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Brands Go Overboard to Attract Customers

Firms Old Navy, Lush and Johnny Cupcakes cajole, harangue, pamper and feed shoppers.

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Jaeger has taken to wearing the T-shirts with neckties stenciled on them that he designs. So many people have inquired about them he may start selling them, though that was never his intention.

On a professional level, Jaeger, who also serves as the Art Directors Club’s president, said improving design is one of the simplest ways to ratchet up the quality of a product without altering the materials. Digital media, naturally, is wide open for such advances, especially in relation to augmented reality, the field of computer research where computer graphic objects are blended into real footage in real time. It can include the use of motion-tracking data, fiducial markers recognition using machine vision and the construction of controlled environments containing any number of sensors.

“Online advertising hasn’t caught on in a big way,” he said. “It’s very rare that you can click on an ad and buy what is being offered. A lot of retailers collect e-mail addresses but they don’t follow up well. There are a lot of deals, sales and sample sales, but there is a whole area that is completely underleveraged.”

Amazon’s decision to buy Zappos.com could be a sign of things to come in terms of Amazon moving into an entirely different market and a fashion company teaming up with a nonapparel juggernaut, Jaeger said.

For the most part, fashion companies have tended to team within the apparel sector and that is still the case in the recession. Uniqlo, for example, will show off Jil Sander’s +J Collection in the U.S. and the U.K. on Oct. 1.

One exception is Johnny Cupcakes’ founder John Earle, who was named America’s top young entrepreneur by BusinessWeek last year. In the next few months, he will partner with bakeries to sell customized T-shirts for one day only. He is also looking into getting a food delivery truck he will use more like an ice cream man would. When out of town, he has been known to Twitter fans to hold what he called “random meet-ups.” More than 300 showed up for free pizza at a local San Francisco joint a few months ago. Monthly movie nights are held in Boston, trading cards and pieces of candy are enclosed in online orders, and in-store games for prizes are part of the mix.

“The main thing customers like about my brand is it’s personal,” Earle said. “They like the fact that the owner of the company is hanging out with them eating pizza or playing kickball in the street.”

For the first time, Opening Ceremony has a year of partnerships planned rather than occasional ones. Chloë Sevigny, Pendleton and Delfina Delettrez are a few of the collaborators.

Opening Ceremony co-owner Humberto Leon said, “We always say, ‘If we can’t excite ourselves, we’re not succeeding.’ As buyers, we’re exposed to a lot. We see every runway show. If you can still get excited after seeing all that, then you know you are onto something.”

Creative consultant and industrial designer Jens Martin Skibsted knows the power of collaboration, having partnered with Marc Newson, Ross Lovegrove and Karim Rashid for various projects. The way he sees it, fashion companies could learn a few things from the architectural world. His book, “Instant Icons,” explores how big-name architecture has helped define certain cities since before the Roman Empire. Apparel-makers could use a similar model to rev up business, he said.

“That way of thinking doesn’t really exist in the same way in product development. When companies make a product they are most concerned about how many they sell, which of course sounds obvious,” Skibsted said. “When Frank Gehry built the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Bilbao didn’t care about the return on investment as a building. They cared about the return on investment as a city.”

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