A strong brand is one of the most powerful assets a company can have. The brand functions as an effective and link between the consumer’s needs and the organization’s value proposition.

By Michel Jansen 

What Brand Managers can learn from Fashion Designers

A strong brand is one of the most powerful assets a company can have. The brand functions as an effective and efficient link between the consumer's needs and the organization's value proposition, because it represents the functional and emotional advantages of the concept, which capitalize on the ambitions and aspirations of the consumer. The more successful the brand is in doing so, the greater the chance that a meaningful relationship will develop. As long as the brand is able to fulfill the consumer's ambitions and aspirations, the consumer will repay the brand with loyalty, preference and the willingness to pay a higher price (= margin)! Developing a meaningful brand is therefore one of the biggest challenges in today's business world. At the same time, it is true that the position of many brands is currently under pressure. As a consequence of several developments, brands have difficulties in delivering sufficient value and in remaining the consumer's number one choice. Some factors which have great impact on the diminished attractiveness of many brands are:

- Commodity trap
Due to worldwide overcapacity, markets are characterized by extreme competition. In order to survive, many brands use low prices as their primary weapon in fighting the competition.

- Copycats
As soon as propositions appear to be successful, copycats enter the market and in no time at all they introduce their version. It goes without saying that, most of the time, the lookalike is very similar to (if not the same as) the original. This is not surprising, since the copycats want to grab as large a piece of the "success pie"as possible.

-  Accessibility
For a long time, one of the strongest assets of a brand was that it possessed a certain kind of intrinsic attractiveness. Brands were desirable because they were not within everybody's reach. Today's wealthy society means that many brands are available to everyone, no longer only to the select few.

-  Constantly changing consumer needs
Today's wealthy society is characterized by a new paradox as regards consumer purchasing behavior. On the one hand, we live in a world of overcapacity, with a limitless number of product choices with which consumers can fulfill their needs, ambitions and aspirations, to the point that many markets are seen as saturated. On the other hand, consumers very quickly become bored with the existing products in the market and swiftly start looking for new ideas.It can be said that many brands have great difficulty in responding properly to these constantly changing consumer needs, as they are insufficiently attuned to the real needs, ambitions and aspirations of their consumers. To stay successful, brands have to introduce new products continuously. Therefore they must be able to respond adequately to the changing developments in the market and achieve a shorter time-to-market.

- Shorter product life cycles 
The fact that many people very quickly become bored where products are concerned leads to shorter product life cycles. This implies that brands have to be developed faster than ever before, along with new products, which puts a lot of pressure on the profitability and growth ratios of the brand. This is particularly so because the bar for evaluating the performance of a newly-launched product has been set very high, as compared with the situation which prevailed a couple of years ago.

-  Eroding margins
As a result of all the trends and developments described in the previous paragraphs, one can state that margins are eroding. Brands are forced to offer their products at lower prices, so as to earn back their investments within a shorter time period, in a market characterized by overcapacity and constantly- evolving consumer needs.

These developments provide an overview of the difficult reality with which many brands are confronted in many markets! We deliberately speak of REALITY, as there is no way out! This is the situation brands have to deal with: now and even more so in the near future!

Changing the paradigm
Rather than trying to escape this difficult situation - which is almost impossible to do - the biggest challenge for a brand is to adequately adapt to it, to learn new routines and behavior that can help the brand survive. Brands have to find a new modus vivendi in order to stay vital and relevant! This means that they have to look for new sources of inspiration. And herein lies a new challenge for many brand managers: to change their perspective, because for many years their major source of inspiration has been the world of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). In other words, the behavior of FMCG brands is seen as the point of reference in the branding field. To a certain extent it can be said that FMCG brands deserved their image as brand leaders, since, when compared with brands in other markets, their skills and competencies were more highly developed. Moreover, to a greater extent than any other market, the FMCG market is characterized by its very strong market dynamics.

It is not surprising that FMCG brands were seen and used as a benchmark, since they were also the first to discover and exploit the enormous potential of possessing strong brands. In addition, they have further developed the concept of branding by experimenting with issues like brand stretching, endorsement branding and portfolio branding. In short, as pioneers in the field of branding, FMCG brands were a beacon for many other brands, and therefore a great source of inspiration. We wonder, however, whether the 'brand rules' defined by the 'fast-movers' are still up to the task of overcoming the many problems that brands have to deal with nowadays. A close look at their market reveals that many FMCG brands have seriously lost ground. They start losing market share and their profit decreases, since they have difficulties in maintaining the strong positions they once occupied. As the dynamics in their markets become more intense, FMCG brands also seem to suffer from the same factors described in previous paragraphs. And it is apparent that they themselves have severe difficulties in coming up with adequate answers for building valuable brands!

The question is: "What's next?". Where do we get new inspiration in order to build strong brands, when FMCG brands can no longer be seen as role models? We have to look to other fields. Therefore, we have asked ourselves one simple question: What market can serve as an inspiring metaphor when it comes to finding new ways of creating valuable brands? In the end, the answer appeared to be as simple as the question: the fabulous world of fashion, because if there is one industry where people have very well understood the concept of value creation, it is the fashion industry!

Furthermore, fashion brands are interesting not only because they are able to ask (very) high prices for their products, but also because the dynamics in this market make the category worth a closer look. More specifically, it is important to realize that the fashion industry is characterized by the same factors as described. To mention some of them: the fashion industry has to cope with extreme competition: the number of fashion brands is enormous.

Fashion brands have to contend with discount labels that copy the ideas of the big fashion brands and offer them to the market at very low prices. The fashion industry has to cope with the short time-to-market issue, because every season, four times a year, these brands have to show a complete new collection to an eager audience. And, as the name suggests, fashion is concerned with fashion...what is hot today, may not be tomorrow. It goes without saying that fashion brands perform under very high pressure, since the competition is very intense and their consumers have very high requirements. At an abstract level, fashion brands have to deal with the same dynamics that exist in any other market - and their market conditions are perhaps even worse! Fashion brands, however, are still able to stay ahead of their commodity trap by constantly coming up with new and inspiring concepts and remaining alluring! Apparently, fashion brands are used to dealing with extreme competition and ever-changing market conditions. They seem to have created a mechanism for coping with these difficult situations, since they constantly come up with inspiring and exciting propositions. Hence, the question is: what can brand managers learn from them in order build valuable brands themselves?

Eight rules for becoming a fashion brand
It seems that branding has entered a new era, in which FMCG brands will no longer lead the way in branding. From today onward, brand managers should start looking at the fashion industry and trying to understand how fashion brands are able continuously to captivate their consumers. We have used the world of fashion and the way fashion brands behave as a metaphor, in order to find new inspiration and energy for building valuable brands. Below, you will find observations on how fashion brands behave in order to maintain their allure. We have clustered our observations around eight dimensions which, we believe, can be seen as the key success factors of fashion brands.

1. Be Imaginative
Building a strong brand starts with building a strong vision of the market. It entails creating your own world, in which you explicate the - unique and distinctive - relationship between how users approach your products and the way in which you want to satisfy their needs, ambitions and aspirations. A good appreciation of the interaction forms the basis for a strong philosophy that ultimately becomes the signature of the brand.

2. Be Creative
A constant flow of innovative propositions is the most potent way of making the philosophy of the brand tangible. This requires an open mind and the willingness to experiment with many different kinds of elements, like movies, books, fabrics, techniques and cultures, in order to break existing conventions and paradigms. This can only be achieved if one is willing to take a bit more of a risk in order to stand out from the crowd.

3. Be Original
It is crucial to be recognizable in a crowded market. The only way of achieving this is to stay true to yourself and to use your own philosophy as a starting point for innovation. Brands have to challenge themselves to retain their originality, as this provides them with a unique and distinctive market position. Furthermore, it will contribute to a deepening of the relationship with the consumer. The latter will appreciate the brand's authentic behavior and will see it as proof that the brand wants to build a genuine relationship with them.

4. Be Elegant
A brand's assortment often consists of a broad range of products. Offering choice is an important aspect of creating value, since nowadays consumers want to be treated as individuals and to have the opportunity of using products which fit the occasion. Using a 'one size fits all' approach is therefore inadequate if different user moments can be distinguished. This also provides the chance of being relevant to the consumer on many more occasions.

5. Be Alluring
To a certain extent, selling a brand is selling a dream. A dream to which consumers aspire, and buying a specific brand helps them to make this happen. Not always is it possible to make dreams come true, which makes them even more desirable. They are difficult to attain, which is synonymous with scarcity and thus even more attractive. When it comes to the accessibility of the brand, it is important to build in some selectiveness, in order to keep it alluring.

6. Be Aspiring
A consumer's purchasing behavior is a reflection of the person he aspires to be. People buy products that fit in with their ideal self. It is a way of showing themselves and their environment whom they ideally want to be or how they want to be perceived. Understanding these deeper (sometimes unconscious) drives and motives of people, which to a large extent determine the purchasing behavior, makes it easier for brands to help consumers to express themselves.

7. Be Evolutionary
To remain inspired is a challenge that calls for continuous renewal of the brand. By being capable of observing what is going on in the context, and understanding relevant drivers of change, brand managers enable themselves to anticipate these changes and come up with new and inspiring propositions that fit in with the actual needs, ambitions and aspirations of the consumer. Being connected, therefore, keeps the brand vital and forms one of the pillars of the brand construction.

8. Be Committed
Building up an enduring relationship with the consumer is a strong asset of a brand. To keep this relationship with the consumer worthwhile, the brand must invest in it ceaselessly. Obviously, this demands of the brand owner complete dedication to the brand. He should approach his job as his life's work and put all his efforts, passion and perfectionism into it, so as to make clear to his buyers that he is willing to build a genuine relationship.

To Conclude
These eight dimensions together serve as the foundation for building a valuable brand. They are intended to provide brand managers with a set of criteria that can help them to understand on which dimensions the brand is doing well, or which should be improved. However, in evaluating the performance of the brand on these criteria, it is evident that there can be only one source that determines the score: the consumer!

Origin via brandchannel.com