YOUR BRAND STANDS FOR WHAT?
If you define yourself with words like “core” or “authentic”, or any of the usual clichés, then your brand stands for the same thing as everyone else’s. So you have no difference. The way to determine any brands relevance in the world is to find out what makes it different.
IS YOUR BRAND SPECIAL?
Does your brand make something you know is top of the class? Because that’s the key – something… anything… that cuts through the clutter and allows you to stand in front of a retailer and claim it with 100% confidence. When you have that, you’re in. Without that you are replaceable. It doesn’t matter if your volume is $1B or $1M, you have to be special at something.
ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT MISSION OR PURPOSE? THINK PURPOSE...
Years back, products used to be defined by their features and benefits. This product has got this and does that, which is new and better then the model you wear today. But over time that evolved into brand experiences (whether implied or actual). Be it exploring Indonesian perfection on surf trips, eating at a perfectly themed restaurant, or sipping a non-fat, tripple Venti, Half-Sweet, low foam caramel macchiato - which is coffee with a lifestyle, coffee with status.
Then the spotlight shifted to...is the experience a reflection of me, of what I believe, of what me and my crew are into?" Are we just going camping or do we have beards, too short jeans, beanies, the right boots and are into art - like the rest of the crew? In other words IDENTITY. Brand choices based on identity matching. This is why Nike gave up on authentic surf product built under the Nike name. Surf isn't part of their DNA. Instead they acquired Hurley. Fuck it. We don't surf but Bob does.
Once identity became the key reference point, the next iteration of selection criteria began to take shape - this one with an even larger canvas, that being PURPOSE. Once again we are looking past the obvious hallmarks of success: great ideas, great products, and strong execution - we are looking toward whats embedded in a brands DNA, which defines the purpose of all this effort and how it reflects on the company in the eyes of its customers.
A great example of a purpose driven brand is Patagonia. Everything they do is planet sensitive - it’s metabolized into the fine grain of every decision they make. Obviously not every brand can have that kind of visible consciousness, but every brand can step back for a moment and ask themselves ‘Where are we going with this. What do we want to be remembered for?’
And it’s that basic but profound question that can provide clarity and focus to a brands total effort.
Does your brand build product lines from the Inside out or the --Outside in?
Most brands build lines using the following 5 guidelines:
- Year in, year out, top sellers carried forward.
- Last years line plan and performance
- Competitive offerings - you can pick it all up off the internet
- What’s selling at retail now
- What looks like the trend going forward.
This is the Inside Out approach - it’s driven by historical analytics with a dash of intuition. And it results in lines that are too big - lines that dilute the brand’s statement at retail, and create product that has to be sold off price.
A better way is to decide first what you want the brand to look like at retail - this is the Outside In approach. Visualize the brand’s statement from the consumers point of view on the retail floor and decide what you want to stand for and focus on that. Its the only way to institutionalize discipline in the development process. You have to figure independent retailers don’t buy more then 15-20 styles of any brand for a single delivery, there’s too many other brands competing for floor space. If that's the case do brands need to make 100 to 150 styles per season? They don't.
At the end of the day we are merchants, we buy products and we sell them to retailers, and we rely on the space between to make profit. We balance the creativity of our selection against the allocation of capital needed to buy inventory and the efficiency of that process is what determines our profit. There are formulas based on the number of skus vs. projected sales, formulas that protect against excessive dilution of gross margin, yet in my experience few brands adhere to them. Most brands are notoriously undisciplined in managing the factors that negatively impact gross profit. Line size (because too many skus means too many closeouts), discounts (because retailers find ways to institutionalize discounts on all their PO's) returns (because thats just another way of achieving the same thing - a discount)
Whatever the sales number, the 2 determinants of profitability are gross profit and overhead. You can only go so far with overhead cuts before encountering negative efficiencies, meaning further cuts would have a worse impact on the brand's prospects than the marginal gains realized by the expense cut. Its all about Gross Profit - thats the heart of an apparel company and the most accurate measure of its health.
Is Anyone Listening?
Unfortunately, the truth is not many people are listening.
You might think the fruits of your hard labor and outstanding creativity will earn the attention and rewards your brand deserves, but the facts are - outside your direct circle of influence nobody really cares. There's too much clutter, too much competition for mind space for any brand to expect response to an initiative without a sustained effort over a period of time across all media. The reality is brands today live in smaller spaces and have little time to tell their story. So that story has to be compelling, consistent, and focused.
Individual products can tell stories independently through packaging and at the point of sale, but brands have to focus and be clear on the big picture message that supports their purpose. In other words, the consumer's attention span is like a humming bird, flitting everywhere and staying nowhere for any length of time. And brands have to recognize that.