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What Came First, The Branding or The Product

What Came First, The Branding or The Product

Branding and product should work hand in hand to create a consistent contour brand, but which influences the other the most?

It’s an age-old marketing question, just like the chicken and the egg, what came first? The branding or the product? Business professionals will give you a different answer depending on who you ask, where they are based and what demographic they are targeting.

Gen X is known for their lifelong brand loyalty and is less interested than other generations in trying new brands; they look for strong heritage brands with tried and tested products that have years of experience and longevity as proof of their brand trustworthiness. Gen Z on the other hand looks for brands that are drivers of social change and implement sustainability practices that will be followed through – they hold brands accountable and are quick to drop those who demonstrate a lack of brand authenticity or shoddy product creation that feels more like a cash grab than an innovative solution. But, when creating a fashion business, what should come first, a strong brand identity or a well-crafted product?

Let’s explore how different industry pioneers have evolved their brands and what aspects of their business they focused on to become global successes.

BRAND CENTRIC

Arguably the most impactful trend of the 2010s is athleisure and gym-wear which continues to rise in popularity to this day. Leggings were no longer restricted to the Pilates studio and comfortable casual wear was no longer viewed as unprofessional in office settings. The demand for athleisure skyrocketed resulting in many new brands sprouting up, one of which is now the international fashion brand, Gymshark.

Gymshark began by using high-profile influencers to increase their visibility online within their target demographic, 18-25-year-olds, a common marketing tactic still to this day. However, rather than executing this influencer activation for quick exposure, the company developed long-lasting partnerships with their influencers who eventually became known as the ‘Gymshark Athletes’. The brand targeted influencers who they believed would be genuinely passionate about their product and fitness, rather than those who had the most followers or reach, which resonated with the fitness brand’s target consumer.

These ‘Gymshark Athletes’ would take part in sponsored pop-up events at gyms and other sport-centric events and expos, allowing fans of both the brand and the influencers to build genuine emotional bonds to both, becoming embedded in a community of fitness enthusiasts with similar passions. Gymshark also allows consumers access to behind-the-scenes of the brand journey by regularly uploading videos to social media of any internal company news, progress or general updates featuring the young CEO, Ben Francis, who has created his own YouTube channel where he answers questions from consumers, fans, or aspiring entrepreneurs. The brand’s transparency in how they operate their business truly resonated with their Gen Z target consumer and allowed them to stand out from an oversaturated market of athleisure and gym-wear which their own products may have gotten lost within. 

Another luxury brand with global recognition that focused on branding first, and product later is Tory Burch. The eponymous brand launched in 2004 and with her celebrity connections working within fashion PR and marketing, Tory was able to secure celebrity endorsement and eventually land her products on The Oprah Winfrey Show which was watched by millions and whose recommendations could catapult a person, brand or book into worldwide fame.

However, what allowed the brand to remain popular almost twenty years later is her branding which has remained consistent throughout. Tory Burch’s logo is simple, and clean and reflects the owner, consisting of two stylised ‘T’s mirrored and overlaid atop of one another, encapsulated within a circle. The emblem takes its inspiration from Moroccan interior designer, David Hicks, who was prolific in the late 60s and 70s which reflects Tory’s own passions for both travel, interior design, and heritage plus the symbol is associated with preppy style, namely with its two directions: bohemian luxury and boho-chic, both of which Tory Burch utilised in her product design. The logo has remained unchanged since the brand launched in 2004 and is implemented throughout almost every product available to buy.

This consistency not only is great for building brand recognition through imagery only, but it also creates consumer trust in the brand for it is unwavering and unchanging which indicates success. The emblem is featured on the brand’s bags, jewellery, shoes and apparel, and has even been transformed into a print for the luxury brand. Having such a strong brand logo that is unavoidable in the press through celebrity endorsements in a time before social media ruled the marketing sphere allowed Tory Burch to create a following of fans through branding alone; many consumers purchase Tory Burch products to simply be spotted with the notorious logo on their accessories as it is now a sign of American heritage and sophistication through the owner’s own personality.

PRODUCT CENTRIC

On the other side of the coin in which fashion companies focus on strong products that they know will attract their target market and fine-tune their branding later are brands such as Urban Outfitters. Founded in the US back in 1970, the business focused on creating a line of products that would appeal to university-aged consumers who were tastemakers and self-expressive artistic types. The brand maintained its stronghold over this demographic until the 2000s when other high street ‘college-focused’ brands such as American Apparel, GAP and TopShop hit the market with more affordable products and arguably more trend-led design, which was the brand’s entire niche.

Without a memorable brand identity or story to rely on for consumer loyalty, Urban Outfitters had to focus on what drew their customers through the door in the first place; unique products. They began by exploiting their target consumer’s nostalgia by collaborating with brands such as Calvin Klein, Adidas and Wrangler to create products exclusive to the retailer and began to stock products from already beloved brands such as Birkenstock, Juicy Couture, and True Religion to get their core customer back into their store. The brand also created limited edition collections with celebrities with huge fan bases such as Justin Beiber. Urban Outfitters’ business strategy of leading with the product first and branding secondary has allowed the retailer to become an international success and even survive a plummet in sales and lack of interest as they have kept their finger on the pulse of youth culture and emerging trends.

Another very different approach to returning to the product is the British brand hailed by many in the fashion industry as the King of Rebranding, Burberry. Burberry’s trademark beige trench coats and chequered pattern have become forever ingrained within British cultural history, in part due to the brand’s association with ‘chav’ or ‘hooligan’ culture in the 1990s, a pejorative term to describe youths in this period with a lower socioeconomic status and reputation for being ‘disruptive’. Public establishments even banned punters from entering their premises wearing any Burberry-branded clothing, leading many loyal consumers to disassociate with the heritage brand.

By the early 2000s, Burberry almost lost all of its brand prestige leading many major UK department stores to stop stocking Burberry products altogether. The brand attempted to realign itself with other luxury fashion houses by partnering with celebrities such as Kate Moss to reposition itself as exclusive and high-end, however, over the years, it began to be overshadowed by its competitors. This led to the major rebrand of 2018, headed by new creative director Riccardo Tisci, in which the logo typography was replaced by the trendy and bold sans-serif and renowned graphic designer, Peter Saville, created a brand new logo and binned the immediately identifiable beige Nova Check. Whilst this fresh visual identity of the brand seemed to work initially, it wasn’t long before customers were nostalgic and yearned for the traditional products which initially established the brand and felt quintessentially British.

After five years, Burberry rebranded itself one more time and returned to its heritage roots, returning to a serif-based font, bringing back its iconic knight on a steed emblem as well as its Nova Check pattern in a range of bold and stylish colour palettes such as cobalt blue, to truly re-establish itself as a British brand. It might have cost the fashion company millions, but Burberry listened to its customers who adored the brand for what it was at its core which is traditionally British. Recognizing what their consumers looked for, Burberry was able to stop focusing on their brand identity and refocus on what drew buyers in for the many, many years before, their well-made and quintessentially British products.

There are many ways entrepreneurs and brands can bring their target consumers through their doors, whether that’s beginning with an innovative product design or a clear brand identity that will immediately resonate with their target demographic; there is no right or wrong way to do it. But, it can be a daunting task if you feel like you have one but not the other. At London Contour Experts, this is our field of expertise. We have a team of highly skilled designers and a collective proficient marketing and branding professionals who can help you capture your target consumer by working collaboratively, making sure your branding is timeless, alluring and most importantly cohesive with any future collection.

If you’re looking for the full brand conception to creation package, check out our exclusive Brands of Tomorrow service where you will receive all the tools you need to become a global fashion house.

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