Brooks Brothers a brand that has lasted for two hundred and two years, and was floundering well before coronavirus hit may be finished. The pandemic gave the brand its last shove over the Chapter 11 line. The main reason for Brooks Brothers’ demise is a common one, the brand lost relevance. It lost touch with customers, their changing needs and changing tastes.
As noted in the Financial Times, “When it comes to tastes and style, Brooks Brothers has been swimming against the tide. Its formal, old school approach found favor among mature and more traditional demographics, but it has become increasingly out-of-step with a new generation of consumers.”
Bloomberg agreed, citing a retail analyst who remarked, “Brooks Brothers has long suffered from a failure to decisively adapt to changing trends.” Although Brooks Brothers did attempt to attract younger customers, going as far as to open cafés in certain stores, “What it didn’t change was its focus on formal attire.”
Brooks Brothers’ current owner, Claudio Del Vecchio, believes the storied brand is ready to face the future with a new owner. Any new owner will need to follow a brand-business revival plan. New management must face the fact that customers today want brand-businesses to deliver experiences optimizing contrary needs.
This means maximizing its provenance of formal with contemporary casual, to create a relaxed formality such as “dignified comfort.” Brooks Brothers must make its core, formality, relevant in a more casual world without losing its authority in classic menswear.
They did attempt casual attire by entering casual wear with its Golden Fleece wardrobe. However, competitive brands had more casual street cred, an the avant-garde line of clothing designed by Thom Browne, Black Fleece, faltered after initial acceptance. By creating clothing lines that focused on casual, youthful attire, Brooks Brothers abandoned its core essence of dignified authority in formal clothing. Instead of ignoring their core, brands must make their core relevant. Don’t abandon a strong heritage; build on it.
Making Paradox Promises
Brands are complex, multi-dimensional ideas. Consumers do not want to compromise. They do not want to give up one aspect of the desired brand experience to receive another desired aspect. Addressing contradictory needs allows brand-businesses to create product or service solutions that turn contrary desires into motivating paradox promises.
Paradox promises are brand experiences that address desired yet conflicting needs by delivering the benefits of no trade-off. Promising and delivering paradox promises generates high quality revenue growth. The strongest brands promise and deliver the “best of both” when addressing conflicting customer needs. Brands that succeed do not concede. People want brands that optimize not compromise.
Writing an opinion piece on menswear for Financial Times, Robert Armstrong posits that “the demise of suits” is greatly exaggerated. Granted, this Op Ed comes from the land of James Bond. Mr. Armstrong’s point is that comfort is a driving force in clothing now. However, “We feel at ease when we are dressed correctly. Suits are comfortable -; they are designed to be.”
And, in another FT style article, Alexander Fury asserts a similar opinion when weighing the benefits of athleisure wear, “Sometimes, I feel most comfortable when I know I look the part, rather than because I can stretch, unimpeded, in all directions. But, maybe, I am an exception to the rule -; and perhaps in the future, suits will be too.” Coco Chanel believed that “Luxury must be comfortable or it isn’t luxury.” In the case of Brooks Brothers, traditional formal suiting can be comfortable and they must make it so.
Restoring Brooks Brothers Brand Relevance
These comments highlight the desire for timelessness and timeliness, both formal tailoring and comfort: dignified comfort. Dignified comfort is more than how the clothing is styled; it is also how the clothing fits into one’s lifestyle. Brooks Brothers is one of the few clothing brands that can successfully optimize the best of both formality and casual.
They have an enormous opportunity for survival and revival by focusing on a paradox promise like dignified comfort. Dignified stands for worthy and impressive; it means that the clothes help the wearer project an image of self-confidence and as someone worthy of respect. Comfort provides a sense of well being, of ease and freedom. Comfort bestows warmth and humanity to dignity while dignity bestows comfort with respect, excitement and serious inspiration.
Having a separate brand that is casual but not part of Brooks Brothers’ core will not satisfy the contradictory needs that potential customers seem to want. Brooks Brothers must implement a paradox promise strategy that modernizes its core in order to survive in the post-pandemic, work-from-home environment.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Larry Light, CEO of Arcature
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