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3 challenges for brands: how to bring a product to market

The relationship brands have to trends differs greatly from those which retailers come up against. Here we explore the commercial/integrity balance and where trends fit in.

The challenges facing brands vary greatly from those which retailers contend with, especially when bringing new products to market. For some retailers, backing trends when they’re popular is the aim, but for many brands that would be the point when they move away from a product. For retailers, with their broad assortment and varied customer, getting a product wrong and needing to discount doesn’t have to be hugely damaging. As a brand, with slower manufacture, smaller budgets and a more limited product offering (but no less vocal, critical and global audience), getting it wrong can throw a whole season out of sync.

Here, based on the experiences of brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Kenzo, as well as commercial data, we look at the three headaches brands experience around product and trend.

  1. Striking commercial balance
  2. Venturing into the unknown
  3. Trend timing

1. Striking commercial balance

A brand’s messaging must be tightly controlled and well communicated to justify price point and create a loyal following (we discussed brands and pricing recently, here). Whilst many retailers can go after the hits, for brands, hunting down commercial trends is rarely an option. Brands’ market position requires them to be market leaders – but brands still need to create product which is relevant to consumers, and which will sell (few brands have the luxury of designing truly creative collections – collections which are usually offset by perfume lines anyway). This defines one of the biggest challenges associated to product development – striking a careful balance between brand integrity and commercial gain.

Adhering too tightly to a brand identity can be incredibly damaging – Abercrombie & Fitch are a recent example of a brand who refused to change with macro trends, which resulted in store closures and falling sales. They were too delayed in responding to the drop in interest for logo’d product amongst teens. The brand also stuck too ardently to their collegiate referencing when the entire market was shifting towards more eclectic inspiration and would not include black colored products in their offering despite strong evidence it would sell fantastically well. They had to revoke this in 2014, repositioning their offering and for the first time selling black garments.

In 2014, Abercrombie & Fitch reversed a decision to exclude black products.

To avoid this, just as retailers do, brands need to create the products their own consumers want. Some brands developed innovative ways to ensure their consumer informs product direction. Take Black Milk, recently discussed by Business of Fashion, whose devoted fans, called ‘Sharkies’, have direct influence over product and a chance to meet other customers and staff at yearly Sharkie conferences. That tactic suits Black Milk’s product but would work for few others. Thankfully, highly sophisticated ways of analyzing consumer behaviour and the market are now being invested in by the savviest of brands.

2. Venturing into the unknown

For many brands, who start modestly and focus on a key product, growth is sought through category expansion. This can be a minefield. Not only is it expensive introducing new lines, it is also extremely time consuming. Tory Burch is currently in the process of expansion with a sports line and menswear set to launch this year, and watches ventured into in 2014. Category expansion requires deep level research and analysis, often on a very granular level – a brand introducing a new line of $350 denim jeans would want to know exactly when their competitor drops every one of its styles, know each stockist and would monitor sell through very closely. That’s something we’re able to help brands out with.

Tory Burch is in expansion mode, launching a watch collection in October 2014.

Category expansion requires deep level research and analysis, often on a very granular level – a brand introducing a new line of $350 denim jeans would want to know exactly when their competitor drops every one of its styles, know each stockist and would monitor sell through very closely. That’s something we’re able to help brands out with.

Alongside the granular data, brands also need a thorough understanding of the life cycle of deeper trends – trends around silhouettes, around print, color and fabric. Brands, with slower manufacturing in mind and high investment in marketing, want to know these trends will maintain their price point and want warning ahead of the pack when something is heating up.

Then there’s the risks associated with product when brands venture into unknown geographies, where consumer tastes or sizing may differ. Careful understanding of the local market is critical in this instance.

3. Trend timing

For anyone producing or selling apparel, trends matter. But there are challenges associated with trends unique to brands. Whilst striking the balance with commerciality and understanding the lifespan of deeper product trends, there’s a point when brands chose to become disassociated with a trend. Without data analytics that point is ambiguous – just because a trend has infiltrated the mass, or even value, market, doesn’t mean it will stop selling at a branded price point. However, it may be to a very different customer – and one which skews the brands’ position.

Two recent examples – firstly, Isabel Marant who a year ago admitted that “super-ugly” imitations of her sneaker wedge, which hit retail in 2012, were putting her off wearing her own pair. But they sell – the brand still has 120 products at 16 key global retailers. However, there’s over 2,000 wedge sneaker styles currently online not by Isabel Marant. Should the designer cut loose and retain her creative leadership before the style becomes the brands begrudging leitmotif (or perhaps it’s too late)?

Kenzo are another example of brand setting trend, which the mass market has dived upon – their tiger sweaters were catnip for bloggers following their August 2012 arrival in store. The chart illustrates how the market seized upon the opportunity and tracks Kenzo’s own involvement evolve. The market is now awash with version of the sweater, and Kenzo keep reworking their own in new colors and embroidery to feed demand. The difference here from Marant’s sneaker wedge is the Kenzo jumper bears the brand name – a copy will never pass for the real deal. This, coupled with the continued reworking and the introduction of other sweaters sets Kenzo ahead.

The real key to the timing around trends, and exiting ahead of potentially damaging saturation, is watching other markets, not just luxury or premium.

Successful brands know when mainstream adoption is damaging, or when it will actually help differentiate their own product and boost sales.

Analysis in our articles is backed by EDITD Market Analytics. Find out more here.