New Target Demographic: A Buncha Dudes

Dammit all, I bought another suit. Didn’t really need it, but it was $250 tax included (I saved $300 according to my email receipt) due to one of Macy’s rather aggressive Black Friday sales.

After the purchase, as I sat around wondering what devilry would possess me to blow a few hundred on something I don’t need, I thought of this interesting statistic from last Friday’s story about holiday shopping: men drive Cyber Monday sales, 81% of whom are shopping for themselves.

And two recent New York Times stories add supporting evidence to the men-as-shoppers trend: the emergence of male-oriented retail clothing outlets, and a double-digit surge in sales of men’s suits. This means marketers have new opportunities and new challenges; simply put, men buy differently than women. Our priorities aren’t the same. As Kelly Cook, DSW’s SVP of marketing pointed out, men are more interested in quality.

The increased interest men have in their clothes has been attributed to numerous cultural influences. It’s a side effect from the popularity of Mad Men and it’s a repudiation of the baggy, saggy sartorial sloppiness of the 1990s. But I think the largest influence is social sharing—the emergence of blogs devoted to men’s fashion and hangouts like Reddit’s Male Fashion Advice, where a younger generation can congregate and tap into a larger community’s pool of often arcane and specific knowledge.

Take myself as a case study. The first suit I (read: my Mom) bought was a $300 Men’s Wearhouse number when I was 21. It’s something that might have shown up in an episode of Cheers, one of those black three-button sack suits with lapels the size of Texas (actually, I saw the same cut yesterday while watching football, worn by an ex-athlete commenter).

This year, I finally retired it and bought two suits for myself. I spent more on clothes during the latter half of 2012 than I did since the time period beginning in 2000 when I first started buying my own socks. And the two factors that influence the brands I end up buying are pricing and online chatter—and if online word-of-mouth is strong enough, that will often trump a good price.

What marketers working in the retail clothes industry should realize is there’s a growing demographic of men who are developing a nascent interest in looking like adults, don’t know where to start, and will turn online for advice. More than anywhere else, that seems to be where reputations are made: Allen Edmonds shoes, despite the high price, are a good investment because they’re so well-crafted, they’ll last for decades. H&M clothing is stylish, but typically made of cheaper materials. Indochino made-to-measure suits are stylishly cut and reasonably priced.  

Clothing retailers have the unique opportunity to define themselves to a new customer segment in the early stages of their professional careers—some even younger than that. To do this, retailers need to devote time to create and implement strategies targeting that segment online. I’m sure placement in high-end glossies like GQ and Esquire are great—but more realistically, brands selling men’s clothing need to cultivate brand advocates among male fashion bloggers, offer deals for users of certain social media sites (as Indochino did), or make the CEO available to answer questions on online forums (as Allen Edmonds did).

In a few years the young men building their wardrobe will be online dispensing advice. Build that loyalty now, and they’ll do a lot of marketing for you.

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