Branded apparel is a great way to market your company – but you need to inspire people to actually wear your clothes. Here’s how you can do so.

Whether you’re establishing a new clothing brand or simply promoting your business with some sweet duds, there are a few rules you need to be aware of. See, while the successful marketing of branded apparel can be extremely rewarding, it’s also very easy to get wrong.

If you’re looking for examples of branded blunders, you’ll find no shortage of them. The industry is filled with designers and hopefuls who, while they may have their hearts in the right place, seem to have little understanding of what’s involved in a successful branding venture – let alone how to translate that onto a shirt. That’s where we come in, naturally.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the difference between a branding amateur and a branding expert – and how you can ensure you’re the latter, rather than the former. We’re going to talk about how you can design some branded clothes that not only market your business effectively, but end up being something your customers really want to wear.

First, Do Your Research

Maybe I sound like a broken record here, but the most important element of designing any brand is to do your homework before you even think of moving to the design phase. Who is the apparel for? What’s their age demographic? What’s their profession? Where will they be wearing your clothes, and why?

Middle-aged, blue-collar workers are going to wear very different outfits from independently wealthy millennials. They’ll have a different sense of style. Different taste in colors and fabrics. There will be a particular set of designs that resonates with your target audience – and without an understanding of that audience, you’re basically leaving things up to chance as far as whether or not your designs do.

Demographic research is only the tip of the iceberg, too. There are other questions you need to ask yourself if your clothing brand is going to enjoy any sort of success. Can you identify the difference between men’s apparel and women’s apparel?

Do you know how you’re going to emblazon your logo on your outfits? Do you know what material you want your shirts to use? Do you know which color scheme (or schemes) you’ll be sticking with? What about your budget?

And most importantly, is there actually a demand for such apparel? While it’s entirely possible to generate some demand with a skillful marketing campaign, you can’t really convince people to buy your clothes if they never had any interest in the first place. After you’ve done your research, it’s therefore advised that you start with baby steps.

“[Reddit shop founder Alexis Ohanian] used his success with [the site] to go on and create more promotional material for his other projects, Breadpig and flight search engine Hipmunk,” writes Inc’s Tim Donnelly. “He learned the key is to test the waters a big before you invest in a bunch of swag with your logo on it.”

Figure Out What Defines You

This one’s closely-related to doing your research, but it’s important enough to merit its own mention. There’s one question you need to answer about your business if you’re to have any success in the marketing arena. What defines your brand?

What’s the story behind your business? What makes you unique from the hundreds of other businesses that do what you do? Why should a customer choose you over one of your competitors?

One business might define itself through a vibrant attitude and a cheerful approach to life. Another might have the personality and culture of a counter-corporate rebel. The important thing here is consistency – whatever culture you choose, you’ve got to stick with it.

And if you do want to change, don’t try to do it in too radical a way.

Do you recall that painfully awkward Miracle Whip ad campaign from 2009?

“We are miracle whip, and we will not tone it down,” the ads defiantly trumpeted. Unfortunately…no one was really keen on associating Miracle Whip with any sort of ‘cool’ political movement. It was stuff you put on your sandwiches, not a cultural revolution. The ads were painful to watch, simply because of how tone-deaf they were to the brand’s existing image.

Don’t make the same mistake – understand how your brand is perceived, and what might be involved in changing its image.

Remember The Rules Of Corporate Logo Design

All the rules behind designing a successful corporate logo go double for branded apparel. Courtesy of Mashable:

  • Be unique and clever. Design something that represents your brand in an almost roundabout fashion – think outside the box.
  • Understand what you’re representing. What does your logo actually mean? Is that the same as what you want it to mean?
  • Be colorful! What colors represent your brand?
  • Think about how your company name fits into the logo.
  • Make sure your logo strikes a balance between simple and fun.
  • Tap into online resources.
  • Remember that logo design is an ongoing process.

Of course, there are a few additional rules where clothing is concerned. Your logo needs to be present on the outfits, but not overstated – sometimes, it’s enough to include a small variation of your brand’s image and keep to the color schemes. Of course, that isn’t to say that the logo always needs to be in the same place, or even that it needs to be instantly visible – you could very well put out some shirts that feature cool artwork, with your logo in an understated position.

Alternatively, you could do all of the above – but we’ll touch on that in a moment.

Keep It Consistent

Once you’ve settled on a logo, there’s one thing that’s more important than anything else: consistency. The key to having a recognizable brand image is that the core elements which define that image are instantly recognizable. Nike, for example, has the check mark. Georgio Armani has the stylized font. Puma’s got its cat.

You get the idea. All the best clothing brands – really, all the best brands in general – have a consistent image across all platforms. If your own brand is going to be recognized, you need to maintain that consistency, as well.

“Many companies underestimate the importance of brand consistency and how it impacts their global success,” reads a blog post on Brandobility. “Consistency fosters confidence in your business, develops and solidifies your message, and promotes customer loyalty…To ensure that your branding remains consistent, all of your marketing materials should feature the same logo, slogans, fonts, and general color scheme.”

Don’t Build a Brand – Build a Culture

Your brand is more than some words on a page, and more than some pictures on a shirt. It’s an idea. A personality. An environment.

A culture. This links back to the points I originally made about developing an effective logo. What ideas does your brand represent – how do you want your customers to feel when they think about your business? How do you want people to talk about and interact with you?

“The first step in building a culture around your brand is to DEFINE the culture you’re seeking to appeal to and develop,” Lain lee of Lain Lee 3 Design explains in a Go Media interview. “ A huge mistake a lot of these apparel lines make is not defining their brand – the who, what and why they’re doing it.  They start out by making clothes they or their friends want to wear more than anyone else, never really taking the time to do their due diligence and research, making sure that their audience is also looking for what they’re putting out.”

Remember: The Customer Comes First

Quick question: what do major airline companies, telecom providers, and mobile carriers all have in common? Give up? Terrible customer service.

While there are certainly exceptions, ask any room full of people and there’ll be at least one person who’s had a negative experience with any of the above. And trust me on this – few things sour a brand’s image faster than the notion that they don’t care about their customers. On the flipside, few things promote brand loyalty better than a great customer support experience.

Be transparent. Keep your word. Show people that you care about them, and they’ll repay you with repeat business (and favorable word of mouth).

And if there’s a customer service failure anywhere along the pipeline? Make sure you deal with it quickly, effectively, and openly. You’d be surprised how many disgruntled consumers can be made to turn their opinions around if you’re just willing to talk to them.

Offer Different Options

I can’t think of a single clothing line that doesn’t offer at least a few different options – men’s vs. women’s shirts. Sweaters and shorts. Hats and jackets. Don’t just pump out a few shirts with the same design and call it a day.

Variety is the spice of life – and it’s also the key to business success. Even if you’re just setting up a T-shirt line, you need to offer at least some choice in terms of size and color. If you don’t, people are going to get bored very quickly.

And once they do – once they’ve reached that point of indifference – it becomes nigh impossible to recover.

Reach Out To Some Models – And Get Some Awesome Photos

Want your outfits to really stand out? Track down some models in your target demographic on a site like Instagram, and convince them to wear your outfits. Focus on what they gain from the partnership – not just free swag, but the chance to promote themselves (and make some money in the process). You’d be surprised what a simple photoshoot can do for a brand’s success.

One thing, though – don’t skimp on any expenses here. Room and board for the models, your best available products, you get the idea. They’re representing your brand. You need to make sure they’ve actually got something positive to represent.

Bring In Professionals

Before we wrap things up, I’m going to offer a bit of unusual advice. See, you probably know a fair bit about the industry you operate in. Maybe you’re even a burgeoning marketing expert. At the same time, you don’t know as much as a professional – as someone who’s devoted their life to their trade.

For that reason, if you really want to see your branded outfits succeed, you need to bring in the pros. A professional logo designer can help you create something that really pops. A professional photographer can ensure that you only capture the best side of your models (and your outfits). A professional marketing expert can tell you when, where, and how to promote and sell your products.

Promote Yourself

Last but certainly not least…promote your outfits! Talk about them on Twitter. Share pictures on Facebook. Set up an Instagram account. Get the word out that you’ve a new clothing line for people to enjoy!

You can have the best-looking clothing designs in the world, but it won’t mean squat if no one even knows they exist. I’ve lost count of the number of excellent, talented designers who wallow in obscurity simply because they don’t know how to promote themselves. By that same vein, I know plenty of less-talented men and women who, though they might not have the raw potential of their peers, have managed to make a name for themselves by virtue of persistence and marketing savvy.

Closing Thoughts

There’s not a whole lot else to say here. I’ve given you a primer on designing your own outfits – now all that’s left is for you to get out there and do it. Use what you’ve learned here to inform your own decisions, and create a killer clothing line that everyone will absolutely love to wear.

Article written by Brad Wayland, the VP of Business Development at BlueCotton, an on-demand t-shirt printing company..

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