Why Brands Need to Be ‘a Step Ahead’ of the Consumer – WWD

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Long before the pandemic struck, the direct-to-consumer shift was well underway as brands were forced to evolve amid changes in traditional retailing. With the COVID-19 outbreak, this shift accelerated as e-commerce sales skyrocketed. To be in business, all a brand needed was a decent e-commerce platform, mediocre fulfillment and a website. Or so they thought.

The realities of the market tend to expose how vulnerable brands and online merchants can be to failure when they don’t have a clear brand and marketing strategy that stretches across every touchpoint of the consumer’s shopping journey.

Here, Tony King, who founded King & Partners with Inii King in 2010 after launching e-commerce flagships for luxury brands such as Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Yves Saint Laurent, among others, discusses the importance of refreshing a brand in today’s complex and ever-changing environment as well as what’s required in rebranding a fashion company.


Inii and Tony King.
Christopher Sturman

WWD: How do you know when it’s time to refresh your brand and website?

Tony King: Consumers are constantly changing and evolving, you have to make sure you still feel right for the audience and for what you are trying to do and sell. It’s time to refresh a brand when we see consumers begin to change or when you are launching new categories or entering new markets — those are the most opportune times to refresh a brand.

Another key way to see if a brand needs a refresh is if the brand is standing still and not feeling aspirational anymore. Brands must be a step ahead of consumer behavior. As technology, social media and the overall landscape shifts, brands must adapt and stay relevant.

WWD: What role do changing and evolving consumer preferences play when considering a rebrand?

T.K.: When a brand considers a rebrand, the brand must not blindly follow trends as it evolves to fit the changing consumer needs. It still must feel authentic to the brand journey and overall vision. It must feel seamless. Brands must consider what’s appealing to consumers and what they gravitate toward, but ensure that the refresh is authentically them.

For example, brands are becoming increasingly diverse and inclusive. So much so that it can feel somewhat trendy and ingenuine. When a heritage brand becomes inclusive, it must feel like a natural next chapter. For example, in our work with Cosabella, they have always had extensive sizing and diverse product types. When they decided to shift to include even more sizing and options, we had to ensure that we were clearly telling the brand story in a way that didn’t feel contrived. It works for Cosabella because it’s not just reflected in the marketing but also the product and always has been to a degree.

WWD: Why is it important to seek “outside counsel” when rebranding?

T.K.: Most internal teams are too close to the brands they work for and quite often brand owners put their personal preferences first.

They need someone who can see the wider landscape — those with different perspectives and who have industry knowledge. An agency is more privy and up to date on trends and research. Brands are good at making products but not necessarily making brands.

WWD: What role does the corporate culture of the client play in a rebranding project?

T.K.: Corporate culture has too many layers that can ruin a brand and we’ve seen it happen many times. Ideas get watered down. Shortcuts are made. Concepts aren’t executed properly. We want clients who are not afraid to stand by a great idea and stand up for the work and to continue to push every single detail of it.

We work best when we work closely in close collaboration with owners, founders and creative directors. We work in a way that’s collaborative — we value longevity and often can feel like part of our clients’ brand and creative teams. We enjoy being that phone to temperature check a new idea, we have so many clients that call us to run things by us constantly. We build trust and our clients’ buy-in so they’re empowered and stand behind our ideas, and the results of our work hopefully show we have our clients’ best interests at heart.

WWD: In this post-pandemic environment, why is it a good time to rebrand?

T.K.: It’s time for optimism. It’s time for change and for new things. Consumers have evolved and their behaviors have changed radically in the past 18 months. We live in an instantly more digital world. Consumers desire progress and are open to it. There really is more space for brands to experiment and venture into new territories.

WWD: Anything else companies need to know about the process of rebranding?

T.K.: It’s fun. It’s an opportunity to reinvent and transform. It’s an opportunity to create a strong personality. Consumers want to see brands evolve. Change feels good for both the client and consumer.

Good branding is more than just a logo. Good branding is more than typography, mood boards and color — it’s about a change in the way a brand thinks and speaks, it’s about building a world around a specific vision from the way a sales associate greets you in the store to the thickness of the hangtag and the way your box opens when you receive a package. Every touchpoint is important.

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