What Can Tailors—Yes, Actual Tailors—Tell Us About Tailored Marketing?
‘Tailored’ is a ubiquitous term in the marketing industry and, like most ubiquitous terms, is one we often use without thinking much about its actual meaning. Tailored—or ‘targeted’—marketing refers to campaigns that are intended for a small or select group of customers as opposed to a more indiscriminate mass. This approach reduces wasteful spending and increases the likelihood of reaching the right audience for your business.
But before we drill down into tailored marketing, let’s consider ‘tailoring’ in its original sense, i.e., the making of bespoke clothes. It’s a practice with a pretty interesting and very long history, but luckily for you, dear reader, we’ve put together a quick bluffer’s guide.
A Brief History of Tailoring
The word ‘tailor’ first appears in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1297, coming from the French tailler (‘to cut’), but tailoring as we know it today didn’t really begin until the Renaissance. Here’s the Alabama Chanin Journal on the subject:
During the Renaissance, the traditional loose robes worn by both sexes began to be shortened, gathered, tightened, and sewn together in shapes that somewhat resembled the actual human frame. […] Once people began to desire clothing in certain styles, for different body types, or in unique patterns, the demand for skilled tailors developed. The mere fact that tailors existed at all reveals that attitudes about clothing were changing. Clothes were now more than necessities; they were a way for people to express themselves, project their status, and show off what they considered to be their best features. In other words, the emergence of tailors is proof that fashion was developing as a concept.
Initially, small shops were owned and run by a ‘master tailor’, who would cut most of the garments themselves and therefore create a signature style for their business. By the nineteenth century, these shops had come to be known by another term that’s now popular in marketing parlance: ‘boutique’. As a BBC article explains:
Britain, French revolutionaries jeered, is a country of shopkeepers ("nation boutiquiere") but boutique in English for many years usually meant a Parisian shop. In French, it could mean quite a humble shop, but it was the fashionable ones Britons were most interested in hearing about.
Boutique could also refer to shops that sold products besides clothes, like jewelry and other accessories, but in any case—and as the above quote suggests—the key was that these places were considered fashionable.
Today we live in a world where luxury fashion brands are household names and the finest tailors are sought out by Hollywood stars about to walk the red carpet. A tailor was even the subject of the 2017 Paul Thomas Anderson movie Phantom Thread, in which Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a brilliant but cripplingly obsessive haute couture dressmaker. Moreover, tailoring now occurs all over the world and takes many forms. In 2018, Culture Trip published a fun little article titled ‘A Day in the Life of a Congolese Tailor’, the subject of which was one Patrick Ondze. It included fashion-related nuggets such as the following:
The most common outfit requests are usually a pair of straw pants paired with a V-neck shirt, or an African-print dress with lace fabric and the classic, old African-print buttoned shirt.
I personally had no idea straw pants were common anywhere in the world, but I’d now quite like to try on a pair. It also shared some of Ondze’s thoughts on his clientele:
[…] On an average day, we get five customers—it isn’t much because the tailoring business in Congo is a very competitive one. There are many talented tailors scattered throughout the country. The regular customers become the ones on whom you once made a good impression. In order to win a customer’s trust, you need to get their designs right and always deliver according to the deadline.
A similar article appeared in Harper’s Bazaar the following year, this time focusing on Caroline Andrew, a superstar suit-maker on Savile Row. Here are some of her insights on her daily craft:
I love what I do because […] I have so many different projects going on at the same time. Working in bespoke tailoring means no two suits I make are the same – and quite rightly so, as no two bodies are the same.
The best part of my day is […] doing client fittings when I get to see customers in my final creations and observe their expressions. I love watching people leave the shop happier than when they walked in.
So, what do we glean from this whistle-stop tour of tailoring? That its practitioners are sometimes embattled, always at least a little obsessive, and clearly hardworking; that they insist on making their products to precise, personalized specifications which, from the earliest days of their profession, has given them an aura of stylishness; and that they take great pride and pleasure in making their clients happy.
Marketers, we submit, could do a lot worse than modeling themselves on tailors.
How to Tailor Your Marketing Campaign
There are a number of things your business can do to make sure its campaign is tailored to the right audience. Not unlike the changes to demand for a more specific and unique style of clothing in the Renaissance, we can see the parallels in today’s shifting demand towards a targeted marketing campaign.
Marketing campaign goals
First, take some time to carefully consider the aims of the campaign. Is your endgame simply to sell a product to or do you also intend to raise the profile of your brand? How can you take a product that can be produced en masse and tailor it to your own branding needs? Defining your target audience is the crucial first step in setting your brand apart from your competitors.
Where to start?
If you can better understand the demographics of consumers that have already been exposed to your marketing techniques, you can extrapolate how your campaign has made them feel. The social intelligence data derived can be used to provide your company with an understanding of whether or not you’re targeting the right audience.
A word on social media
Another approach is using the metrics of social media. Regardless of your style of marketing or its intentions, it is likely that your campaign has been shared or seen online, and by using metrics and metadata as indicators, you can gain a broader understanding of what works in your campaign and what may need to be re-examined in order to target the exact audience you want engaging with your marketing material.
Once We Find Our Target Audience, How Can We Keep Them?
In the case of Ondze, our Congolese friend and tailor to straw pants impart a valuable lesson. You may have a common product, so to stand out in a competitive atmosphere, it is vital to establish brand loyalty. Think of it as a return on investment in a human sense: if you’re able to foster the feeling of a reliable and trustworthy connection, it’s much more likely that your consumers will return to your brand before turning to one of your competitors. Giving your customers a sense of confidence in your organization will also increase word-of-mouth, which is beneficial to your marketing team in two ways: 1) it’s based on a bond between people already established within your target demographic, and 2) it’s freeeeeee!
How Can We Distinguish Our Brand From Competitors?
Now, let’s think back to Caroline Andrew, who develops her own style and therefore distinguishes her business from the competition. She finds her passion in the belief that ‘no two bodies are the same’ and therefore no two suits she tailors are the same, as one might find at her competitors’ lesser boutiques. We can think about tailored marketing is this context as well. Even if products or brands seem alike on the surface, by finding distinguishing characteristics or weaknesses to exploit in competitors' marketing campaigns, your company can push ahead.
This can come in many forms. It may be your brand's online marketing presence or its use of enhanced search engine optimization. It may be refining your funding and funneling it directly towards your established target markets. In the case of brick-and-mortar stores, branding may be a sale or a system which encourages clientele to return to your store, giving them more bang for their buck as a reward.
But whichever customers your business targets and whichever strategies you employ, just remember one key point above all: straw pants. Put on a pair and all your marketing problems will be solved. Seriously. We wouldn’t lie about a thing like that. We fact-check all this stuff, you know.