list” for advertising placements. Life was good for newspapers.

As the internet grew exponentially in the late 1990’s, so did the amount of advertising inventory. Any person with an internet connection and a blog was technically a “publisher,” and could procure content to a large audience similar to a newspaper. With more content came more advertising inventory, and suddenly major newspapers were no longer the sole purveyors of this finite source of advertising inventory. Advertising inventory could be found everywhere on the web. In 2003, Google opened the advertising floodgates by creating a network called “Adsense” that allowed publishers (even your roommate with a video game blog) to sell advertising space, and in a way that would be more “targeted” than newspapers. An advertiser that only wanted to advertise to video game buyers could do so a lot more efficiently by running on your roommate’s blog than he could on, say, the Wall Street Journal.

With these innovations, in an extremely simple “supply and demand” scenario, the supply of advertising inventory surged, so the price of advertising space dropped considerably. Much of this expanded inventory came at the hands of Google Adsense and a few other networks. Surprising to some, roughly 95% of Google’s revenue (which was $50 billion in 2012) comes from advertising. Google is, at its core, an advertising company.

Because the value of advertising units has plummeted, newspapers today simply drive less revenues, whether print or digital. And the unfortunate newspapers with operations that require higher prices for advertising sales than the market was paying, found themselves underwater and on possibly newspaperdeathwatch.com. Hit especially hard were the local, smaller newspapers that could not attract advertisers the way that larger, farther reaching newspapers could.

In the next article I will explore how advertising technology, despite bringing an industry to its knees, is now rewarding and leading a resurrection for premium newspapers that have a strong brand and broad reach.

Tripp Weber graduated Johns Hopkins in 2009 with an International Relations major and Entrepreneurship and Management Minor. He currently works as an Advertising Manager for the New York Times.

– Tripp Weber