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Identity vs diversity: walking the tightrope

Natasha Frangos
13 October 2017

We are living in a complex, fast and volatile world and increasingly the way that consumers engage with brands is changing. In the past, many have pinned their success on a single signature product, such as the Burberry trench coat, but the likelihood of longevity utilising this strategy can be brought into question in the current market, writes haysmacintyre partner Natasha Frangos.

There are many challenges facing today’s brands, including innovation in technology, increasingly savvy shoppers, a multi-generational audience, increased importance on sustainability and new disruptions to the fashion cycle, such as “see-now, buy-now”. The success of a brand, which may have traditionally relied on the consumer loyalty associated with a key product, is hinged on its ability not only to embrace these changes but to also turn them into opportunities.

Today’s consumers have access to an unlimited number of brands and are able to switch between them effortlessly. Choice is at their fingertips. What does that mean for product offering and breadth of range for a brand? Whilst a signature product resonates with consumers, inducing feelings of familiarity, comfort and trust, there are associated risks such as over-reliance, being blind to a changing market or future success being wrongly presupposed.

There has been a shift in emphasis from producing a signature product to being able to develop a varied yet familiar product range that appeals to both trusted existing customers as well as new ones. Coupled with the increasingly volatile market, brands need to be completely in tune with changes in customer lifestyle and expectation; this helps develop an understanding of which channel is best to engage with them on. Developments in social media, technology, and the rise in innovative marketing strategies such as pop-ups should also be taken advantage of in order to develop a better knowledge of customer base. Technology provides brands with an array of creative initiatives that can help effectively define and communicate value proposition, which forms part of a signature and sets the brand apart from competitors.

Mulberry

Mulberry's Johnny Coca successfully reimagined its signature bag, the Bayswater

Having the ability to seamlessly adapt a signature style or product to remain relevant is imperative. This doesn’t mean losing brand focus or identity, and care must be taken to ensure that this isn’t lost in such a crowded market. Instead, a balance needs to be struck, with signature style being maintained throughout the lifetime of the brand. Purposeful and informed reinvention is the winning concept as demonstrated by Mulberry’s Johnny Coca, with his successful reinvention of their Bayswater handbag.

Applying a signature to a brand can evolve and expand it beyond a single product or specific style. It is worth considering that a signature in today’s marketplace may actually have more relevance as a core set of values or strategic aims. This could include a commitment to sustainability and ethical sourcing, such as Stella McCartney, taking a best-in-class approach with a specific product, such as Olivia von Halle and the Cambridge Satchel Company or having a distinct, direct voice and method of engagement with consumers such as Sophia Webster on Instagram (see below). These alternative signature styles are driving some of the UK’s most current and successful brands.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BaJcI7sDJrH/?taken-by=sophiawebster

One factor not to be overlooked is the financial commitment associated with the change. Having a defined budget and timetable will enable a brand to form a focused view on where and when it is best to invest. The return a company expects to make on such investment should also be estimated, and should consider both expected financial performance and other key factors such as brand awareness and customer following.

Whilst having a signature product or style is still a fantastic asset in the current market, factors such as advancements in technology, ease of access and changing consumer needs means brands can no longer rest assured that past success will dictate the future. Keeping engaged with the market and acting on changing consumer needs, whilst not losing core brand values, is a fine balancing act and a continuous process that requires ongoing attention.

Natasha Frangos is a Partner and Head of Creative, Media and Technology at haysmacintyre

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