Making Exclusivity Inclusive

By Jordan K. Speer — October 05, 2010

Woody Allen's character's self-deprecating line in Annie Hall that he  "would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like [him] for a member"  is incredibly funny, but it also draws on some common (and sometimes conflicting) human characteristics: to want to belong, to want to stand apart, to imagine the grass as greener elsewhere, to wrestle with ourselves.
 
Are these characteristics wired into the human psyche? Perhaps. Are they a marketer's dream? Absolutely. But harnessing the power of these emotions behind the bottom line isn't always easy, especially when you're navigating the fine boundary between the yin and yang of exclusivity and inclusiveness.
 
I suspect that most apparel retailers and brands would like for their products to be regarded by the consumer as special and different. As something exclusive, that, by extension, bestows its unique characteristics on the wearer. Consumers want that, too.
 
But the sheen of exclusivity has its limits. Consumers, because they are also people, crave acceptance and social attachments, and regard their clothing as a membership card of sorts, with their choice of duds likewise conferring on them inclusion into one or another social group.
 
So it is that apparel marketers must find the appropriate balance between the two -- maximizing both the perception of exclusivity and the sense of belonging -- while also creating wide appeal (another twist on inclusiveness) to optimize sales. And while these aren't new concerns, they are suddenly rife with new opportunities resulting from swiftly evolving developments in social media, technology and global connectivity, which by their very nature exploit both exclusivity and inclusiveness to maximum effect.
 
Consider Facebook, with its more than 500 million active users, and growing daily. Fifty percent of active users log on to Facebook on any given day, and collectively, users spend more than 700 billion minutes on the site monthly, interacting with more than 900 million objects, in more than 70 languages. About 70 percent of Facebook users live outside the United States. The site is free and available to anyone with a computer. Now that's inclusiveness.  
 
Yet, the average user has just 130 friends, and depending on privacy settings, can roam Facebook in a very intimate and select way, simultaneously belonging to a customized club and a massive global network. Quoted in this issue, Facebook's Stephen Zangre says the site taps into the social graph that links everyone, everything and everywhere a person knows, likes and goes, together, and that the sheer numbers of people and time spent on the site are what give it its power.
 
The opportunities to tap into this kind of power are incredible. It's what Rue La La's Stacey Santo means when, citing the 70 percent of the private online boutique's members that come from friends telling friends, she says:  "That's a lot of whispers to get to 2.2 million in two years."
 
Bringing exclusivity to the masses has never been more possible; as mobile storefronts surge, savvy retailers are pushing out personalized coupons and messaging to consumers en masse, via their smartphones, or allowing them to purchase apparel directly from video (see p. 20).
 
But it doesn't end there. Exclusivity comes in many forms. There's the ever-improving technology to support these exponentially growing vats of data, to supply actionable business intelligence to retailers (see this month's story about Casual Male, p. 16, for example), and there's the exclusivity that comes from gaining a reputation as a retailer that offers great service and product, always in stock. Apparel's annual RFID Report, featured in this issue, provides a graphical analysis of retailers poised to reap the rewards from RFID technology, and those that lag behind.
 
Let's not forget exclusive partnerships, such as the recently announced collaboration between Mango and JCPenney (p. 8): exclusive, because the new MNG by Mango will be offered only at JCPenney; inclusive, because there are 600 JCPenney stores nationwide.
 
Finding the perfect balance of your company's yin and yang is up to you, and happily, the opportunities to achieve it abound. To paraphrase Mae West: Too muchof a good thing can be profitable -- and that's a club everyone wants to belong to.
 
Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel. She can be reached at jspeer@apparelmag.com.

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