7 Common Fashion Brand Management Mistakes

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!

 

Some other posts you might enjoy:

Are The Sporting Goods & Outdoor Industries in a Death Spiral

The New Definition of Athletic Apparel

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

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! 

Thank you for liking and sharing this, if you enjoyed the post! 

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How to Increase Traffic & Conversions on Your Ecommerce Website

Most ecommerce companies say they their number one goal is to increase visitor traffic and conversions.

The Internet is enormously competitive and crowded today. BTC and BTB ecommerce companies need to be doing everything possible to be found in searches and from online and offline marketing techniques. This is equally important for startups, established brands and long time retail websites.

Some startup entrepreneurs have a great looking website and are surprised by how few sales they are making. They frantically wonder, “How can I get more viewers to my site?” Some retailers have been selling online for years and see visits to their site down trending and bounces rising. They are in panic mode asking “Why is my site getting less traffic and conversions? Should we be trying new marketing strategies or a redesign?”

There are many things you can do to improve your traffic. Here is an eight point checklist on the best ways to increase visits to your fashion apparel, accessory, footwear, home or consumer product site. CLICK TO READ THE CHECKLIST.

How to increase your web traffic

The Dix & Pond Blog is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting,  a Boston-based, company that consults on business and brand strategy, product development, creative direction, merchandising and executive coaching for apparel, footwear, home & consumer products companies.

Thank you for liking and sharing this, if you enjoyed the post!  Follow me to get the latest posts!

Decoding Millennial Shopping Traits & Habits

Decoding Millennial female shopping habits has become an obsession for companies, marketers, researchers and bloggers alike. Because this group is so large, the Millennial female is seen as the present and future of retail and understanding her is key to their success. There is endless hypothesis on what she wants and how she shops.

Millennials represent almost a quarter of the US population.

Millennials represent almost a quarter of the US population.

Who are Millennials?

According to the US Census Bureau Millennials are people born between 1982 and 2000. That makes them 33 to 15 years old. This group represents 83.1 million people and is more than one quarter of the US population. Baby Boomers, the formerly largest population group, is those born between 1946 and 1964. They are ages 69 to 51. Obviously Baby Boomers are getting smaller as the group ages. However they are still a large group and the wealthiest population in US history, so cannot be overlooked, by retailers.

Defining Millennial people ranging in age 15-33 as one homogeneous group, has it’s pitfalls. The life stages of teen priorities versus a young adult building a grown-up life, are quite different.

Teen’s lives focus on their school career, friends, social events, sports and maybe a part-time job. They generally want to “fit-in” with peers. Their money is mostly spent on fashion, technology and entertainment.

Young adults post-college, are socializing, building careers, getting married, setting up first homes and having children. They are socially influenced, but with maturity, they lean more toward more individualism. They are entering the part of their lives when they start to be adult consumers for wedding services, home goods, cars, insurance, housing, etc.

There are some generalizations you can make for all Millennials:

  • They are very budget conscious and serious deal seekers. Obviously, teens have limited spending power. Young adults are coping with weak employment, stagnant wages, unprecedented school debt and dealing with rapidly rising rents, as they start making larger, adult life purchases.
  • They are digitally savvy. The younger Millennials have grown up with technology all their lives.
  • Because of technology they access information and discover new brands continuously. They are very informed, brand aware and also brand agnostic for many items. They move on quickly to the next big thing.
  • They are very influenced by peers through social media and word-of-mouth.
  • They love to “share” the shopping experience.
  • They are more racially diverse than previous generations, because of immigration and higher birth rates in some groups. According to the US Census, 44.2 percent of Millennials are part of a minority race or ethnic group (other than non-Hispanic white).

Big Shifts in Retail Because of Millennials

It is no wonder why certain shopping channels or habits, have risen dramatically in the past several years, as they are driven by Millennial shoppers:

  • Fast Fashion: This frugal, diverse group has driven the meteoric rise of fast fashion stores such as Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Old Navy and will ensure the success of US newcomer Primark. These fast turning, cheap stores are just what the budget conscious Millennial wants. She can find a wide range of looks to meet her diverse cultural tastes. Being brand agnostic for apparel, the deal is more important than the label.
  • Online and brick and mortar consignment stores: The market for consignment of apparel, handbags accessories, jewelry and shoes is booming. This is a perfect solution for the budget conscious and brand aware Millennial. She can consign her discards on the same site as she picks up used, pricey branded items at a fraction of the cost. See sites such as Poshmark, ThredUp and Tradesy.
  • Rental fashion sites: Millennials drive the sharing economy. These tight-fisted, brand aware females get the brands they love on rental or rent to purchase sites of designer, everyday, wedding, plus size and maternity clothes such as Rent The Runway, Le Tote, Mine for Nine, Gwynnie Bee and Borrowing Magnolia.
  • Mass customization: The individualist Millennial has driven the trend of brand customization online for apparel, sneakers, handbags, jewelry, etc.
  • Social shopping: Millennials love to share… their photos, purchases, experiences and thoughts, like no generation before. Social sharing sites like Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. give them a platform for approval or to boast about their fashion finds. They can shop while simultaneously sending photos to friends for approval. They can see what friends are already wearing, too.
  • They do their research: This is the information generation. They do their homework online before making a purchase. They scout out the best deals, look for coupons and comparison shop to stretch their budget. More often than not they make the final purchase in-store however. E-commerce has grown tremendously, but brick and mortar sales still represent over 90% of retail sales.

In review, if targeting the Millennial customer you have to consider her life stage and culturally diverse tastes. She can’t be thought of as like-minded thinkers. Millennials  like to engage with brands that share their values, but can be brand agnostic and fickle. This is the greatest information and sharing generation, that loves to score a great deal.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting, Boston-based, product development, creative, branding, business consulting and executive coaching for apparel, footwear, home & consumer products companies and retail analysts. Follow me to get the latest posts

Thank you for liking and sharing this, if you enjoyed the post!

Will Fashion Still Drive Sports Apparel?

Active apparel has experienced significant growth over the past five years. According to Forbes magazine estimates, the global sports apparel market was worth $135 billion in 2012. It is no secret that Lululemon and Under Armour became the defacto leaders of the sports apparel industry in terms of fashion and overall growth rates. Nike, the largest player in sports apparel, upped their game significantly and their share of the overall activewear market increased from 3.9% in 2007 to 4.9% in 2012, according to Forbes.

Men's is a huge opportunity for Lululemon.

Men’s is a huge opportunity for Lululemon.

The sports apparel market was once controlled by male-dominated footwear companies that dished out low quality, masculine basics emblazoned with their logos. Apparel was a “foot note” in their bureaucratic shoe cultures, driven by industrial designers, on a rigid shoe production schedule with little understanding of fashion. This has been true of other shoe companies that extend into apparel as well. Apparel companies operate and think in a very different way. They tend to be more agile, trend driven, work closer to need and repeat very little season to season.

Under Armour was born from an apparel mentality. With its higher prices and slick styling, they quickly became the company to beat in men’s sports apparel. They added sex appeal and attainable luxury in a sea of dumpy poly/cotton logo tees. Lululemon came along and blew away every preconceived notion about the category. They proved consumers are willing to pay a premium for innovative feminine styling, flattering fits and exciting fashion color. They almost never discount and have trained their customers to buy now, with a  limited inventory on new styles. I see a huge future for this company. Women are introducing Lulu to their men and are a fixture in the dressing area with their female counterparts. They are currently constrained by their store count. I could see men’s growing significantly and a huge opportunity, if they did Lulu kids. Companies like Athleta and Title Nine aren’t real competition for Lululemon. They are riding the sports apparel wave, but their basic styling and “Zen-like” prints are more masculine, formulaic and old-school.

Lululemon and Under Armour brought fashion to a dead zone. The genie is out of the bottle and it is never going back. These companies offer “aspirational luxury” and consumers love wearing these comfy duds on the street, whether they participate in sports or not. Nike was smart to apply the same winning principles to their apparel without knocking off them off. These leaders are in constant forward motion. The future isn’t about commodity black yoga pants.

Flattering and feminine styles drive sales at Lululemon.

Flattering and feminine styles drive sales at Lululemon.

Brands create value with a unique vision that is consistent across their product lines and find the audience to whom it resonates. The challenge for footwear companies in apparel is their industrial design driven culture. Most athletic footwear companies apparel offerings aren’t consistent with their shoe brands. They tend to be less hip and very sports marketing driven. Women don’t care about athlete endorsements and they buy a lot more clothes than men. The market is wide open for another sports apparel brand with original ideas to grab market share.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond Consulting Creative and strategic consulting for retail, wholesale apparel,  footwear, consumer products and branding agencies. Follow me to get the latest posts

6 Reasons Fashion Brands Fail to Thrive

Many apparel, shoe or accessory brands fail to grow, thrive or evolve over time. Fashion is discretionary. Clothing, footwear,  jewelry, handbags and accessories are emotionally driven purchases. Brands are much more than products, they are a total experience.

Consumers must identify with the implied promise of the brand to become loyal customers. Here is a slide show of the 6 main reasons that fashion brands fail to thrive and some of the stellar brands that are knocking it out of the park:

Neimans & Target Abomination

Neiman Marcus and Target released their much-talked-about holiday 2012 collaboration last week. I call it an abomination not a collaboration. This collection of random home and apparel items designed by well-known designers, like Carolina Herrera, Jason Wu, Rag and Bone, Tory Burch, Tracy Reese and Diane Von Furstenburg are poorly designed, low quality and strangely merchandised.  

The packaging is also big-box boring. They could have used high-end packaging to create a perceived value for the jewelry boxes, letter openers, lunch boxes, purses, glasses, dog accessories, etc. Instead they took the discount low-road and dished up the products to please the distribution center, not the customers.

This collection is just excess inventory and hype for Target stores and an embarrassment for the Texas-based bastion of luxury.  Shame on you Neiman Marcus, for putting your gold-plated name on some of the priciest drek I have ever seen. If you wanted to entice the aspirational luxury customer, you could have turned to your vendors to create some special value handbags, accessories, sweaters, tech cases and other compelling giftables. This Target collaboration can’t hold a soy candle to previous home runs like Liberty of London and Missoni. It will confuse and disappoint customers on both of the ends of the spectrum.

This public relations stunt has gone horribly wrong. These strange bedfellows have given birth to some very strange children. 

Products from the Neiman Marcus and Target holiday 2012 collaboration.

Products from the Neiman Marcus and Target holiday 2012 collaboration.

Dix&Pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com Creative and strategic consulting for retail and wholesale apparel, shoe and consumer product companies.

Ecommerce & Fashion – 4 Key Design Elements

The internet is filled with hopeful entrepreneurs intent to make their mark in the crowded fashion space. Ecommerce sites specializing in t-shirts, accessories, jewelry, kid’s clothes, shoes, beauty, etc. are sprouting up all over the world. Mass customization, flash sales and social shopping have proliferated, in addition to traditional online retailers. The internet has become a massive shopping bazaar and it is increasingly hard to get noticed. Fashion is highly discretionary and it takes a lot more finesse than selling toothpaste.

Undoubtedly, the outsized growth in ecommerce is due to the significant advantages of online shopping. Ecommerce is always open, has no lines, offers endless choices and makes bargain hunting and choosing easier. One can search for simple things like “white shirt” and immediately net out an entire site’s selection.

On the downside, websites are two-dimensional. They lack the tactile sense of touch, smell and usually sound. There is also a lack of trust, because of the inability to feel and try on the merchandise. Fashion is an emotionally driven purchase and it is challenging to create a fully stimulating brand experience with limited sensory elements.

A great fashion site has a strong brand identity relevant to the targeted audience.

A great fashion site has a strong brand identity relevant to the targeted audience.

Here are the 4 key design elements to create a strong fashion brand online :

Create a rich visual personality. The fashion business is about looks. The company needs to understand and visually appeal to the intended audience. Customers for apparel and accessories span a wide spectrum, from fashion obsessives to commodity shoppers. The elements of fonts, color, images and layout combine to tell a unique visual story about the retail or wholesale brand. This is the visual merchandising of ecommerce. It has to “say” something relevant to the viewer, like urban and sexy, playful and preppy or hip and edgy.

Nordstrom for instance, plays to a fashion-obsessed crowd. The modern look of their image driven site successfully speaks to their upscale audience. Zappos with its royal blue NAV bars and basic fonts, appeals to average consumers looking for depth of assortment and a no-nonsense approach. Color is a key emotional trigger for any brand. Net-a-Porter the designer fashion site for cosmopolitan fashion lovers, is appropriately modern and black. All American Kate Spade  and Lilly Pulitzer  brands are about high color and their sites are colorful and whimsical. The signature blue and delicately formal fonts of Tiffany’s  site reek of refinement and “pin-drop-quiet” luxury. Sites have to be visually rich and compelling to their intended constituents.

Speak with a unique voice. The content is the written voice of the brand and the copy writer is a story-teller, a painter of a picture. How do you sell fragrance when a consumer can’t smell it? The role is to evoke impulses, emotions and ideas with copy and images. They create a fantasy, possibilities and attributes that may not really exist. Content plays to our basic human desires to drive sales. Storytelling comes from active and colorful language and compelling images.

The copy is a combination of storytelling and informative language to make the sale. Informing is filling in the features of the product and terms to seal the deal. When the customer is convinced of your fashion authority, then they evaluate secondary considerations like price, guarantees, shipping policies, etc. Website traffic is driven by keywords, but engaging copy does the job of creating a brand personality. The copy needs to be crafted with both. Shopbop and Anthropologie do a great job telling the product stories with emotionally charged copy.

Entertain consumers and improve your traffic. Adding a blog, “must-have” suggestions, “look-books” or trend information to your site adds valuable searchable content and provides an element of entertainment and fashion authority to the site (see Tory Burch ). Some companies have added styling questionnaires, interactive games, etc. to engage consumers. A perfect example is Tacori’s  “Mating Game”. This game adds a hipness to their brand and whimsy to the ordinarily formal fine jewelry buying experience.

Provide a simple and fast experience. Ecommerce customers are busy people bombarded with choices. Websites are visited with a reason in mind and the consumer starts the dialogue. They have little patience for overly tricky Flash sites and complex navigation. The best ecommerce sites help viewers accomplish what they want simply and quickly. Fashion is about change, but keeping some expected conventions to the navigation and minimizing slow features will lower your bounce rate and convert more customers. J Crew  makes the buying process simple, quick and predictable.

These 4 key design elements will go a long way to create a great brand experience and successful fashion site.

Dix&Pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com Creative and strategic consulting for retail and wholesale apparel, shoe and consumer product companies.

 

5 Reasons Why Fashion Brands Fail to Thrive

Creating a successful new apparel, shoe or accessory brand is difficult. Keeping it consistent and evolving with the audience over the long haul is challenging. Repairing a flagging brand is nearly impossible.

Fashion brands are not just individual products. The products, marketing, multi-channel experience, customer service and corporate identity are all an expression of a greater deliverable to the consumer. A successful brand is a total experience that the consumer can identify with. Consumers express who they are or want to be, by the brands they choose.

Too Narrow a Niche – Every brand concept has an audience of a least one. The success of a brand will depend on the size of the audience for whom it resonates and can’t grow beyond owning 100% of it. Understanding the size of the niche is critical to setting growth expectations. The most successful fashion brands are a lifestyle and tend to reach a wide spectrum of ages. Classic American brands like Ralph Lauren, Coach or J. Crew have the potential to reach a wider audience, than smaller niche brands like Betsy Johnson, BCBG or Coldwater Creek.

Lack of Identity – All great brands need to have a distinct personality. What they are and what they imply is essential to defining the brand identity. Half- baked concepts and inconsistent messages are dead on arrival. Brands have to have a soul and authenticity.

Too Many Cooks in the Soup – Great brands are focused and have consistent storytelling. Compelling stories are not crafted by committees, but generally woven by creative and opinionated visionaries. Mickey Drexler at J. Crew and Mike Jefferies at Abercrombie are perfect examples of this. They both have a reputation for razor-sharp clarity of vision and have their heads in the details for their entire brand experience. They offer consistent products and take fashion risks within the context of their brand story.  Behind every great brand you will find a strong brand champion.

On the other hand, many wholesale or retail private brands are lackluster, because silos of management are allowed to tinker with the offer, and the brand becomes a spiceless soup.

Clinging to History – Fashion brands with the longest history often find it difficult to find a current relevance. Customers evolve. Staff can get hamstrung by the past and they rest their laurels on old successes. They keep regurgitating them. They often don’t understand what the brand promised to the consumer. They only see the brand in terms of the individual products that were successful in their best times. They don’t have the vision to tell the brand story through relevant products in a current context.

Talbots is perfect example of this. In their heyday, Talbots was synonymous with a monied, New England coastal, lifestyle. Their customers played exclusive sports and volunteered at non-profits. They had the luxury of choosing not to work. If they worked, they were professionals or women rapidly climbing the corporate ladder. If it wasn’t your lifestyle, shopping at Talbot’s was entre to the exclusive club. There was a definitive social status for shopping at the red-doored, suburban stores. They sold a lifestyle, embodied in their total experience.

Talbot’s today is sailing in a dead calm. It lost its personality and cache of the New England good life a long time ago. The series of CEOs since Mrs. Talbot, didn’t understand what they were trading away. They didn’t understand how the customer evolved and weren’t protective of the exclusivity, the implied status of the brand. They opened cookie cutter stores in bland locations with a gyrating assortment. The theater grew bigger than the audience for the brand. It wasn’t special to shop at Talbot’s anymore. It became synonymous with an aging customer and their boomer customers don’t want to identify themselves as old.

Coach and Burberry are great examples of classic brands that have evolved a long history, into even bigger success.

Traditional Marketing vs. Engagement – We live in a diverse, fast-paced culture with the added complexity of a splintered media. Traditional marketing on TV or print media don’t have the reach they once did. Creating brand awareness has become increasingly complex because consumers have so many shopping and entertainment options. Marketing has become interactive, no longer a one way street. They are bombarded with messaging and will filter to the most interesting and engaging experiences with limited personal time.

Brands have to be keenly aware as to who the audience is and engage customers on their terms. Social media gives the customer a big platform to create or destroy brands.

Dix&Pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com                                                                                                                                                                    Creative and strategic consulting for retail and wholesale apparel, shoe and consumer product companies.

Take the brand quiz… Can you identify these successful brands?

Can you identify all of these distinct brands? See answers below.

Answers: A= Coach, B=Tom’s, C=Lululemon, D=Michael Kors, E=J. Crew, F=Vera Bradley

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