By Marcus Leach

Tuesday's Like Minds Social Media Week event saw Men's Fashion take the spotlight at Leicester Square's Hippodrome Casino with a panel moderated by Gareth Scourfield, Senior Fashion Editor for Esquire Magazine and Big Black Book.

Gareth was joined by a panel of industry thought leaders including Laura Cummings, Brunswick Group, James Nuttal, Digital Director at Starworks, Zach Barfield of The Perfect Gentleman, Richard Martin, the Marketing Director of Lyle & Scott, and David Hellqvist, online editor of PORT Magazine.

There is no doubt that the rise of social is changing the way that men view fashion today. So lets look at how new social media is playing out in the men's fashion market.

JN: "I think what started was people started realising you needed content, and not just that but interesting, relevant content. With men's fashion you might not get so much response, but the brands are starting to reach out more on their own channels. Content is the social leverage that brands are starting to use. Men are a little more reluctant to engage with social to be honest."

What is it about Burberry that makes them such leaders?

LC: "They have a consistent point of view, which is something they have worked on throughout the years. They are about consumers engaging with them in as many ways as possible. It is about more than just the product, it is about a wider consumer engagement."

It's about a conversation, so how are men's brands engaging?

RM: "You need to know your brand. If you get your brand wrong you can make some terrible mistakes. It's about ensuring the brand pillars are consistently communicated across your brand's channels. Know your consumer as well. And then story telling as well around those pillars. You can communicate about your brand daily across your channels.

"Off the back of that brands become content rich. Brands now have no excuses not to know themselves and to feed relevant content across multiple channels. Brands are now becoming producers of films, which is really interesting. You have to wear many different hats now as a marketing person, starting with an innate understanding of your brand."

DH: "It's the same for a magazine as well. The most important thing is to know your brand, and then your readers and find a way that communicating online mirrors what you do in print. We need to be so much smarter online, every move you make becomes quicker and faster, and then the challenge is finding the right voice within that. Many magazine shave great content, and content is king, but you can kill your content if you don't distribute it in the right way."

RM: "It is all about finding a voice and finding the correct tone. And to think global. You have to globalise yourself to sustain yourself as a business. Niche brands are now thinking is that going to work throughout the world. The way it does work is if it is 'on brand'. The best example of that would be Vice magazine, and the way they maintained their brand throughout the different platforms. They took a strong editorial standpoint, but they understood that extremity worked. They are a prime example of taking niche and turning it global."

The magazine landscape has changed beyond recognition over the last five years. Some brands are still struggling to find that everything needs to be available online. You need to convert and understand that the industry is retail.

JN: "It's simple timings. You can, like Burberry do, release pre-order. The reason we show early is so that people can by in time for that season. Shows are a great marketing opportunity. You want to be the first with it all in the magazines, but you have to sell the previous seasons stuff still."

DH: "Seasons are no longer what they used to be though."

LC: "You will find now that more and more of burberry shows are actually season-less. And add top that you either have to fully engage with e-commerce or you leave it alone."

Is selling online dumbing down the product though?

RM: "You will get more of an experience online than in store, just based on what you can do with it online."

DH: "If you are a smaller brand get your own shop and start selling online. That's the way forward I think."

[b]LC: "It's how people are now living their lives. You are driving traffic through having an online presence and then that into sales in the stores. People are now shopping differently to how they used to."

JN: "Ultimately selling online will always win, purely because of how much content you can include around it. That said you do lose certain elements. Bricks and mortar holds an experience that is a bigger experience than watching it online. It should focus on the elements that people can't create online."

RM: "But we now have a generation who have never been about the bricks and mortar. They know nothing other than buying online, and that automatically challenges the mortar and bricks retail. It has in my opinion seen the start of the demise of stores that are multi-brand and the emergence of mono-brand stores. In terms of the future it is only, with technology, going to become and easier, much more personal shopping experience."

How do firms become successful cross all brands then?

ZB: "It's about making sure there is consistency over the channels. There are a load of things you can do with technology to make sure it is a full brand experience. Certain ones are very good at it, but most are not brilliant, that's where men's fashion is lacking. Men want that full brand experience."

LC: "Social media ought to be more popular to men, giving how it is all visual. More men shop online than women, but its about tailoring it so they actually buy online instead of just browsing."

DH: "I still shop in a store, as it is a great experience. But with less and less time now online is a great option. The way I use online is similar to the way I use real stores. I still check out new stuff, look for bargains in the sales sections."

RM: "The website needs to be editorial and not just a sales tool. But then you have firms like ASOS where it is quite brutal about just getting you in front of clothes. That said they are clearly doing very well as their growth shows. But on the whole it needs to be a balance. The likes of Jack Wills realised traditional marketing was pointless, which is why they did it retail and online, as they wouldn't be able to go up against the big established brands."

DH: "On the ASOS thing, the reason they are doing so well is because they have their own brand on there. Producing your own brand is a great way of making money. Online stores for young new designers is the best way, as you get all the money yourself, rather than through a third party."

RM: "The men's market is now seeing buyers become more sartorial. The detail is incredibly important to the buyers. The back story and story telling is so important."

LC: "The ethics is coming into it as well. It's not just about buying a look that you like, but buying into a brand that fits our lifestyle and ethics."

ZB: "It's lifestyle loyalty, and then you purchase within that framework. Men will buy consistently over a period of time from the same stores and within the same item range."

So is there a huge amount of trust within the industry?

RM: "For me it is all about integrity and trust. Once you have a consumers trust you will have to go a long way to disenfranchise that customer. When brands then start to be something else they start to fail and lose their customer base."

Where does a brand go that is just starting out?

JN: "For me there is an expectation that you can be found. Any activity you do people need to be able to find your website and Facebook. You might be able to get away with the others. But those two is the minimum user expectation, and then you go into the other areas as and when you can. There is nothing worse than going into an area and the content is low. That reflects poorly on your brand. You ultimately need to have a brilliant website."

RM: "I would start by simply getting retailers to stock you, and from there you can go to work with PR. If you have a story that you can sell there is so much opportunity to get products featured. With online everything has greater opportunity. You can even start the process yourself, you don't need to spend so much."

LC: "Also it isn;t just about banging on about a direct product sale, that's where the story becomes so important. People will start buying into the story, not the product, and once they believe in the story you have done most of the hard work."

DH: "If you have a quality product things will happen. It won't happen straight away but it will gradually come if you have original content to go with it. From a publishing point of view the biggest change is that we have a whole new generation of bloggers who are able to compete with what we do. The challenge for established media is how do we up the game. It's a good thing, because it makes us work harder and go to new heights."

ZB: "Brand building takes time, it isn;t a quick process, yet social is such a quick changing landscape. For young brands they need to be consistent over time and you need to have a long-term strategy in place. Once you start to build your reputation, then you can look to step it up."

Why did 'My-wardrobe' not work in men's fashion?

DH: "I think the struggled with identity. I couldn't understand who they were trying to sell to. The great shops, like we keep saying, know their customer. On mywardrobe I felt confused, some brands are ok, but then others make no sense at all across the image they are trying to create

JN: "That idea would have worked well in bricks and mortar. But online everything needs to be refined and clear, as there is so much choice out there."

RM: "If you look at all of the really good online niche stores they all started with a regional shop in one city, and established themselves like that. They are small enough and agile enough to react quickly, based on how well they know their customer. It baffles me how late some of the big firms have come to the online scene.

When buying online do men want the extras that can be offered?

DH: "All stores should send with free post and packaging. Make it as easy as possible with everything, including returns, which again is something ASOS has nailed. This goes for packaging as well, because this is the only way they can engage with a physical element. Just because I got it online it doesn't mean i don't want it to come packed beautifully."

JN: "Brands have to stand out, because so many compete on price now that they need something that stands them out. Comparison is so easy now you need to put your hand up and say 'buy from me'. There has to be something that gives you an edge."

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