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Prevent your Fashion Brand from getting Commoditized

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

The annual consumption of clothing and footwear in India is approximately Rs.5 trillion.

There are tens of thousands of labels and brands catering to one of the biggest markets in the world. But we just remember a handful few who have created an impact on our minds. These labels which stand out from a plethora of labels are termed as Brands.

Let us understand why some labels become brands and others are relegated in the background to be treated as commodities.

What is a fashion brand?

In a market replete with similar products and services, branding is the only solution to avoid becoming a commodity. A brand is an assortment of associations and attributes in consumers’ minds. The values and ideologies of a brand help it survive and evolve in an overcrowded marketplace. Brands are synonymous with quality and consistency. The hassles of trying and testing by the consumer are reduced or eliminated when buying from a brand with well-defined accreditations. Branding also protects the organization legally.

What is a commodity and what constitutes commoditisation?

Goods or services become a commodity when their wide availability diminishes the value of the attributes leading to smaller margins.

Commoditisation is defined as a process by which goods/services that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of unique selling proposition end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the consumers.

Let us consider men’s innerwear- one of the most commoditised categories in apparel. The competition and over supply notwithstanding, Jockey stands out due to its impeccable quality, where other labels struggle to evolve out of lack of awareness stage.

There are thousands of formal shirt labels in India. However, a few brands like Louis Philippe, Zodiac, Park Avenue, Van Heusen are entrenched in customer’s minds. These brands have differentiated themselves from others by their superior fabric, workmanship and fits.

What about the rest? Why do we not register these labels? Why is it that only miniscule businesses are able to create a brand out of their labels?

A departmental store like Shopper’s Stop have sections for various categories. If you happen to enter the women’s traditional section, the floor looks like a huge collection of garments from a single business house. Whereas the fact is that there are several labels demarcated from each other, on display, but you cannot discern one label from another. Similar is the experience in the men’s section.

On browsing through Myntra catalogue, the most important filter is price. Other features lose their importance as every other label is also offering those features. So discounts reign in the digital marketplace. Today, consumers might flock Amazon. If tomorrow Jio Mart offers better discounts, the loyalties will shift to Jio Mart. A company should identify what does it need to rise above the price filter and stand out amongst innumerable competitors.

The attributes that help a brand differentiate itself from other brands in the same category are:

Quality- think Nike, Hugo Boss,

Trendy designs- think Ted Baker, Diesel, W

Value for money- think Levi’s, Uniqlo, Primark

Fast fashion – think Fashion Nova, Stradivarius

Luxury- think Louis Vuitton, Dior, Gucci

Sustainability- think Fab India, Good Earth, Patagonia

Most business houses understand this

For every single attribute enumerated above, there are hundreds of labels who try to adopt it as their differentiating factor. As a result, that factor ceases to differentiate the label from others.

In some categories, for instance regular wear graphic tees, it is the graphic design that catches the attention of the customers. In this Instagram prone generation everyone wants to click a pic that makes them stand out. But one cannot post another pic with the same top next time. The requirement here is not quality or sustainability or luxury. Cheap product with eye catching graphics is what is needed irrespective of the label that launches the product. This is commoditization of the entire category. This commoditization is also observed in men’s suits and blazers. So one has to come up with out of box thought process to differentiate oneself from competition. The brand cannot differentiate once the other players catch up. I phone was the first mover in the touchscreen cellphone category in 2007. As others launched their versions of touchscreen phone, I phone introduced a better processor, a better camera. Apple made sure, it stayed relevant and ahead of competition. It is not without reason that Apple crossed a market capitalisation of $2 trillion to be well on its way to become as big as the UK’s bench mark stock index. Continuous evolution within the framework of brand values keeps the brand relevant.

To reinforce the ‘out of box’ evolutionary concept, let us look at two players who created brands out of seeming commodities.

Leggings are essentials in any woman’s wardrobe. This category is almost a commodity. That is until Go Colors arrived on the scene with specialised fabrics, unique colors and memorable shopping experience. They made a brand out of a product which was a commodity for all practical purposes.

Traditional men’s wear was always a decentralised category controlled by local small businessmen. Manyavar corporatized this business and became a brand in the process. We still have thousands of labels making traditional wear but none has been able to garner the following of Manyavar.

Benefits of branding to the parent company are:

a)Provides a unique personality to stand out amongst competition

b)Helps build loyal customer base by reinforcing trust

c)Positioning helps avail better prices in turn improving the bottom line

d)Delivers the key messaging to the market

Benefits of branding for consumers are:

a)Standardization, which helps reduce costs, improves quality, simplifies operations and builds product image.

b)Consistency that lets consumers trust the brand to avoid trials while engaging in a purchase

How does one establish a brand from a label in the first place and once established how does one avoid getting ones’ brand commoditised?

In their endeavour to expand the top line, companies try to create a lifestyle brand. Van Heusen is a well-known men’s formalwear brand. It had now forayed into innerwear and loungewear. It is very confusing for a customer to digest that their favourite trouser and shirt brand now makes track pants just to garner bigger market share. It has lost focus on its positioning.

AND is known for its design strength, its beautifully crafted women’s tops and dresses. In what seems to be an overconfident and overambitious overture, the top management launched men’s shirts under the same brand name AND. This category in AND’s stable failed miserably.

Imagine if Levi’s tried to include women’s dresses in its product basket. Hard core Levi’s users would deviate for the core product category- their denims, since the faith in the focus of the brand would be lost in the consumer’s minds.

This is the era of specialists. Establish a niche and try being the most unique in that particular niche.

It is important to work on the attributes mentioned above. To make at least two attributes as USP is mandatory. But at the same time, sharp positioning is most important. Generalists cannot make the same impact on the fleeting focus of today’s consumers suffering from an information overload. 2 decades back MBBS were sought after. Today, no one wants to visit a general physician. We visit a gastro for stomach issues, an ENT for throat problems, an orthopaedist for any issue with the joints and so on. It’s a similar situation in apparel. For my friend’s wedding, I would want to buy traditional clothes for dandiya night from Fab India, top for cocktail night from Ed Hardy, sherwani or bundi set for marriage ceremony from Manyavar and suit for reception from Raymond. I would not approach one brand who claims to make all categories.

Strategically done, brand extensions help promote the brand loyalty. But if this is purely exercised to increase sales, it leads to loss of brand identity in the consumer’s minds.

Branding, if implemented tactically, leads to lower customer acquisition cost, high market share and lower market risks.

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