In 2009 Eileen Fisher had to make a decision about her brand. Was she going to be conservative and keep her original consumer happy, or was she going to try to appeal to a broader base of customers? Her brand was associated with the affluent, middle-aged, baby boomer woman. It was a woman who had a lot of discretionary income, with enough cash to afford upscale clothing. The association with women that fit the aforementioned demographic was what made the brand successful in the first place. The brand exhibited their own personality by employing salespeople who, “shared the same lifestyle with the Eileen Fisher core customer” (3, Keinan et. Al).
This is an important part to their strategy. They make women feel comfortable in their stores. It is all part of the brand image that Fisher valued for her apparel. As any apparel retailer does, the brand aims to have stylish clothes. Fisher aimed to keep her line of apparel simple and comfortable, as well. Unlike clothes that are popular among millenials, Fisher aimed to support natural style; her mannequins had no lipstick or high heels, while her line sold no miniskirts.
The five design values of the Eileen Fisher brand were summed up as: Simple. Sensual. Beautiful. Timeless. Functional (3, Keinan et. Al). The brand was founded on stylish, yet comfortable clothing that embodied the style of Eileen Fisher herself. This was a successful company in 2009, so what needed to change? The old adage, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” comes to mind. If the Eileen Fisher line of clothes really is timeless, what do they have to worry about? When the stock market hit a large recession in late 2008, Fisher was worried about her company’s future. Her customers were getting older and in their opinion the products were not getting trendier.
I believe that this panic may have had to do with the recession itself, and not the fact that the brand wasn’t going to sell to the same customer base for years to come. As millennials get older their styles change, and they may become new customers. Looking at the brand asset valuator tool, my belief is that Eileen Fisher in 2010 was a power brand that was slightly on the decline. The decline was due to their lack of contemporary clothes and the disregard to keep their current customers happy with more modern offerings.
What the brand may have done here is instead of trying to reach a whole new demographic under the same old name, first look only at what your current customer wants you to differentiate. If you can keep up with the current trends but not get away from the values that made the brand successful, then that brand will continue to be successful. I believe the immediate concerns about the brand failing their loyal customers were founded only by the recession. The brand needed to evaluate the wants and needs of the current customer before putting out product that confuses the current customer.
Trading a customer one for one is not a sustainable strategy, especially when you are potentially trading someone with high discretionary income for someone with low discretionary income. I believe Eileen Fisher should expand their target market to a younger crowd, but under a different name and at lower prices. Their brand image evoked strength and stature. The brand’s cultural values embodied: inspiring creativity, instilling confidence, and cultivating connection. Cultivating connection with customers and employees was what propelled this brand to the next level.
Creating something that their current customer base is unfamiliar with threatens the established connection they worked so hard to achieve. Their current customer base is part of the, “Established women” (50’s and 60’s) segment. The other segments include “Emerging women” (30’s and 40’s) and “Nascent women” (teens and 20’s). I believe what they should have done is kept the Eileen Fisher tag as part of their established women line and added some modern touches to their existing designs.
The company was financially healthy and had nothing to worry about in the short term, the only negative effect was that of a macroeconomic level, which the brand cannot control. In order to diversify the brand, Eileen Fisher should have created a new identity for the Emerging women and Nascent women segments. New brands that people did not even know were associated with Eileen Fisher. What could be done is to follow their strategy that was so successful for the “Emerging Women” segment. This means employing people as sales associates in their stores that wear the brand themselves.
For example, in an “Emerging women” store, hire employees who feel passionate about wearing the brand. They need to look into this demographic and figure out what price points would maximize their profits and what styles would retain customers. The same thing can be said for the Nascent segment of customers. The brand was positioned so that younger people thought they were only for older, or heavier people. There’s nothing illegal about using different trends and concepts and creating a whole new image under a subsidiary. I believe that’s what Eileen Fisher really sought after when she said that her brand needed a, “face-lift”.