Bloggers haven’t just earned a seat at the fashion table, they’ve earned marketing contracts and growing respect from brands and retailers. These self-employed fashion journos are no longer considered crashers to the party. Instead, they’re called “influencers” whose reach is sought after by brands looking to connect with consumers. But in fashion, where trends are as fleeting as a gazelle on the Savanna and margins just as lean, it would be nice if hearts and likes could be backed up with measurable sales. And that can be tricky.

"A couple years ago, bloggers were not accepted and now they're overly celebrated..."

-Harry Bernstein,
Creative Director & Founder, The 88

“A couple years ago, bloggers were not accepted and now they’re overly celebrated,” said Harry Bernstein, creative director and founder of creative agency The 88, at New York’s Social Media Week. “But bloggers are an editorial voice. So as people are trying to figure out where to put their money, it’s definitely a selling point if they can hold up a result and say, ‘Look, oh my god! This got this many impressions.’ The nice thing about social is you can put numbers to it.”

But others would like more proof that the relationship designers and brands seek would be worthwhile.

“Does exposure matter? Of course!” states Steven Kirn, Ph.D., executive director, David F. Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research at the University of Florida. “I’m just not prepared to draw a straight line from click frequency to specific impact.”

The top fashion influencers have millions of Instagram followers, hundreds of thousands of YouTube subscribers, as well as masses of Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest fans. Standouts like Bryan Grey Yambao (Bryanboy), Gabi Gregg (GabiFresh) and Leandra Medine (Man Repeller) have transcended their blogs to write books, create fashion collaborations with major brands, judge reality TV fashion shows, and more. If the top bloggers like something, not only will they create buzz, but the hope is that the item will actually be purchased.

When looking for apparel inspiration, most shoppers (57%) choose from what they already own and like, followed by store displays and windows (39%), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle MonitorTM Survey. However, 32% cite “online.”

 

 

Within the “online” category, the MonitorTM survey finds that many consumers are starting their shopping at fashion or fashion trend sites (14%), media-based social media sites (7%), community-based social media sites (6%), and blogs (3%). However, most typically start shopping for clothes online through retailer or brand sites (55%), e-commerce (29%), and search engines (25%).

The idea of missing out on the next big thing has created a perpetual sense of urgency over the most of-the-moment bloggers with whom brands should cultivate deals.

But SAP’s Peter Akbar, chief customer officer – fashion, takes a measured approach. He says consumers don’t generally differentiate between a paid professional blogger, amateur product review, YouTube reviewers, or individuals posting on social media channels. Thus, a wide analysis of bloggers can have an effect on the apparel industry.

“Measuring individual influencers or bloggers can’t provide the level of data required for true insights,” Akbar says. “But measuring across many influencers – through social sentiment measurement tools – can create data points that allow [consumer packaged goods] brands and retailers to identify consumer attitudes, potential behaviors, and items and ideas that are trending. They can even go as far as determining what demographics trend to what merchandise, and in which months people are looking to purchase season-specific products.”

Akbar says this helps manufacturers forecast and predict which brands and products are on a popularity upswing and may be more likely to sell. It also helps uncover products that are getting negative commentary and should no longer be promoted.

“For example, a fashion brand might track social commentary around a popular winter awards show,” he explains. “Social sentiment toward or against certain celebrity outfits, dress colors, styles, or shoes could then influence the products manufactured or promoted for the spring prom season. Retailers can also tap into social sentiment data when determining what merchandise to stock or which products to promote.”

Almost one-third (31%) of consumers say reviews of apparel “really matter to me,” whether directly from another person or online, according to the MonitorTM data. The figure jumps to 41% among those age 25-to-34.

Kirn says a blogger’s likes and retweets are a measure of popularity, but not enough to establish a direct link to purchase behavior.

“Has there ever been a silver bullet for creating a ‘fashion’ trend?” he asks. “Even the name says it’s about the times and emotions and buzz and personalities and generations, and on and on. There are some levers you can pull – bloggers among them – to make sure you are creating a fashion, versus just a fad. But it’s a little like nailing fog to a wall. You can see it before you, but try to put your hand on it and it just dissipates.”

Both Kirn and Akbar say if a brand or store is going to partner with a blogger, they have to look beyond who has the most followers and consider who is a credible source with solid expertise within the industry.

Says Akbar, “Retailers need to do their research to find those that can best relate to and engage with the brand’s target audience.”

Still, as difficult as it may be to measure a blogger’s influence, Kirn says he wouldn’t ignore the potential influence of bloggers.

“If I was in this business, would I pay good money to use this channel? You bet!” he states. “But I would be doing lots of little experiments where I could measure the social and attitudinal impact and purchase influence. This will sound academic, but I can’t help it: ‘More research is needed.’ But fashion can’t – or won’t – wait.”