IN DEPTH: Instagram it. Like it? Make it.

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How social media and online feedback is shaping brand’s collections.

In this digital age of image and information sharing, designers are receiving feedback and comment about new collections on a daily basis. A savvy few have already turned this to their advantage, letting consumers shape their design process and new lines, Kathryn Bishop reports.

A buyer wandering a trade show will often be faced with the predicament of knowing whether a collection is just what their customer wants. But what if the hard work has already been done for them?

In this age of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – for some, a holy trinity of free marketing tools – an increasing number of independent designers are sourcing feedback about new or potential designs from the online community, posting photographs or questions to their followers and gleaning tens if not hundreds of responses in a matter of minutes. The result? Instant feedback about products and their saleability, which in turn helps designers to finalise their ideas on the likes of pricing, colourways and stone shapes, while also enabling them to curate which items will be part of their final edit.

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CHOOSING WHAT MAKES THE CUT
For jewellery designer Laura Gravestock, social media is an everyday tool that allows her to showcase that her products are not only handmade – she regularly shares pictures of her working at the bench – but also shows how they can be worn with styled images that illustrate how to stack and layer her collections. By placing these images in a public domain, Gravestock finds she can easily test the water with new lines.

“We normally use social media when designing new collections to give customers a sneak peek of some of the pieces we are working on,” she says. “This works really well as customers will give us feedback on the pieces and we can get a feel for which items will be popular when a collection launches.”

Two lines Gravestock was particularly keen to test was a set of delicate rings featuring comic book-style sayings BAM! and POW! The lines were somewhat different to the rings in her Dainty collection (of which they would be part) but a quick image post on photo sharing app Instagram showed what customers thought. “The BAM! and POW! pieces were a little different to the kind of thing we’d normally make and seeing how much customers liked them after we posted pictures through social media gave us the confidence that they would be bestsellers,” Gravestock explains. The rings made the cut and were recently part of the collection Gravestock showcased at Jewellery & Watch Birmingham.

For emerging brand V Jewellery, showcasing potential new designs before they are put into full production has been part of its design process from day one. Its co-founder and creative director Laura Vann explains: “I’m lucky in that the jewellery I design is for women similar to me and my friends, so when we first launched V Jewellery I would make a lot of decisions based on the opinions of those around me.” Since then, the brand has grown its social media presence, in particular through Instagram. “[Using Instagram] to gauge the popularity of pieces based on the response from our online followers is becoming a really useful tool,” Vann notes.

Both Gravestock and Vann concur that it is important to give customers a voice in new collections, especially when seeking repeat custom or when consumers have bought into a brand based on its current range. “The customers are involved – after all, they will be the ones purchasing from the collections, so we want to make sure we’re creating something they’ll want to buy,” says Gravestock. “This often results in customers getting in touch to find out when they can purchase from a new collection, or asking us to contact them when the pieces are available to buy.”

If Vann is unsure about a new piece, she will post a photo with an open question to her social media followers to gauge whether they like it or are similarly tentative. “Just recently I was wondering whether to include two rings into the SS14 collection and posed the dilemma to our Instagram followers,” she explains. “Many people commented positively, including the ex-accessories buyer for Liberty, so I re-included one of them and shall modify the other,” Vann explains. “As much as my followers love certain pieces, I can’t let them go out unless I’m 100% happy with them too.”

Gaining such instant feedback also allows potential customers to raise any queries or concerns about the designs in question, and in Gravestock’s view, can help to adapt pieces or address design issues early on, rather than later in the production process.

TWEETING TREASURES
Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2013 NexGem Alyssa Smith has created some of her bestselling pieces by previewing them online. One of her most iconic designs is a necklace based on the bird logo of Twitter, which she has created in silver and gold, with various incarnations including stone-set versions. She used Twitter to directly promote the piece and capture the public’s attention. Now, Smith goes as far as using the public at the very start of the design process. “The first thing I do, before even start to think about designing a new piece, how it might look or what it might be called, is to ask the people who really matter exactly what they would like to see for sale,” she states. Those people in question are Smith’s Twitter followers, with her using the site to ask what kind of trinkets her customers would like her to make next or are coveting at present. Most recently she has had requests for necklaces featuring words or phrases, as well as Great Gatsby-inspired designs. “Then comes the prototyping stage where I make a piece for myself to wear and show off,” she explains. Smith regularly tweets selfie photos of her wearing new designs, in her own words “blatantly plastering them all over social media” to gauge the reaction. “Sometimes designs need adjusting to suit the customer base in terms of retail price, size or colour options available [but] if the reaction is amazing then I will launch it and add it to my collections and if not, I will sell the piece as a one off – it’s a win-win.”

Smith has even won her own independent fan base dubbed the Alyssa Smith Groupies, which has its own Twitter account and with whom she previews design ideas first and foremost. “I would say that the public and my customers are involved 100% in the collections I design and launch,” she says. Smith also allows her fans and followers a closer look at her life, which she believes makes her jewellery brand feel more accessible: “I post a lot of photos on social media of every aspect of my life and business. This is all part of my brand image and marketing because my customers feel they are involved with my company, know me personally, and feel they are a part of it.”

One recent example of how social media has inspired her is Smith’s Birdy Talk necklace which, before it had even gone for sale publicly or been physically finished, had won her dozens of orders, simply through sharing a photograph of her working on it at the bench.

FUTURE COLLECTIONS
Smith, Gravestock and Vann have used social media to their advantage, and have designs that have gone on to be bestsellers after being presented to the public first. But how do they anticipate their relationship with the public will evolve as time goes on and their brands continue to gain strength?

Arguably, letting members of the public have a greater influence on how a designer or brand works could mean the creative process is diluted or becomes less important in favour of trying to please the customer base, rather than pushing original design ideas forward.

The designers featured here however believe that the method of previewing collections to the public, when used in balance, can only bring positive results.

“As a designer I feel it’s important not to get fixed on one set path and listening to customers and followers can sometimes positively redirect my creative process,” says Vann. “The important thing is to find a balance between having an open mind while still ensuring that the brand aesthetic is not lost in a sea of disjointed designs aimed to please the masses.”

Gravestock concurs, and says that while she loves winning feedback from her customers, she will ultimately select which designs make the cut. “I’d still say my biggest influence is my gut instinct and that’s what I ultimately follow.”

No matter the size of a business, it is clear that free social media tools can positively shape the design process, providing both the designers creating the products and those buyers seeking new collections for their stores the knowledge that a customer base exists out there for the product. As a result, these informal methods of research are helping to win tomorrow’s sales.

This feature was taken from the March issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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