Lingerie makers ask women what they really want
On a blustery day in March, Sandra Linen-Ward was getting ready to host a bra-fitting party in her Bronx apartment. Chicken drumettes, crudités, chips and salsa were on the menu, and she was putting together gift bags with a T-shirt and samples of Avon perfume. She had handouts with exercises to "boost your breasts" and a reprint of a Redbook article about girlfriend get-togethers.
"My girlfriends are excited," Linen-Ward said a few days before the party. "They feel they don't really know how to measure themselves. Besides, it's a party, and we're going to have a good time."
Linen-Ward is a real brand advocate. She's the one who's always sharing info about new products with coworkers and friends. While she loves coupons and deals, she also believes that name-brand products offer better quality. "I like being able to bring people together and show them something new," she says.
When the 15 women of various ages and sizes converged in her home, Linen-Ward would be ready. She had a DVD explaining the subtleties of bra fitting, a tape measure and two sample bras. Yes, it was a lot of work, but Linen-Ward had a lot of help.
She was one of approximately 1,000 women participating in the Warner's Fit-to-a-T House Party to launch Invisible Bliss, a new bra designed to be worn under T-shirts. To find 999 other Sandra Linen-Wards, Warner's turned to House Party, a sort of online dating service for brands that combines social media, word-of-mouth and in-home promotions.
"We devise a unique approach for every event," says CEO Kitty Kolding. "And then we have a whole delivery organization that handles every single element." House Party creates a promotion plan for each client, and then locates the appropriate party hosts through a combination of on-site applications, client databases, in-store signage, statement stuffers and even on-air promotions. There may be as many as 25,000 applications to host a party, according to Kolding. Every applicant is scored to find the best matches for the client.
The technology platform hosts a custom microsite for each event, sending party hosts reminders and tips, and letting them upload photos and videos during every phase, from party-planning to the post-event wrap-up. Every interaction is measured and tracked, natch.
House Party provides marketers with an eq, or event quotient, letting them know how the event performed. Warner's
wanted to increase sales of Invisible Bliss, so it provided two-for-one coupons to party attendees. In the post-event period, House Party reminded partiers to go to the store and get inside one of
Lifting and Separating
A woman's bra can be her best friend, but sometimes it's abusive like Chris Brown - pinching, pulling, scratching, squeezing. To get women talking about their unmentionables, JCPenney launched a private online community for Ambrielle, its new high-end lingerie line.
It worked with Passenger, a technology and services provider, to set up a community where participants could express themselves via discussion boards and live online chats with the product team. JCPenney already had a customer database, so Passenger used it to find consumers who really wanted to communicate with the brand.
"This was a great way to take that database they've built and give the people in it something that was meaningful. Those who choose to do it are incredibly valuable, and it's great to provide a place for them to take that enthusiasm and convert it into actionable results," says Samantha Skey, Passenger's senior vice president of business development.
As JCPenney listened to customers, the retailer's design team made some significant changes to products, such as using a different fit size for 36-C bras and giving a U-shape to the backs of larger-sized bras to reduce slippage. The company made sure the community knew it had responded to their comments, and it continues to let the community help guide further product development. The company believes the interaction led to stronger sales when the lingerie line launched in July.
Skey says that, in addition to giving the company insights and
ideas, participating in the private community made women into brand ambassadors, because they felt invested in the products and the brand. She says, "The process of innovating with the company makes
them feel more connected to the brand, more sympathetic, and, overall, more engaged."
Agent Provocateur says it's the world's most erotic lingerie. The S&M-tinged British line has 13 stores internationally and an online presence that includes extremely sexy videos, a digital magazine and, of course, hundreds of photos of models in underwear. While the site's T&A might seem to appeal to men, in December, AP, as it's called by fans, launched a social media campaign aimed at the brand's audience of modern, confident women.
Campaign central was the blog Hello Agent Provocateur, written by "Olivia." The brand also began tweeting under the moniker MsProvocateur and put up a Facebook page. Says Scott Goodson, CEO of StrawberryFrog, the agency behind the social media endeavors, "We want to perpetually generate content that's relevant to issues in the daily lives of American women. The content needs to be thought-provoking - not in a traditional lingerie way, but in a much broader context."
The blog barely referenced the ap merchandise and e-commerce site. Instead, posts such as "Will She Still Go Out with You if You're Broke?" and "Sex News from Around the World" focused on creating the persona of a sexy, smart adventuress. "We're creating content beyond the message of, 'Look great in our underwear,'?" Goodson says. "Our task is the innovative use of social media to activate the AP fan base and build a movement online."
Then, on February 26, MsProvocateur announced via Twitter: "Because of your comments, AP's sending me around the world to research sex!" The tweets stopped, and the blog went down. Now, Goodson says the whole thing was a Valentine's promotion that was planned to finish at the end of February.
Agent Provocateur didn't respond to a request for comment, so we may never know whether this campaign was a counterintuitively short-term community initiative, if the burden of creating that stream of content was too overwhelming, or if the brand's marketers just changed their minds. But it shows that social media marketing is not a guaranteed slam dunk - or, in this case, maybe not a Black Diamond Fantasy Miracle Bra.