August 06, 2014

What do you do when you identify a disconnect between how you and your customers see your brand?

 

This is where struggling mall retailer Aeropostale finds itself (as do, to a lesser extent, the other members of the “three A’s” – Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters).  Teens are beginning to see the brand as old news, reflected by six straight quarters of declining sales and a 65% drop in stock price.  But CEO Tom Johnson (and a recent $150M infusion by Sycamore Partners) says not so, that consumers just aren’t aware of “all of the changes we’ve made to our brand.”

 

So with a new marketing effort called “Aero Now,” his company has set out to show customers that Aeropostale is different from the brand they know.

 

                         

 

It’s a classic challenge faced by marketers and communicators in every industry: how do you “correct” customer misperceptions (yes, those perceptions may in fact be true, but it rarely feels that way from the company’s perspective)?

 

Companies generally choose one of two approaches:

 

  1. Communicate their brand’s truth more loudly and in more ways than before.
  2. Acknowledge their customers’ truth and communicate in ways that align with it.

 

If the first route (essentially telling customers that how they see things is wrong) sounds naïve, we can only tell you that we’ve worked with dozens of smart, successful companies whose first reflex is just to say more and say it louder.  They invest millions of dollars in fighting against people’s perceptions instead of communicating in ways that work IN LIGHT OF those perceptions.

 

In the case of Aeropostale, their team has opted for the second approach.  Their communication strategy is, in essence, to implicitly admit that the old Aeropostale WAS indeed a bit stale (they don’t have to BELIEVE this but if their customers do that’s all that matters).  This accomplishes two goals: it gives their customers permission to have thought that – and it communicates that TODAY’S Aeropostale is different.

 

Will it work?  Only time will tell.  The question is how Aeropostale backs it up (in addition to changing the name and look of their stores, are they able to better calibrate their product line with what teens want to wear?) and, as importantly, whether it’s just too late.  Teen preferences are famously volatile and once perceptions of a brand begin to shift it requires quick, decisive and skillful action to turn the tide – something not reflected in their recent announcement of slowed remodeling plans.

 

That said, in our experience the overall communication approach is the right one to try and get teens to take a second look.  Rebranding in this way holds potential hazards – see General Motors’ infamous Not Your Father’s Oldsmobile campaign – but if you keep true to your customers then it holds the potential to realign their perceptions with your reality.

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