Talk of “Brand Evolution” typically has a positive connotation. We often think of an evolving brand as accumulating its historical essence to take part in forward-thinking enhancements. However I’ll argue that’s not always the case, since a brand can evolve and undergo various modifications but simultaneously risk dilution, or being “watered down” with actions lacking much substance.
There are many “elastic brands” who constantly evolve. By “evolve” I mean they have the ability to truly expand (picture a rubber band) by remaining fresh to their audiences and committed to their platform. Whole Foods Market does not sway from their mission – but in fact takes action to enhance the overall customer experience in gradual steps. Their “Heath Starts Here” program spanning the entire company, leverages their food nutrient rating system and diet recommendations. A “Wellness Center” is in progress at initially five Whole Foods locations. The Wellness Center expands the “Health Starts Here” program through educational lectures on the Whole Foods philosophy of healthful eating, thus encouraging people to take charge of their diets. Notice how Whole Foods evolves their brand not with typical line extensions, but with integrated experiences to keep the brand relevant and in-touch with the consumer.
Buoyant brands stay afloat – they have a position – yet risk being bounced around by competition. Buoyant brands are not necessarily taking wrong courses of action, but if they don’t evolve with care, they risk dilution. What’s interesting is that Abercrombie & Fitch attempted to be an elastic brand with Ruehl 925, yet that expansion spanned two extremes – and ultimately snapped. Recently, A&F introduced women’s “Yoga” pants in their kids, Hollister, Gilly Hicks, and A&F brands. In addition to Victoria’s Secret, this is an attempt to emulate retailer Lululemon. While Lululemon’s competition might capture the yoga pants product with a lower price-point, the real challenge is capturing the Yoga Lifestyle, despite their recent downgrade citing pricey yoga clothing. It’s odd that Abercrombie considers Jersey Shore’s “A&F Flaunting” off-brand, but considering the facets of A&F’s brands, are yoga pants really an appropriate evolution? Even if yoga is deemed a valuable enhancement, introduce yoga in one or two A&F brands and as a result, magnify this product’s uniqueness and ‘aspirational’ qualities. We’ll see how the yoga category performs; yet it’s obvious that this is simply reactive action to the competition.
And the Totally Diluted
PacSun falls into this category – once a leader in casual “surf-themed apparel” they’ve “watered down” their brand with countless products, that it has washed away a once-crisp identity. I discuss PacSun’s challenge in this article. Also, the Gap brands should distance themselves from one another. Overall, this is something A&F does fairly well; for example, many customers don’t realize Hollister is owned by A&F. Currently, the Gap brand is buoyant – and if Gap continues to cross products & experiences within their portfolio, the Gap brands risk dilution.
Brands will often overlap among these categories; yet what I’ve demonstrated is that brand evolution sans dilution, takes care, thoughtful attention to detail through employing long-term thinking, and considering multiple potential outcomes.
Jesse de Agustin