Branding: The Multichannel Shopper
Clothes may make the man, but brands make the clothes. Who hasn’t succumbed to the lure of a designer label because of … well, the label?
Clothing companies have a unique advantage when it comes to building brands: People buy clothes to reflect who they are or who they want to be. It’s a direct reflection of how they want to be perceived. Think about this if you’ve ever not purchased a T-shirt because the label was too prominent: Was it really because you didn’t want to be a walking advertisement, or was it just the wrong advertisement?
Clothiers have worked the catalog and retail combination for decades. Knowing the strength of multiple channels, they were early adopters of online marketing. But in multichannel branding, have they maintained their lead? To find out, we recently conducted a secret shopper exploration of Eddie Bauer, J.Crew and Anthropologie. (For the first part of this ongoing series, check out our Multichannel Shopper investigation of food merchants in our January 2009 issue, which is also archived at CatalogSuccess.com.)
Yes, this company was launched by a man named Eddie Bauer. He invented the down jacket, designed a shuttlecock that popularized badminton and founded a clothing empire in 1920. Besides all that, the U.S Army allowed him to stitch his label in uniforms Bauer manufactured for servicemen during World War II. He was the only designer afforded that privilege. From the start, Eddie knew a thing or two about branding.
The Bauer brand-meisters have been in a chess match with L.L.Bean and Lands’ End for decades. They all sell the same style of clothing to the same demographic. Why choose one over another?
Is Eddie Bauer the consciously low-fashion brand of long-lasting quality that emphasizes details? “It’s ugly and it makes you look like a box, but it lasts forever.” Lands’ End has that position sewn up.
What about Bauer being the brand for the outdoorsy, recreational family — the well-heeled who’ll rough it in comfort? Nope, L.L.Bean’s bagged that crowd.
Over the years, Eddie Bauer has struggled with positioning. But now it’s back in the saddle and jockeying for position as the adventure brand. The company’s big fall book for 2008 struck the right chord. Its tagline, “The Original Outdoor Outfitter” — though technically not true since L.L.Bean began marketing his boots in 1912 — strongly supports the cover image of a ruggedly handsome couple casually lounging on the open tailgate of its Jeep in the broad expanse of the American West. If you want a rugged outdoor adventure and to look cool at the same time, you’ll be glad Eddie Bauer rented your name.
The Bauer site nearly fills this promise, but it confuses the message. At press time, the homepage highlighted “Expedition Belize,” with two models on a pre-Columbian pyramid. It’s adventurous and rugged, but it also smacks of travel, which is different. Maybe this is an intentional shift to add a new dimension to the brand that’ll be supported with ongoing, consistent messaging. If not, it’s subtle brand drift that can derail a company.
Eddie Bauer scores high in multichannel integration. At its local store in Overland Park, Kan., an in-store Web kiosk with the telephone hotline to the call center is multichannel functionality at its best. But function is different than form. Though it picks up the Eddie Bauer logo and some of its catalog-style imagery, the store essentially feels like any other store in a mall. The service is excellent, but there really isn’t a brand-enhancing component to set it apart from the crowd.
To attract attention, the founder used to have some one-string tennis rackets in his first store’s window. The current Bauer execs could borrow a play from him.
We’re left guessing if this company is adventure or travel adventure? Make a choice, and stick with it.
Our grade: B.
J.Crew takes umbrage at being labeled preppy. And preppies prefer confident, comfortable, fun and American. Heck, the company certainly has drawn the attention — and business — of the first family, so it must be doing something right.
Where Ralph Lauren goes for the comfortable feel of old money, J.Crew pulls off the feel of new money. Beginning with the distinct, simple covers and chic photography of its catalog, crossing channels to the tasteful treatment of typography on its Web site, and within the comfortable feel of its stores, J.Crew has conceived a distinct brand image that’s uniquely J.Crew.
The company has separated itself from the tailored-precision image of Banana Republic and the innumerable crowd of wannabe brands that straddle the divide between the two. It’s done an exemplary job of maintaining a consistent voice across the different selling channels, because the attitude is the same. The confidence is the same. And most importantly, your experience is the same.
J.Crew models look smart, engaging, sophisticated and fun — like real people you’d want to hang with, not just attractive models hired for a photo shoot. The clean lines of the clothing, sophisticated colors in the palette and the slightly urban feel of the style form a very distinct brand image. Whether you’re thumbing through the catalog, surfing the site or strolling one of its 200-plus stores, there’s no question you’re dealing with J.Crew.
If there is any weakness, at times it can seem a bit sterile and contrived. Perhaps it got caught trying too hard to be cool.
Our grade: A-.
The cover of the February 2009 Anthropologie catalog features a woman blowing a dandelion and wearing a colorful, Persian-inspired print, slouchy, sleeveless shirt. At the time of this writing, Anthropologie’s Web site’s type treatment was a mix of a clear script and typewritten courier. Walk into its stores, however, and no two are alike. It takes discipline to be this Bohemian.
Texture and textiles infuse the Anthropologie catalog presentation. It begins with the mat paper treatment of the cover and continues in settings of rough-hewn cottages with plaster walls. This context makes its eclectic apparel pop off the page. You feel like you can touch everything.
Just think: Hundreds of thousands of these catalogs rolled off an offset web press that’s no different from where your catalogs are printed. Imagine the possibilities for your own brand.
Anthropologie appeals to the educated, socially conscious woman. She has a husband and a few kids; lives in the suburbs but feels urban; can read Renaissance poetry in Italian, in which she minored in college. Anthropologie isn’t for everyone, but if you’re the target, you love this brand.
There’s a feeling of discovery when you interact with Anthropologie, which is part of its appeal. It’s like shopping at a consignment shop that has the size that fits you.
You’ll notice we don’t compare Anthropologie to other companies. That’s brand differentiation.
Our grade: A+.