Lucy Reece Raybould, chief executive officer of the British Footwear Association (BFA), explains why the Moda community must consider a new era of advocacy and describes how she is putting the needs of BFA members first by lobbying government bodies on behalf of the footwear sector.
Advocacy is not just for Association leaders who must reflect the needs of their members at a national and international level, it’s also for brand owners and businesses like yours that are standing up for their customers, employees, the planet, strong supply chains, and the environment. In today’s conversation, ‘advocacy’ is about taking a holistic approach and making representation and transparency a part of your company’s communications strategy, whether you’re in the footwear sector or specialize in fashion or accessories.
The advocacy that I am participating in within the footwear industry is focused on representing the needs of footwear manufacturers, suppliers, and brands in conversations with thought leaders and those with the power to enact change. My advocacy also takes the form of ‘showing up’ to important meetings and webinars that BFA members simply don’t have time to attend and then feeding back the most relevant information. This can include online discussions about VAT changes for businesses that trade with the EU, as well as conversations with Members of Parliament and the Department for International Trade.
Introducing advocacy into your business needs to come from the top down. As an owner or senior leadership figure, you must be the driving force for any measures to feel authentic and to really permeate every corner of your business. Or you may choose to assign a specific goal or mission to an individual in your business who’s got the passion to drive change. From our experience at the BFA, an important aspect of advocating for people, profit and the future of footwear is choosing a handful of achievable goals. For example, we have channelled our advocacy energies into post-Brexit recovery and COVID-19 resilience strategies, but yours may be bolstering sustainability in your supply chain or instilling some best practice methods for supporting the mental health of your team. In the eyes of our members and, in your case, your suppliers and customers, the most important facet of advocacy isn’t what we say we’re going to do, but what we deliver and how we present this with integrity and transparency.
In my role, how I advocate for BFA members in a meaningful way is through lobbying. I’ve spoken to Michael Gove MP; Lord David Frost who is the Chief Negotiator of Task Force Europe; Ceri Smith, Director General of Strategy and Investment at the Department for International Trade; and the Minister for London and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets), Paul Scully MP. In all these conversations, I serve as a voice for the footwear industry and ask questions that are specific to the sector.
For your business, your advocacy is likely to encompass putting your customers first and introducing solutions to make their experience richer, more rewarding and more rooted in core values that they believe in. This is the concept of ‘customer advocacy,’ whereby strategies are set in place to put customer needs first and find solutions to their problems through your products and services. Within this definition of customer advocacy, the goal is always to exceed the expectations of your customers and not just meet them. In my opinion, however, we are settling into a new era of advocacy that is all about showing customer what you are doing on their behalf to make the world a better place.
Any brand or business that attempts to instill this mindset into their daily operations is likely to face challenges. After all, according to research by HubSpot [Global Buying Behavior in 2020] only 9% of European consumers believe it when businesses say they “solve for the customer” or “put the customer first”. Clearly, there are opportunities here to make an impression and stand out from the competition, not necessarily through product but through intentions.
Getting our collective heads around this new expectation might take some time… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Contemporary customers are adept at seeing through phony and inauthentic marketing ploys and unless your methods are authentic and ingrained within your business, they could come across as opportunistic. Research and feedback from your customers will also be required to learn what issues they care about and then decide how your business can tackle those (or if it can at all). In 2021, there is the added pressure of operating a customer advocacy strategy, such as richly rewarding loyalty schemes, VIP events, great content, speedy responses and added value, in addition to advocating for the customer on social issues. This distinction may seem small now, but it is only going to become more prevalent.