VF Brendan Sullivan WWD Digital Forum

NEW YORK — The term omnichannel might be wearing out, but the notion behind it — using a combination of digital savvy and retail knowhow to build a better customer experience — was alive and well and on full display at the two-day WWD Digital Forum, which wrapped up in New York today.

Executives from more than a dozen top retailers, pure plays, start-ups and service providers painted a picture of a vibrant, but still-vexing and ever-changing market where:

* Jumping on trends bubbling up on social media can lead to big payoffs.

* Bite-sized storytelling can garner digital attention span.

* Facebook is starting to drive more commerce.

* Content guides the purchase journey.

* Change should be made with a collaborative approach.

* And focusing on the consumer is more important than ever.

Brendan Sullivan, vice president of direct–to-consumer at VF Corp., noted that web- and mobile-influenced sales are projected to balloon to $1.8 trillion by 2017, a trend that is prompting new thinking across the industry.

VF’s Vans brand got a bump when it noticed that classic white Vans sneakers were starting to get more social media play and prepared to take advantage. Those efforts paid off when the “Damn Daniel” YouTube video went viral, with a one friend shooting short clips of another’s outfits, saying, “Damn Daniel” repeatedly, and then noting, “Back at it again with the white Vans.”

The brand was ready to capitalize, promoting its white sneakers both online and in its stores, and was rewarded handsomely by consumers, although Sullivan declined to offer specifics.

How to use social media and manage digital content was a thread picked up by many speakers.

Alicianne Rand, vice president, marketing at NewsCred, a content marketing company, said that fashion brands are no longer just competing against each other, but are vying for attention among traditional media companies evolving into the digital space and bloggers and their massive followings.

“The buyer’s journey is nothing more than a series of questions that need to be answered,” said Rand, noting that digital content can help steer the buyer each step along the way.

So linking to a brand’s own blog on how to wear a suit on a product page can help keep shoppers on the brand’s website and boost conversion.

Brands are also starting to turn increasingly to Facebook to produce sales after the social media leader’s earlier efforts to link up with e-commerce fell flat.

“Consumer behavior on Facebook is proving to be a very strong commerce driver,” said Laura Elkins, senior vice president, global and North America Marketing at MAC Cosmetics.

And while social media exposure is valuable, just how valuable remains a mystery.

“I don’t know if any of us truly know the impact of social media,” Elkins said.

Mary Beech, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Kate Spade New York, talked about the importance of bite-sized storytelling to get attention online and drive interest.

But it’s not just what a brand says, but where they say it.

“Content is key, but distribution is queen,” said Beech, noting that Pinterest is the brand’s second-highest social traffic driver behind Facebook.

All those clicks, though, add to the ever-growing stream of data that brands get and are working to harness.

Jacques Panis, president of Shinola, stressed that his company was about bringing jobs to Detroit. To bring in more jobs, Shinola is looking to grow its sales from $100 million to $300 million and Panis said he was focusing on how to get there by using data.

Boohoo.com is one company that’s proven to be good at reading the data flowing in from shoppers and building a business out of it.

Carol Kane, joint chief executive officer of the e-commerce site, described the company’s design as “crowd-sourced” from its customers. And once those designs are set, Boohoo.com, which makes over half of its goods in the U.K., can turn product in four to six weeks, getting fresh looks to shoppers quickly.

Taken all together, the fast-paced digital marketing, the feedback loop from consumers and the nanosecond attention spans on both sides of the brand/shopper equation make for plenty of digital executives looking to move established businesses to new ways of thinking.

Charlie Cole, the recently installed chief digital officer and vice president at Tumi, who earlier in his career worked on digital transformation at Lucky Brand, cautioned people pushing digital change: “Be aware of your own personal biases…know what you suck at.”

Cole also encouraged change agents to play nice with people in other parts of the companies they’re nudging into the future.

“If you don’t have personal relationships across the organization you are doomed to fail,” he said.