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Donna Karan engages with fashionistas via mobile

Donna Karan International is using the mobile channel to reach female consumers directly, woman to woman, to speak about clothes, objects of desire and personal passions.

The Donna Karan iPhone application was designed in partnership with Atimi Software Inc. and coincides with the fashion brand's Fall 2009 collection. The application features made-for-consumer videos where Ms. Karan discusses her Fall 2009 collection and chats with friends about everything from items she loves to her recent vacation photos from Africa.

"Luxury brands such as Donna Karan, American Express or even the Metropolitan Museum of Art are big believers in engaging their customers in relationships," said Brennan Hayden, vice president at WDA, East Lansing MI. "It is only natural that a communication device perceived as both prestigious and intimate would be an essential building block for this strategy.

"The iPhone conveniently fits the bill nicely," he said.

This video featured in the application is called "System of Dressing." Ms. Karan discusses the strategy and the best practices for maximizing the flexibility of clothes.

Since the inception of her company in 1985, Ms. Karan has always enjoyed a strong, personal connection with her consumers. They look to her for advice and have expressed an avid interest in her passions of the moment. The bond began in dressing rooms, where Ms. Karan helped women dress more confidently.

As the company grew, communication spilled over to an exclusive publication called Woman to Woman, distributed by various targeted mailing lists. The iPhone application is the brand's natural progression of Ms. Karan's desire to keep the dialogue going.

"Brands today need engagement, and luxury brand are not to be excluded. It's not simply about getting hundreds of thousands of consumers to see your ad," said Patrick Mork, vice president of marketing at GetJar, London. "It's more about building a relationship with them, which brings them closer to the brand in a way that is fun, innovative and personal."

Consumers see ads in different mediums every day and maybe as much as hundreds of times each day.

"These messages are often passive - watching TV, driving by a billboard, listening to the radio, seeing a banner online," Mr. Mork said. "The difference is that mobile apps are by nature active engagements. A consumer who downloads a branded app is basically saying: 'I'm interested in this brand and am willing to spend some time engaged with it to learn more about what they are doing.'

"It's much more then simply saying 'Sure, I'll click on this and see what they say,'" he said. "Furthermore, that app is on the user's phone until he or she makes the conscious decision to delete it, so the element of permanency is probably greater for brands using mobile apps than that of any other medium of communication."

Consumers are able to create a wish-list of items, with the option to forward to a personal shopper, adding to the shop-on-the-go experience.

As per the company, this application is about lifestyle and commonality and sharing that with consumers. The iPhone has allowed Donna Karan a different kind of "time spent" with the consumer.

The design method for the iPhone application was geared to let Donna Karan connect with her clients in a personal way.

The application also features Donna's Journal, where new content is added weekly. This is where Ms. Karan shares her thoughts and passions of her brand and life of the moment.

"The decision that ultimately many marketers will have to make is passive engagement versus active engagement," Mr. Mork said. "A few lucky ones with enough budget may be able to actually do both. For those who decide on actively engaging their customers, then mobile apps will the easiest, most engaging and quickest route to doing that.

"Apps will further allow marketers and agencies to move beyond simply CPM and CPC to actual CPE [cost per engagement]," he said. "Why is this so vital? Because with so much noise out there brands really need to be thinking about how deeply they reach consumers and not simply how many they reach."

The Love, Love, Love section is updated regularly with Donna Karan must-haves.

There is also a People Who Inspire section, talking about the people who have inspired the fashion designer's life.

The Ask Donna section allows consumers a Q&A opportunity with Ms. Karan for clients and fans to email burning questions.

DK Talk is a Proust-like questionnaire interview between Donna and someone she knows and/or admires. The launch subject is model Iman, David Bowie's wife.

DK Travel is a section that includes pictures and captions from Ms. Karan's recent travels. The launch features her recent trip to Africa.

"The iPhone, and things like it in the near future, may not only be the fashionista's essential shopping accessory, but also the relationship broker that luxury brands need," Mr. Hayden said. "The customer rings the bell so to speak, and the brand answers via the cell phone."