Queer Brands Seeking Engaged Customer Marketplace
It's a very disruptive time in fashion retail. For many brands and retailers, the inability to adapt quickly to fast-changing customer expectations has meant closing their doors and even bankruptcy. Other companies have managed to stay afloat, and in some cases post profits, by adapting to customers needs and upgrading technologies. And then there are a bevy of new brands, who are not bogged down by large company bureaucracies or "business as usual" that have built their business models on one-on-one customer engagement, using data analytics, social media and cross-channel experiences. The retail winners are those companies who have considered every customer touchpoint, online and offline, considering how and when customers want to engage with the brand. According to QueerCut co-founder and omni-channel retailing expert Joshua Williams, "Being successful in today's retail market isn't just about being online, or on having a snappy mobile shopping experience, it's about connecting and coordinating the entire customer experience in a way that feels authentic, transparent and true to the brand, all the while offering genuine products." Joshua goes on to say, "there are just too many brands out there; the market is extremely competitive. Brands must appeal directly to their niche customer, again, in an authentic way."
Capturing a Niche Market
In a recent Search Engine Journal article titled "Why Authentic Content Marketing Matters Now More Than Ever," author Kristopher Jones writes, “…authenticity means honesty. Your audience can spot false advertising or a brand attempting to cash in on a trend from a mile away…When content is honest and transparent it sparks deep reflection and conversation. In industry terms, authenticity is the key to customer engagement.”
In today's market, an opportunity exists for retail brands who offer authentic products and experiences to niche audiences. According to Rhett Power, in a recent INC. article "...drilling down to a more specific niche audience may land you more sales than a wide net could ever catch… niche markets give you the chance to truly bond with your audience; creating trust and credibility that you would never have the chance to build in a larger market.” This includes the ever-growing and visible LGBTQIA+ market, often overlooked by brands and marketers.
According to eMarketer, there as been uptick in U.S. adults who identify as LGBT from 8.3 million in 2012 to 10.1 million in 2016. And this demographic is increasingly expecting companies to be more inclusive of LGBT values and themes. Companies who recognize this expectation, and understand what it means to be authentic to queer customers, have the potential to reap the benefits of customer engagement and loyalty, especially when it comes to clothing and accessories. QueerCut co-founder Corinne Phillips notes, "We are past the point where brands who want to connect with LGBT customers simply offer pride-related clothing. Brands are realizing there is a a whole customer base that need clothes that fit their gender expression, in all of its complexity!"
In particular, brands are who are able to drill down to the specific needs of queer customers, stand to gain the most in terms of loyalty. Examples of queer specific brands who have already made their mark in their specific niche market, include:
Tomboy Toes, a company that makes and sells traditional men's shoes for smaller feet,
Play Out Underwear, a company founded upon finding flattering “boy short” styles for female bodies, and
gc2b Transitional Apparel, the first company to design and patent "gender-affirming chest binding."
The Cost and Expertise to Succeed
Sheer determination to bring products that queer customers need to the marketplace has helped the brands mentioned above to succeed. And the internet is nothing more than a godsend for connecting brands with customers-in-need within smaller, more focused communities. However, success isn't always built on just identifying a need, creating a product and selling it. A little luck and a lot of marketing is crucial, as well as cash.
Marketing is expensive, but it can be done smartly by fully employing online tools and applications, as well as having access to retail experts and their networks, it can start off fairly affordably. However, ultimately these costs will grow as companies begin to compete in the larger marketplace. Most companies hope to scale their business in tandem with the growing costs to offset expenses, but this isn't always possible. "While the web has evened out the playing field for new brands to enter the marketplace, it means that small brands are often competing against the Goliaths as they accelerate their growth, whether it be Amazon, Macy's or Uniqlo. Being lithe can be used to a new brands advantage--there are cheap ways to engage customers--but it is getting increasingly difficult and extraordinary expensive, even using social media" says Joshua. He continues, "selling online involves building expensive content (four to five images per product), digital marketing and customer acquisition campaigns, as well as shipping and return costs." While the costs are not always as significant in a niche market--certainly a key motivation to focus on niche marketing--the money spent on content development, acquisition and customer service typically take time and funds away from product development and good old-fashioned community building. Sadly, what starts off as a labor of love and provides for real customer need, ends in complete exhaustion of resources and funds.
The Power of the Marketplace
Online marketplaces have emerged as a solution to the niche brand problem, providing access to a wider customer base within a niche market, but also opening the niche into a larger market. The proof is in the growth of marketplaces across all business areas. In fact, Retail Dive titled a recent article Online marketplace revenues to double by 2022 stating in the subtitle, "Revenues for marketplace platform providers across the globe are predicted to more than double from $18.7 billion in 2017 to $40.1 billion in 2022, driven by the sharing economy, according to a report from Coresight Research and data by Juniper Research. The Americas will represent 57.2% of the 2022 total."
Marketplaces allow niche brands to live and work with brands that are adjacent to them, who share their values, or who have overlapping customers. And sure, marketplaces also increases the competitive factor, by providing visibility and transparency to brands who are developing common products or engaging likeminded customers--strengthening core parity among brands, as well core differences. Ultimately, the goal is to develop customer insight across the marketplace, to help each brand to become successful, a model that Etsy has been successful in building.
Finally, marketplaces create a one-stop-shop for customers, who struggle to find clothes and accessories that fit their needs. By directing customers who share the same general needs or values to one marketplace, growth can be achieved for smaller fashion brands, that can be difficult to achieve on their own websites and within their own geographical communities. Instead of looking at twenty five different websites to find an item, customers can search and buy in one place.
A Queer Marketplace
The marketplace potential is particularly potent in the queer community, where nothing of this nature really exists. The topic of queer customers was more fully realized on the recent blog post, Queer Customers in Search of Good Fit.
Combining the power of retail and marketing in one place has the potential to connect queer customers online in a very meaningful way. QueerCut co-founder Antonia Predovan sums it up perfectly, "The queer community is engaged, because they have to be. They have to rely on one another to find clothes that fit their gender expression and their bodies in all sorts of settings, whether it be professional or personal. QueerCut will be the place they come to shop, to educate themselves and to engage with other queer shoppers. It will be the ultimate niche driven marketplace!"
--Adrian Gray, CQB, Chief Queer Blogger
Are you a Queer Inclusive Brand?
If you are queer inclusive brand interested in connecting with queer customers, we'd love to hear from you. Please provide us with information about your brand on our Contact Page. Include your website, along with pertinent details about your brand, and we'll be sure to reach out to you.
If you are a customer, we invite you to participate in a short (6-8 minute) QueerCut Customer Survey, please click here. Your participation is very much appreciated.