Losing Yourself

Dark wash jeans and polka dots for a casual Friday at the office.

 

Silver cut-out flats for a little flare.

 

Jeans: TJ Maxx

Tank top: Charlotte Russe

Cardigan: Target

Necklace: Forever21

Earrings: Silpada

Flats: Payless

Like the outfit? See more details here!

 

This is the final post in my discussion about how retailers and bloggers work together to bring fashion to the masses. I’ve discussed many types of incentives and partnerships, but I haven’t discussed how it makes readers and bloggers feel, and how it impacts the perception of a blogger. While the partnerships happen all the time, not everyone is happy about it.

First, some readers dislike seeing free items or promotional plugs from their favorite bloggers. Part of this is because they feel like a friend has sold them out, and that instead of being the trusted, unbiased source of information, the blogger is now speaking on behalf of a retailer. And, if the reader wanted to know information from the retailer, they’d just view the traditional advertising, or go to the retailers website or store. Many bloggers try to combat this by blatantly calling out items that were given to them by the retailer, and being selective about which retailers to work with. By being selective, they hope to continue convey their own sense of style and approval to the readers.

However, some bloggers and readers feel that when a blogger partners with a retailer, the blogger loses their own style and voice. If they’re constantly receiving free items from one or two retailers, they stop being “themselves”, and become a model instead. Again, if readers wanted to look at models, they’d view the magazines and commercials. Readers want to see a real person, living a real life, wearing the clothes. Sure, that funky piece looks great in a magazine spread, but how do I incorporate it into my daily office wear? Of course that over-sized bag and sky-high heels work for standing still for a photo shoot, but how am I supposed to make my morning commute in those? When bloggers seem to stop functioning in the fashion, and just wearing pieces because they received them for free, or were paid to do a review, they start to lose themselves. And, in losing themselves, many start to lose readers. And, if there’s no readers, or readers who are no longer influenced to buy items because they don’t value the blogger’s opinions, there’s no reason for the retailer to continue the partnership. It’s a fine line when partnering with retailers to make sure that a blogger stays true to themselves.

And finally, the pressure of the partnerships and incentives causes some bloggers to burn out. They say you shouldn’t make your hobby your job, as it will cease to be enjoyable, creative outlet. I deal with this to some degree, as it relates to my job, classes, and scrapbooking/card-making. I do a fair amount of design work in my day-job, so my brain is usually too tapped at the end of the week to do design work for the fun of it. Creativity-on-demand is hard to provide, and the same is true for fashion bloggers. Some have admitted to being overwhelmed by too much stuff, and others have found that they get in a rut by constantly trying to bring a new twist to a retailer’s piece. Sometimes the pressure of a “job” makes it harder for bloggers to marry function with form, and their looks become less appealing. Again, when the blogger stops providing valuable ideas to the readers due to burnout, the readers leave, and partnerships are no longer appealing to the retailer.

There are many pros to blogger-retailer arrangements, but bloggers must consider the risks before jumping into an agreement. There is a real risk for losing yourself, and eventually, losing your readers. How do you feel when you “c/o” in a blogger’s item list? Do you like seeing a head-to-toe look provided by one retailer? Have you stopped reading a certain blogger because they lost themselves? Like the outfit? See more details here!

Affiliate Links, Ads, Sponsorships

 

Conservative office outfit with a pop of color.

Dress: Target

Cardigan: Charlotte Russe

Belt/Necklace: Forever21

Earrings: NY & Co.

Shoes: Sam and Libby, via DSW

Like the outfit? See more details here!

 

My recent outfit posts have been dealing with ways that retailers partner with bloggers, and today’s post discusses paid posts and revenue opportunities for bloggers.

Some bloggers use affiliate links in their posts, with a pay-per-click method for receiving revenue from a retailer. They may not go directly through a retailer for this service, as Google, Bing, and other third-party platforms allow you to sign up for affiliate links with their partners. Thus, any time you mention an item from that retailer, a link is added*. When readers click to the retailers website, the blogger makes money for that referral, just like real-life referrals often come with some type of incentive (ie: reduced rent for referring a new tenant, a giftcard for sending a friend to doctor’s office, etc.)

Just like hard copy magazines, some bloggers offer paid advertising space on their site. The payments can be negotiated on a per month, per page view, or per click basis. You see this with independent or boutique brands quite frequently, as they don’t have the budget or wide-spread appeal to support huge ad campaigns. Again, this is a win for the blogger as well, since they can support their blog with steady revenue from advertisements. Many bloggers are protective of the ad space, allowing only retailers whom they personally frequent to advertise on the blog. This is a great strategy on the part of the bloggers, as it solidifies their credibility and the view that they are a neutral observer, a friend offering their favorite items to other friends on the site.

Sponsorships are another great way for retailers to partner with bloggers. They may pay a fee for a mention in a post, or they may send over a product for a review. The tone of the review is up to the blogger, but the retailer has specifically paid for a dedicated post. Sponsorships don’t always include a product review, and some bloggers give the option to by a link or a mention on posts for a specified amount of time. This helps increase brand awareness for the retailer, and allows the blogger to post on whatever they want while making a little money.

Each of these methods creates a win for the retailer and the blogger, as retailers get a guaranteed mention by an influential blogger, and the blogger makes a little money from their side project. While partnerships are becoming commonplace in the blogosphere, they’re not without controversy. Next week’s post will take a look at how these partnerships are viewed among the web community. Like the outfit? See more details here!

*Update: Angeline mentioned in the comments that most bloggers still have to choose where the links appear, etc. instead of appearing on their own. My mention above was in relation to forums where I’ve seen a commenter mention a retailer, and a link posts in the comment, without the author including a link. However, usually the blogger must sign up through some kind of platform that provides affiliate links.

Freebies

Jewel tones and a black pencil skirt might be my new favorite combo!

 

Gorgeous necklace to add a little fun to such a conservative outfit.

 

Skirt: Ann Taylor LOFT

T-shirt: Target

Cardigan: Target

Bracelet: Target

Necklace/Earrings/Belt: NY & Co.

Shoes: Alfani

Like the outfit? See more details here!

 

I’ve been working my way through the tactics that retailers use to partner with bloggers, and today’s post discusses the “freebies” that retailers give to bloggers and readers.

Giveaways are usually done from the retailer to the blogger, who then passes it along to their readers. First, the retailer gives an item to the blogger to work into their regular wardrobe, and often provides the exact same item to the blogger for a reader to win. Most bloggers require the reader to leave comment, Tweet the post, or like their Facebook page to be entered into the giveaway lottery. To me, giveaways are not as engaging as some of the other methods, as it only requires a quick one-line mention, instead of browsing through the retailer’s merchandise or store.

Contests, on the other hand, are a great way to engage bloggers and readers. Many contests include a story or picture involving the retailer, such as, “Tell us what items you love most at [Retailer], and how you would style them, to be entered into a contest to win a $100 shopping spree!” Or, “Send us a photo wearing an item from [Retailer], and you’ll be entered to win [item]!” I think contests get the readers thinking about ways to incorporate the retailer’s items into their daily lives, and may encourage them to step foot into a store. The more you can get a person to imagine your brand in their life, the more likely they are to purchase something from you.

Discounts are a great way for the blogger, reader, and retailer to win. When bloggers give discount codes, they are more likely to have that post re-Tweeted or posted on other social media sites, and their readers will be more loyal, in the hope that they’ll receive another discount code. The reader wins because they get reduced prices on items that they’ve already seen on their favorite blogger, and continuing to read the blog feels like a reward. Finally, the retailers win, as they have built-in tracking to measure the ROI, and a targeted audience for a discount, leading to a higher likelihood of purchase.

Freebies are popular among the blog community, and retailers are cashing in on this type of marketing strategy. Who doesn’t like a freebie? Like the outfit? See more details here!

This Look Brought to You By…

Khaki with a pop of color!

 

We got a little creative in this shoot... check out the gallery for more!

Pants: NY & Co.

Tank: Target

Cardigan: Target

Necklace: Icing

Earrings: Charlotte Russe

Like the outfit? See more details here!

I talked last week about why retailers find partnerships with bloggers to be an effective strategy, so now I want to dive into “how” they go about these partnerships. Styling a look is one of the easiest ways for retailers to get their brands to a blogger’s audience. Retailers go about offering styling options to bloggers in different ways, but the goal is to show the readers of the blog how the clothes, make-up, or accessories can look in real life.

Sometimes retailers offer a head-to-toe styling, giving the blogger a shopping spree or giftcard to pick out a look completely composed of items in the store. This includes the shoes, jewelry, handbag, and main ensemble pieces. This is a great option, as it allows the retailer to showcase several different items from various areas of the store. Since there’s several options, it’s more likely that someone will like at least one piece featured in the blog post. Better yet, it gives commenters a chance to talk about different items they like, and offer up other styling suggestions for their favorite pieces.

Retailers have also used challenges to feature hard-to-style or off-beat pieces, allowing the blogger to use one piece from their line, and combine it with pieces they already have in their closet. Again, this works well to show readers that you can incorporate pieces from the featured retailer into your working wardrobe. Most people don’t have the money to regularly splurge on a full head-to-toe look, so it’s helpful to see how one piece can work in a variety of ways, and helps the reader envision that piece in their closet, working with items they already own.

Finally, some retailers partner with bloggers to create look books, fashion shows, or regular features on that blog. They may invite influential bloggers to the store for a “personal shopping” day, which pulls in the reader’s local audience. Or, they may feature the blogger in a campaign with “Blogger’s picks”, creating a win-win for the retailer and the blogger. The retailer receives a captive audience and brand champion, and the blogger receives exposure via a new outlet, which increases their readership. When a blogger regularly features a retailer, they increase awareness and confidence in the quality, versatility, and price-point of the brand, and readers are much more likely to browse through the retailer’s store or website.

I’m not very brand-loyal in my outfits, but styling options are a great way for retailers to build relationships with bloggers and their readers. Like the outfit? See more details here!

Retail Marketing

 

A feisty outfit after a long absence!

Dress: JC Penney

Shoes: Alfani

Earrings: NY & Co.

Like the outfit? See more details here!

After a long absence, the outfits are making an appearance on the blog again! As I’m not a fashion blogger, the outfits may come and go in spurts, but a recent comment on Corporette sparked my interest in doing another outfit post. I read Corporette regularly, more for the comments than the actual posts. Occasionally, a “what are you wearing today” comment thread pops up, and the women will describe their outfit, shoes, and accessories for the day. During one of these threads, a commenter noted that she felt like it was a prompt from a retail marketer to get insight. While this is definitely not the case for that thread, it’s not unusual for retailers to target influential bloggers for partnerships, features, and information. It’s a great strategy that combines thought leadership, “real” marketing, and the bright (not so) new toy, social media.

First, this strategy is effective because you’re reaching a targeted audience through a credible source. The blogger is already a thought leader with strong influence over their readers, so a recommendation from this blogger is almost like a recommendation from a close friend. And, who do we believe more? The greedy advertisers with a profit motive, or the friendly blogger who just wants to help us look great? Retailers know that reaching an audience through a blogger offers mass-media effects, with much less skepticism from customers.

Second, people love to see “real” marketing, and a blogger wearing an outfit makes a bigger impact than an airbrushed model or a mannequin. How many people honestly have a model’s figure? Many people, especially women, think that they must have a model’s body to pull off an outfit, so seeing it on a real woman (or man, though the prevalence of fashion blogging is higher among women) makes them feel like they, too, could wear the outfit featured in the post. On Corporette, for example, “The Skirt” is a closet staple, regularly reported on by commenters and blog owner alike. “The Skirt” is a Halogen skirt at Nordstrom’s, with rave reviews from an influential blogger, and a backing from the whole community.

The concept of “community” leads me to the third reason this strategy is effective: social media. The ability to really connect to a brand is higher now than it has ever been. Blogs allow people to connect with not only the owner, but the wider community on the web. Thus, as a retailer, you want to plug into that community, and partnering with the blogger at the head of the community is a great place to deliver your message. Once the community embraces your brand message, it’s no longer about a corporation “selling” an item, but a community championing an item.

This post details the “why” of retailers working with bloggers, and I plan to take a look at the “how” over several posts in the coming weeks. Like the outfit? See more details here!

The Right Tools

 

Jewelry and a pencil skirt dress up this plain white t-shirt

Skirt: Ann Taylor Loft

T-shirt: Target

Necklace/Earrings/Belt: Forever 21

Shoes: Sam and Libby, via DSW

Like the outfit? See more details here!

 

 

These photos were taken after a long day at work and class. When I asked my husband to snap a few pictures of my outfit, he went into photographer mode, and ended up pulling out his fancy studio lights because the “natural” light from the overhead fixture made the photos look terrible. He also switched out his lenses and played with different flash diffusers. How did he end up getting a few decent photos? He used the right tools! There have been several personal and professional situations recently that have further re-enforced my belief that success is partially dependent on the right tools.

Be selective. We’re working on a huge CRM project at my company, and there’s a lot of features of the system that we just won’t use. There’s a lot of phrases and headers that we haven’t defined, so they haven’t been used in the past. Basically, we’ve got this huge tool that we’re not using effectively because it’s not the right tool for our job yet. Sometimes it seems like having all the tools that anyone, anywhere, could ever need is the perfect way to ensure that you have the right tools for your job. I think this is incorrect, and that often times a select number of the most heavily used tools will serve you better. Think about how much time you have to spend organizing and sifting through all the extra tools that you have, when all you really need is one specific tool. In our case, we don’t need to move inventory through the same sales cycle as service events. Thus, we are better served by eliminating the excess menus, phrases, screens, and keystrokes than we are by keeping tons of unused tools around “just in case”. Be selective in which tools you choose to keep handy!

Know the job, know your audience. I’m an avid scrapbooker (when I’m not in school, of course!), so I’ve accumulated a lot of tools and tricks to use with those tools that help me make my designs “better”. I found out just how much my designs are based on my use of tools when I’ve agreed to create scrapbooks for other people to put pictures in later. Basically, I have to remember that other people don’t have the same tools that I have, so my design can’t be dependent on use of the fancy tools. The same is true in business. You’ve got to know the job and design the solution in such way that special tools aren’t necessary for people to implement the solution. If you require that they use special tools, you may be complicating the job to the point that it can’t be accomplished. For our CRM project, I’m working with our sales team and management team to find out exactly what information they need, and what tactics they can use to retrieve this information. If I just went in and designed it from my own perspective, I would be giving them a tool they couldn’t use.

My husband knew which tools to use to make these photos better… do you know which tools you need to make your business better? Like the outfit? Like the outfit? See more details here!

Murphy’s Law

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” To be fair, the forthcoming situation isn’t really the best representation of Murphy’s Law, but my classmate mentioned it as an immediate reaction, so I figured it can’t be THAT far off base!

I’ve mentioned before that MBA students dress much better than undergrad students, mainly as a function of coming to class directly from the office. I’ve got mid-terms this week, so I intentionally came into the office early to allow myself time leave early to go home, change clothes, and eat a snack before heading to the exam. Lo and behold, the one day that I don’t dress like a professional to attend class, there’s someone there who I’d really like to network with! Our professor is speaking at a conference on the other side of the world, so his TA came to proctor the exam. She gave us a little bit of her background information, and it turns out that she was the HR Manager for a large company that I’d be interested in working for someday. Yeah, not the best time to be dressed in yoga pants, tank top, and casual sweater! Thus, I decided to send her an email to see if she’d have a moment to let me buy her a coffee and discuss future opportunities at the company. She’s a fairly young doctoral student at the moment, so I’m sure she would’ve excused my appearance on exam day, but still… the first impression is extremely important, and I think more professional attire would have been helpful in this situation.

Have you ever been caught in the perfect networking opportunity, but lacked a resume, business card, or professional attire? I think another cliche applies… “Be prepared!”

Power Ties

 

Can purple be a power color?
My photog husband told me to, “look powerful and commanding”.    Did it work?

Dress: JC Penney

Heels: Alfani

Belt/Necklace/Earrings: NY & Co.

Like the outfit? See more details here!

 

The standard “power suit” for a man is dark suit, white shirt, bold red tie. The tie is the key piece, the “power tie”, and it’s the red color against the other neutrals that seals the deal. I’m wondering if this dress qualifies as a “power dress”, since the whole thing is bright? The use of color and the meaning of color seems to be different for men and women, and I think this dress in particular, with it’s all-bright color, is probably more “demure” than “powerful”. It’s funny though, because I’ve seen men wearing purple and pink in the office, so I don’t think that these are “girly” colors anymore. Color plays a huge part in branding and recognition of products, and the use of color for personal branding is no different.

Conventional wisdom still holds that if you want to look serious, professional, and conservative, you don a grey, black, or navy suit, with a crisp, white shirt, and plain black shoes. However, it doesn’t seem to me that women add the essential “power tie” or other accessory. I guess women could wear a large, red necklace, but it wouldn’t read the same as the red necktie. It’s also interesting that red seems to be the only other color to add to this look, even though any other color in the rainbow would match.

Deep, rich, blues and purple generally represent royalty, which, one would think, is the epitome of power. However, blues and purples are not part of the standard power suit for men or women. And, I would argue, that a royal purple dress would not command the same level of professionalism, seriousness, and conservativism that the standard black suit conveys.

The feelings behind pastel and bright colors make much more sense to me when looking at them in personal branding. Pastels are soft and calming, so it would make sense that these are not generally used to convey power in the workplace. Bright colors scream fun, laid-back, and carefree, which, again, are qualities that you’d focus on less in the workplace. Thus, the bright colors and pastels are usually paired with an otherwise conservative suit or color palate to tone down the less-than-professional qualities they seem to embody.

Of course, this is all turned on its head in today’s workplace, which attempts to strive to more work-life balance, and values uniqueness. The person in the bright green dress appears to be more “creative”, and the person in the lavender shirt becomes “cool-headed”, both traits that are valued in today’s corporate environment. I’ve been trying to wear more color, since my choices generally vary between black and blue if left to my own devices! At least I’ve got one of the two power elements of an outfit down, right? Like the outfit? See more details here!

Temps are Rising

 

Skirt and light-weight cardigan

Summer is here, and as the temperatures rise, the dress code rules seem to fluctuate as well. I’ve talked before about the illusion of professional dress, but this article in the Wall Street Journal made me laugh. It talks about shorts suits being all the rage this season, and how they’re perfectly office appropriate. I find this to be hilarious, as I would never consider wearing shorts to the office. But, as in the original post about the illusion of professional clothes, how are skirts different than knee-length shorts? There’s also been several comments in the discussion of this article about the fact that men don’t get to wear shorts to the office, so why would women be able to? Again, with the modesty issue, how is a woman’s calf more modest than a man’s calf? And, don’t calves look the same in shorts and skirts?

I did see a comment equating shorts suits to the suits that little boys wear for Easter, so they are not inappropriate due to modesty, but due to age. This seems to make more sense to me, since relatively the same amount of skin would be shown. It leads me to think about women’s dresses and skirts, too. You rarely see women wearing ankle-length dresses and skirts in the office, but young girls regularly wear full-length skirts and dresses. So, why do men’s pants get longer with age, but women’s dresses get shorter with age? This is contradictory if a large part of professional dress is modesty, since longer skirts cover more skin.

In short, I don’t like the shorts suits, and much prefer the skirt look shown above. However, I can’t really give a firm reason for disliking this style, since the young/old, modest/immodest debate is contradictory! Like the outfit? See more details here!

Less is More

Blue jersey dress, knit blazer, black pumps
Versatile pendant necklace

 

Like the outfit? See more details here!

You probably remember this dress from the Day to Dinner post a few weeks back, and I must say, I need to buy this dress in more colors! The fit and comfort are prefect for the rapidly approaching summer months in Texas, and I’m bringing it out on the blog once more. The minimalist closet challenges have been taking the blogging world by storm, with shopping bans, limiting the number of pieces from which to create an ensemble, and generally doing more with less. Everyone says reducing the clutter in their closet has made getting dressed in the morning a much simpler task. I’ve always been a closet minimalist, at least compared to the other women in my family. My husband thinks I have a ton of clothes, but it’s not even close to what my sister keeps! I think the “less is more” trend is something that marketers should keep in mind. It’s not just clothes, but houses, cars, and stuff in general. I’m wondering if this trend is largely attributable to the recession, or just burn-out on the “American dream”. We’re realizing that maybe experiences are worth more than a huge house, a closet full of clothes, or steak dinners every night. The flip side could also be that people are opting for higher quality items, and thus increasing the longevity of their items. Particularly for business wear, the fashions aren’t going to change so drastically that you must buy the latest season’s trends in order to look nice. So, following the less is more mantra, it seems like a lot of people are purchasing more expensive, enduring items, and then just changing up a few elements. Are you going “less is more”? Like the outfit? See more details here!