Wendy Bendoni on Future Proofing Your Brand

Wendy Bendoni, Chair of Woodbury University's Fashion Marketing Department."Wendy K. Bendoni is an assistant professor and the chair of  both the Marketing and Fashion Marketing departments in the School of Business. She is also an established International retail forecaster and marketer for the past two decades and has been featured in Forbes, WWD and the Huffington Post as a fashion industry expert in the area of trends analysis. She has the expertise to project local as well of global trends in the lifestyle market and has produced over 300 trend and consumer reports for clients, ranging from Topshop, WWD MAGIC, Nordstrom, Selfridges, Carl Benz Academy (Mercedes Benz, China), BCBG, Levi’s, C & A, Target, Honda, Stila Cosmetics, FN PLATFORM, The Gap, Victoria Secrets and Guess.


Q:  What does it mean to “future-proof” a brand?

My recent WWD MAGIC lecture examined the consumer adoption process. When I was talking about future-proofing, I referenced the power of “intuitive innovation,” which basically ties in technology and digital with consumer behavior, and uses both of those to follow the process of adoption. It’s ultimately about bringing in the consumer: being aware, driving interest, doing evaluation and then adoption, and measuring that.  It’s focusing on that new, intuitive way of doing things and seeing how consumers adopt, which is basically the Amazon algorithm. That’s what it’s doing every time you purchase something or even put something in your cart — it’s measuring that.

Q:  Future-proofing seems to involve data-dependent activities every step of the way. Is that in fact the case?

Yes, and I’m very much a believer of actionable data, not data for data’s sake. When I look at data-driven insight, I’ll look at confirmation from consumer behavior, and then how, as a marketer, do you react to that? Is it around reviews? Is it around gatekeepers or influencers?

The second part looks at what we call drivers of change: analyzing any type of change — anything that will also adapt to that behavior and that can be measured through behavior patterns. How many people are coming in the store, and what are they doing in the store?

For instance, Lolli & Pop, a brick and mortar sweet shop, is now doing facial recognition. You can sign up and they’ll recognize you when you arrive. They’ll find out more about your likes and dislikes.  Are you allergic to peanuts? Are you a chocolate person? Basically, who are you?  And then, being intuitive, they might offer something before you even think about it. It’s the Amazon Prime world we live in, and brick and mortar is fighting to stay afloat.

Q:  Is future-proofing especially appropriate to online businesses or do offline businesses also face those same opportunities? 

You really can’t blur the lines right now because it’s the same consumer. Amazon Prime has set expectations for those in brick and mortar retail as well. Nordstrom recently opened up a store, Nordstrom Local, a storefront without all the merchandise. It’s really more of a lounge – you can get coffee and have a garment altered. You can order a dress and get it the same day.

Q:  But people like to shop. When you get right down to it, isn’t shopping really a sport?  How does that factor into it?

The browsing culture has moved online. That’s why you have all those shopping carts sitting there with nothing in them. It’s still a pastime, but it has changed because people want things and they want them now — once again, Amazon Prime.  When consumers want things on demand, it means working with technologies like artificial intelligence and natural language processing.

With an online clothing store like ASOS, let’s say you want a new pair of shoes? Now you can hold your phone up to the shoes you’re wearing, the app goes through all the inventory in ASOS and finds the closest shoe to match.

Q:  How do consumer reviews figure in to this realm of algorithms?

The whole idea of influencers ties into the notion of citizen journalism. And citizen journalism’s great and it’s still important, especially within the blogger community. Their opinions matter, and they have a huge audience. The big ones typically have more than a million Facebook followers. And many have the longevity that brands value.

Rotten Tomatoes and Yelp-type reviews are all based on the collective voice — people like you who are giving their opinions. Consumers on all levels now want to know the collective voice. It’s really powerful and the power of micro-bloggers is only growing stronger.

Q: The concept of future proofing assumes a certain dynamism in the market, so you want to get there before consumers do – you want to use technology to be anticipatory.  Is future-proofing just as important in markets where change isn’t quite so rapid? 

Just look at like the Food Network, or anything having to do with foodies, a huge market segment.  There’s a company called TasteMade, which has a collective voice with their community — about 5 million active followers on Instagram.

They’re reactive to consumers and their behaviors, whether around health or feel-good foods or whatever.  They’re amazing in their understanding of being reactive. Whatever industry you’re in, you need to have a way of being reactive.

That’s the joy of what social media does.  It makes the transaction transparent and reactive, which then makes the consumer feel you’re in the know.  If you get other followers and people reacting, you get the collective voice.  It’s all those kinds of triggers that make a consumer say, yes, I am going to buy from this company, or I believe in this company because they obviously know what’s happening and they’re relevant.

Q:  How big a factor are millennials in the future-proofing equation?  How much does age matter?

I am a big believer in an age-agnostic view when it comes to marketing products. Every generation is different than the generation before.  But the 40-year-old today is not the 40-year-old of 20 years ago.  And the truth is, we’re more active, there are more things going on, and so on.  I often tell brands to focus more on the psychographic, the behavior, than on the demographic, or cohort, group.

Q:  Are these lessons applicable across the board, regardless the size of the retailer and the products they’re selling?

My audience ranges from a mom-and-pop selling collegiate sweatshirts to Amazon.   The consistent problem is that people who feel they can future-proof tend to stay with the same business model we’ve had forever, and it doesn’t work. You’re not going to make it work.

I was recently in Switzerland, making a presentation to the Swiss Watch Association and discussing AI.  They did not want to touch it.  The reason?  They felt it was too advanced.  But it’s not, of course.

So no matter how small or big you are, there’s lots of amazing technology, much of it useful in future-proofing a brand or an entire business. The whole thing about Amazon and eBay is that everybody competes against everybody, so literally everyone can play.  


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