The “nonstyle” of #normcore has emerged fully formed on social media, courtesy of a NYMag.com article about the phenomenon, and brands are trying to figure out whether or not it should be A Thing. Simply put, normcore is a fashion aesthetic that favors a “self-aware, stylized blandness.” Can middle-of-the-road brands use it to sell more mom jeans and sensible shoes? Should hipster (and hipster-adjacent) labels use the term as a springboard off which to bounce toward their next ironic shift? Do trends like these offer opportunities for long-term success with new audiences?
Quick answer to those questions: Of course; they certainly will; and not really.
— Gap (@Gap) February 27, 2014
For brands that depend on online communities to steer their marketing campaigns, listening to audiences is critical. But this latest fadlet is a perfect example of how brands can bite the hand that feeds them. Fleshed out as a concept by trend forecasting group K-Hole, normcore represents the kind of bloodless, data-driven trend that brands can attach themselves to without much actual human research. But brands that engage in this kind of trendchasing make three fundamental mistakes.
Big data, little human research
It’s one thing to use customer and social media data to help shape a marketing campaign; it’s quite another to base an entire campaign on a quickly emerging fad. The only reliable way to keep customers engaged and ready to buy is to research them consistently, and that takes time. Identifying where audiences spend their time online and reaching out to the media outlets they read most are just a few ways to stay in touch with which trends are really worth investing in.
Chances are that stores like Urban Outfitters and Gap might benefit from a sales blip from this trend. For companies focused on long-term growth, however, investing in each passing fad could prove both exhausting and costly. Big brands like H&M and Forever 21 mimic the cyclical styles of fashion runways, but it’s a business model that relies on an audience that eventually ages out of its products. Smaller brands can’t afford to pivot so quickly and so often.
Aiming too high
The normcore aesthetic, for all its deliberate plainness, appears to attract a self-described high-minded individual, the kind of fashion-conscious consumer who might read about a similar sense of style in a William Gibson novel and see its appeal. Normcore could be a lucrative opportunity for a brand looking to attract a niche audience or get a quick boost from a short-lived trend. But for brands looking to expand their audiences or their mainstream appeal, normcore—ironically—isn’t a safe bet. Trends can help steer mainstream culture, but they can also help identify groups with limited scope and appeal.
Fashion trends can vanish and reappear with little rhyme or reason—after all, no one expected harem pants to make a comeback after the 80s. But for content marketing built to last, staying away from manufactured fads can save brands time, money and heartache in the long run. Flexibility is important in content marketing, and the power to evolve with an audience requires listening to them.
Image credit: Drew Bell