WWD Forum: Gobé Discusses Connecting With Shoppers

Marc Gobé, founder of Emotional Branding, speaks about fashion brands and social media.

Marc Gobe

Fashion brands have always enjoyed close connections with the people who buy their products, but the advent of social media is changing the rules of the game, and even the corporate types might have to learn how to relate to shoppers in new and more personal ways.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“It’s from consumers to people,” said Marc Gobé, founder of Emotional Branding, an experimental think tank. “When you enter social media, you don’t look at consumers. You’re seeking friends and then one-on-one interaction.”

Watch a highlight from Marc Gobé’s speech about social branding>>

Gobé, who has helped brands from Coke to Victoria’s Secret burnish their images, said the recession’s made it all the more important to figure out how consumers are changing and how to connect with them.

“Stop thinking from a corporate perspective, which is about logic and start to understand the world of consumers that is only about emotions,” he said. “That gap needs to be bridged.”’

The younger generation coming into its own with the Web and smartphones are bringing with them a new language and new values. He pointed to graffiti artist Shepard Fairey, who worked last year with Saks Fifth Avenue and whose image of then-Sen. Barack Obama became popular during the campaign.

The linking of a graffiti artist with Saks is a break from the traditional image of high end.

“So what is the language of luxury today?” Gobé asked. “Is it a language of authenticity or is it a language of hype? Do we understand the language of this new generation and what they want to hear and how they want to be talked to, even in the context of luxury?”

He also wondered how the impact of marketing messages change with the medium that is used to deliver them. “You don’t fall in love with a billboard,” Gobé said, noting people do have close connections with their cell phones.

There is no one playbook for the new age, but the branding guru did have some suggestions. Among them, giving employees a free rein.

“Give executives new platforms to express themselves,” he said. “Don’t cut them off [from] doing social media at work. This is absurd. They are your best ambassadors.”

And if you’re going to breech the waters of marketing through social media, jump in with both feet.

“You can’t delegate likeability,” Gobé said. “If you’re not doing it, if your bosses aren’t doing it, you’re not in social media.”