The September issue: how to continue momentum without losing your core
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The September issue: how to continue momentum without losing your core

August 23, 2013

Susan Monahan

The pencil skirt. The blazer. The cashmere cardigan. The green satin scottie-dog print blouse. One of these things is not like the other. But the question is, does it all boil down to the same promise? Fashion retailer J. Crew recently addressed a severe murmur that it’s “abandoning its loyal customers.” Despite this gripe, no one can ignore the company’s momentum over the past decade. Confirmation of J. Crew’s broad-scale success can be counted in sales figures and the number of Tippi sweaters walking down the street. So how do you continue to appeal to new customers, as cultural norms and values shift, without losing your brand’s essence?

The pencil skirt.  The blazer. The cashmere cardigan. The green satin scottie-dog print blouse. One of these things is not like the other. But the question is, does it all boil down to the same promise?

Fashion retailer J. Crew recently addressed a severe murmur that it’s “abandoning its loyal customers.” In an email to its general service inbox, Elizabeth DeRose (whose husband happens to write for Forbes) wrote: “I am so disheartened and disappointed that you are leaving your core values and styling!”  And added a jab directly to CEO Mickey Drexler, “I would have thought you had learned your lesson at the Gap!!”

In this case, high-spend and brand-loyal DeRose thinks the brand changed too much.  What happened next was a bold admission: Drexler said, perhaps some of its styling “has gone too far.” And then he called her directly to hear her feedback.

Despite this gripe, no one can ignore the company’s momentum over the past decade. Confirmation of J. Crew’s broad-scale success can be counted in sales figures and the number of Tippi sweaters walking down the street.  So how do you continue to appeal to new customers, as cultural norms and values shift, without losing your brand’s essence?

At Kelton, we help companies test their resonance with various customer types. There’s not often one silver bullet to satisfy all, all the time – but knowing customers’ boundaries informs both development and simplistic translation of a brand essence.

J. Crew’s longtime customers came to expect “classic,” “accessible” and well-made wardrobe stables for work and weekend.  The cut and the colors would change, but the outcries are new. Today, its mannequins are layered in those quintessential wardrobe pieces, but with more push on trend – heavy adornment mixed with casual style.  It’s the same core product underneath, just merchandised differently.  Which may be all it takes to alienate.

Mickey Drexler says he’s course corrected in the Fall line, following concerns like those from DeRose.  He’s quick to react and a stickler for details.  If the September Style Guide is received with relief by DeRose and loyal shoppers like her, it may prove the essence of J. Crew is not so much timeless as it is iconic.

Susan Monahan

Director, Research & Strategy

As Director of Research and Strategy, Susan excels at bridging insights to client objectives, executing top-notch projects. Susan works closely with clients throughout the life of a project from...

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