Great Fashion Brands Sell A Promise, Much More Than Products
It’s easy to think of fashion, consumer or retail brands that have lost substantial brand value over the decades. A great example is Talbot’s, once a venerable specialty retail force that sold customers a promise of the well-bred New England costal life. They also happened to sell preppy clothes and accessories. Over decades and several owners, the brand has been diluted to a unremarkable chain of apparel stores, a mere shadow of it’s storied past.
Great brands sell a relatable promise, values and even fantasies at an accepted value/price relationship. Products are number one, but it so much more than product. If you can’t identify and express this “magic quotient” in your fashion or retail brand, you have a serious problem. This is a big part of the “why me?” of a brand.
The “magic” is often so intangible that owners, managers, finance, merchandisers and even creative staff don’t get it. They find themselves stewards of a brand without the know-how to take it forward, without losing it’s soul. They collectively tinker with the recipe, ending up with a thin soup. Their individual actions are often random and lack a singular vision.
7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes
Consumer goods, especially apparel, home and footwear markets are brutally competitive today. Brand relevance and management has never been more critical in these fashion businesses. Here are 7 common fashion brand management mistakes:
- The brand doesn’t have a clearly understood brand promise that the whole organization works from.
- The company targets the wrong persona for the brand.
- The products aren’t compelling and/or full of mixed messages. They extend the brand into new categories without a shepherd with a consistent vision.
- Companies have the wrong people in key positions. Creative directors are often the brand visionary and steward for brand integrity across the organization. Hiring a poor creative leader can have disastrous results. A great creative director can get the best out of an average design and marketing team. They have to be clear , motivational leaders and able to stand up to equally senior employees in the company.
- Companies sometimes overly-empower newly-minted designers, assuming they innately know what customers want. Experience does matter.
- Design, merchandising and sales teams continue to repeat the same products without evolving the products for modern needs and relevance. They may be blind to demographic and fashion trends that affect the brand. Some insiders resist change.
- Sometimes management outsources brand reinvention to branding and marketing agencies without the experience or market knowledge to make sense of the real path to growth.
Sorel, A Perfect Case Study in Brand Evolution
Whether a brand is two, five years or many decades old, it’s value and brand promise has to be continually monitored for current relevance. It’s difficult to turn around a flagging brand, not impossible, when things have gone too far. I perfect case study is Sorel of Ontario, Canada.
Sorel was a men’s and women’s winter boot brand owned by Kaufman Rubber Company started in 1962 in Canada. At one point, they were one of the largest suppliers of waterproof “outdoor” boots in the world.
In 2000, the brand was bought out of bankruptcy for $8 million by Columbia Sportswear, of Beaverton, OR. The line plodded along until 2008, when they decided to revamp the brand. Sorel is now a big growth story at Columbia and was projected to do $200M in 2015 sales. (sales were $60M in 2009).
Sorel president Mark Nenow is quoted as saying to Bloomberg… “We’re going to make it about style, we’re going to make it about premium, we’re going to make it about design, we’re going to make it impossible to ignore.” He also said it is going to be about “women, women, women.” They started to make more feminine boot styles aimed at urban, fashion conscious women. The strategy upped the fashion ante, within the framework of brand heritage. Design and marketing delivered a consistent message. Sales grew rapidly.
They tried a pop-up shop in Manhattan in December of 2014 and it was a hit. It became their first permanent store. They recently opened a store in Burlington, MA.
This store stopped me in my tracks. It put Sorel in a whole new light for me, from “that boot brand” to “I gotta have it”. They didn’t take the expected route of an “outdoor” store with winter and mountain references. It has a nod to heritage with their polar bear logo in a fun wall patchwork, but the brand experience is a hip, fashion store with rustic contemporary displays and lighting.
They now design a complementary collection of innovative, “active, boot-inspired” sandals and booties that would make any fashion lover swoon, whatever the season. The newborns have the DNA of the traditional classic boots. They’re sexy, edgy and rugged.
I think about the marketing journey I travelled to see the brand as fashion, instead of functional winter boots. Fashion credibility started by seeing the boots at Nordstrom, but experiencing their store and the unique shoe collection changed my perception entirely. I can’t say I saw anything on social or other media. It was the store and the shoes that changed everything.
Sorel is the perfect example of a heritage fashion brand with a modern evolution. Genius!
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The Dix & Pond Blog, by Stephanie Bernier is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting, a Boston-based, company that consults on trends, creative direction, brand experience, business strategy, product development and merchandising. Clients include retailers, apparel, footwear & consumer companies. CONTACT US TODAY!
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