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September 7, 2012

Lessons from the Lingerie Closet: Brand Publishing Exposed

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If I told you that underwear held some very interesting lessons in brand publishing, what would you think? Yesterday I went to the mailbox to collect and recycle my normal pile of junk mail. That was, until I saw and opened the latest Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue.

Table of Content in Clothing Catalogue Mimics Magazine

Something was different. It didn’t look like any catalogue I had seen lately. It looked like a real magazine. Frederick’s was dabbling in brand publishing. And the approach was, well, interesting.

Some of it made a lot of sense, some of it was slightly confusing (think more ads), but overall it made me realize just how hot content marketing is becoming. No pun intended.

Seems like everywhere you turn, businesses are talking about content marketing and kicking their brand up a notch through the content they create. Companies are thinking like broadcasters and publishers, and it’s an exciting time.

So how did Frederick’s turn a product-focused direct mailer into a brand experience? In this post, we’ll look at some of the things I found in the company’s “Brandzine,” as they call it, and what you can apply to your own business’s content.

Bye, Bye, Boring. Hello, Sexy (Marketing Tactics, That Is).

Not many people would ever refer to the pages of Frederick’s catalogue as “boring.” But the catalogue itself in recent years was nothing new; similar to most other clothing catalogues, it didn’t particularly stand out amongst the crowd.

If you’re a dude and have no idea what a “normal” clothing catalogue for women is like (or for men, for that matter), let me enlighten you: image of beautiful woman, description, price, product. Very predictable. And somewhat one-sided, just like traditional advertising.

What Frederick’s did with its Brandzine was create an experience through its content deliverable. They took cues from magazine publishers, and made their brand an interactive experience by weaving in stories with products.

A little digging online, and I found the history of Fredericks in recent years to be dotted with its ups and downs. In a June 2012 Los Angeles Times article, Frederick’s Chief Executive Thomas Lynch said, “My challenge now is reintroducing folks to the brand today and showing them we have a great product.” After four straight years of financial losses, states the article, Frederick’s was looking for ways to innovate.

An article from 2011 on MultichannelMerchant.com showed that it wasn’t the first time Frederick’s tried to revamp its direct mail approach. In the post, Tracy Rhyan McCourt, vice president of marketing and digital commerce at Frederick’s explained how “persona” books mailed to target consumers based on buying behaviors decreased the need to mail full catalogues to everyone.

With the company’s Brandzine approach, this is another step in making their consumer experience more personalized. I can only guess how much it costs to send out print mailers at the magnitude they do; and with financials down over the past four years, looks like they may have found clever ways to offset the costs of production of the print in their Brandzine. (You’ll see what I mean in a minute.)

The Dirty Details: Why the Brandzine is So Hot

I have to say one of the more clever tactics about this catalogue is when you look at it online. It becomes this whole interactive experience where you can click through to the products, to the company’s social media profiles and more.

But let’s talk about the contents inside from a marketing perspective. What was  so hot about this “Brandzine” that was delivered to me in the mail?

First, the catalogue opens with an audience-focused two-page spread. I read somewhere online yesterday that Frederick’s target audience was the 18- to 35-year-old woman who’s likely single, newly married or newly divorced (insert obvious joke here).

Two Page Opening Spread in Frederick's Catalogue

The opening here speaks to that target consumer, and sets the stage in a magazine-esque type way, similar to what you might see in the pages of publications like Cosmopolitan. Here, they tap into the psyche of the target audience; mixing tips on how to boost self-esteem while nudging them to dabble in commerce — even if they don’t have a lot to spend. Go ahead, you don’t have to buy everything, just start small. Smart.

A Closer Look at the Opening Pages of a Clothing Catalogue

Next, they collected their assets in one place to create storyline. Instead of just listing the bras, their price and their product numbers, they took cues from fashion magazines and put together an ensemble with tips on how the reader can pick a bra that fits her body and her style.

Fashion Ensemble of Bras in a Catalogue

Then, just when you think this new catalogue is getting good, you get this:

Wine Ad in a Clothing Catalogue

Yep. It’s an ad. I think it might just be a genius move by Fredericks to offset production costs. And while they’re at the whole “magazine” feel, why not, right? But at the same time, you have to wonder if the audience really wants more ads in their lives. And ads within one giant ad even. Yuck.

But as shocking as this may seem for a catalogue, it’s really nothing new and it’s content marketing at its finest. In fact, women’s fashion magazines have been one giant advertisement cleverly packaged in a shiny bow for decades upon decades. People just don’t notice.

Directly across from that first third-party ad is a page dedicated to the social side of the brand. Clever placement. They quickly refocus the attention from the distracting ad to the brand again. And smart – using the print medium to unify the content strategy through cross-channel promotion.

Social Media Page in a Clothing Catalogue

Now this next one made me laugh. But it’s so aligned with the type of things you’d find in a magazine publication that Frederick’s target audience might read, that I nodded my head and thought to myself, touché, Frederick’s, touché.

Lingerie Astrology in Clothing Catalogue

Integrating a “local” feel into the publication and paying homage to its roots in Los Angeles, the Brandzine put together a “Los Angeles Nights” section. This two-page spread gives insider tips on the cool places to go out in L.A. paired with dresses to match.

And you might not even notice that the page to the left is an advertisement for the lounges and bars they plug. Rather, you might think: Thanks, Frederick’s, for being so hip, cool and helpful.

Local Focused Fashion Spread in Clothing Catalogue

To help tell the Frederick’s brand story, they bring us back in time to catalogues from days gone by. Really cool. Here, they put together a collection of illustrations the company was made famous for – all the way back to 1946. This shows legacy and this helps connect the reader to what lies beneath the pages of the catalogue: the brand. They even mix up old products with modern-day matches that you can buy.

Catalogue Taking a Historical Look at Its Products

Finally, a section on Frederick’s “employee favorites.” Staff names, quotes and products are nicely packaged together in a two-page spread that connects the audience to the human behind the brand, while at the same time showcasing their products.

Employees Pick Their Favorite Lingerie Item for a Catalogue

Beneath the Lingerie: Content Marketing Lessons

Beneath the pages of the revamped catalogue, or Brandzine, is a well-thought-out, well executed content marketing and brand publishing strategy. But what’s interesting is that they didn’t have to look very far to know what works for their target audience.

For many of us, the answers and the ideas might be staring us right in the face when it comes to making our content more targeted and creative to reach our audience. It just takes a new perspective on an old thing – whatever that might be for your business.

Here’s a couple closing thoughts:

  • Look at the medium you’re currently using. How can you make the content you are creating savvier? Take cues from the big boys – look to television to find ways you can weave ideas or elements into your own videos, for example. Or if you have a newsletter, what cutting-edge publications do you love that you can borrow ideas from?
  •  Connect people to your content by creating an experience. Strip away as much of the advertising effect your content might have and look at new opportunities to make things interactive, meaningful and relatable. Even ads can be cleverly packaged so that they don’t interrupt the experience.
  • Humanize your brand through your story and your people. People want to connect with people. And people connect with brands when they begin to understand the story behind the company and the products and services its offers.
  • Think about the different ways you can utilize technology. You brand makes an impact when your content transcends mediums, for example, from print to online, or when you take a standard piece of content from static to interactive.
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