Macala Wright: How Heritage Brands Maintain Cultural Relevancy

With shifting behavioral and online purchase patterns, courting customers is becoming a game of chess – or throwns. Here’s how one heritage brand is playing.

Cultural relevancy to a brand’s customer base is challenging as the consumer trend of multi-brand loyalty continues its upswing with the advent of omni-channel retail. For heritage brands, this is especially challenging. It’s one that Original Penguin faced in 2013. In order to address it, newly appointed vice president of marketing, James Ha, decided to start from the ground up.

What are the foundational elements of crafting a global brand strategy for a heritage brand?

For a heritage brand, it’s always a little more complex as you have to really consider the history of the brand and allow your strategy to celebrate what was done in the past, while allowing the brand to move forward and shift to better suit cultural relevance for today’s marketplace and consumers.

For Original Penguin, this really was rooted in what the core values of the brand are: being original, different and unique, embracing smart and witty humor, focusing on the details of the collections, and finally ensuring that the product and brand remained accessible from a consumer’s perspective. Also understanding what really made the brand “cool” and relevant in the past was key to unlocking the new global brand strategy of “Be An Original.” We knew this would allow us to celebrate all the style icons like Frank Sinatra, Clint Eastwood and the Ratpack that helped pave the way for the brand, but also gave us a relevant platform to embrace a new generation of “Originals” that could speak much more appropriately to the new millenial consumer.

How do these foundations effect brand positioning to its target audiences?

Distilling what is core to the brand really allows you to see where you can build something relevant to the audience that you are looking to speak to. We recognized that we needed to stay pure and true to the core values that reflect the product we are developing as a brand, but the other core pillars that speak more to cultural influences, needed to evolve accordingly – being original, different, unique and playful, witty and humorous.

As we were developing the new positioning for Original Penguin we knew that the influencers that made the brand relevant back then might not always resonate with this new generation of millenials and consumers. As such, we really focused on building a platform that would allow us to explore different areas of culture and really find those new influencers that would be relevant to this target audience. But what we also see is an opportunity to celebrate and educate our consumers as to who these timeless style icons are and the roots of where the brand came from.

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What were some of the key findings amongst the middle demographic groups, men and women ages 25-35, that had to be addressed in order to create a successful brand strategy?

Understanding this consumer group’s consumption and media behaviors was really at the core of everything we built our strategies around. Ultimately, their habits and behaviors are drastically different than any other consumer segment we’ve encountered. We’re still in a phase of really fully understanding them, but with a media landscape that’s so fragmented there really is no “one-size fits all” solution in reaching this consumer group.

However, one key finding that did consistently appear was their need to constantly be connected to the digital world. Having an appropriate digital brand strategy, which includes a combination of e-commerce, digital content programs, mobile and social media is paramount to our new marketing strategy.

Although this generation consumes the same type of content that has been available to everyone in the past, the way in which they consume this content is where the key difference lies – streaming of tv shows online, watching hours of videos on youtube a day, reading magazines through tablet editions, consuming news and current events through websites and blogs – these are all activities anchored in the digital world. This evolution has really been at the forefront of creating the infamous “omni-channel” shopper. Understanding that these consumers experience on average three or four different touch-points before they are ready to make a product purchase also plays largely into a brand’s content strategy.

What were some of the key elements in focusing on that customer to get them re-engaged with the brand?

For Original Penguin, the most important aspect of re-engaging our customer was to ensure that we had solidified our overall brand positioning. The DNA of the brand and story needed to be culturally relevant and aspirational enough to make consumers really want to engage with our brand overall. But we also focused not only the strategy, but the vocabulary we are trying to create for Original Penguin – having the right tone of voice to speak to the millenial audience is also key in our execution of strategy.

You can really start to see the change in voice that we’ve made throughout our e-commerce creative features, our social media communities and also our latest release of the “Be An Original” blog – which is visually driven and focuses on asking one question to all our influencers and tastemakers we work with “What does it mean to you, to Be An Original?” But as we shift our strategies in the digital world to cater to this target audience we are also redefining the brand experience in our retail environments to align with a more contemporary & fresh approach – our new flagship store at 654 Broadway (NYC) will be the anchor of this new retail design.

How did that engagement factor into the health of the online and offline retail division?

We are still in the early stages of seeing the results of this re-engagement from our target consumers, but the response has been positive to date. With the online platforms where results are easier to track, we can definitely see a lift in engagement not only with our e-commerce platform, but also our social media communities.

There has definitely been a lift in the full-price side of the business overall, but we are also aligning the right content in the right channels to help support this consumer behavior – e.g. monthly editorial features to help support selling the brand lifestyle. With these editorial features we are guiding the millennial guy through an elevated shopping experience and giving them inspiration in how to pull looks together that are on-trend, accessible, and easy. Ultimately, when you have both free-standing stores and an e-commerce website, the digital environment acts as a supporting channel to drive traffic to our brick-and-mortar locations –“digital window shopping” if you will – so ensuring that the website is aspirational enough to drive a consumer to visit a store becomes a critical consideration within the cross-channel brand strategy.

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What were three ways in which you used social media in order to create a successful brand strategy as it related to customers?

Crafting a cohesive social content strategy that is unique for each community is really the key to supporting our new brand strategy. We want to give a reason for consumers to actually follow or join each of our communities. So for example, currently Facebook remains the hub of all social media programs, including contests, events and even promoting the most recent and relevant products, while Instagram features all our behind-the-scenes content.

We really focused on two aspects when building out these social media strategies – how can we make content that supports our “Be An Original” positioning, while ensuring the content is leveraged in the way a person would normally engage with that platform – ie. Instagram is visually-based, Twitter is a platform where people now consume breaking news at it’s earliest stages, Tumblr is a visually-based blogging platform. My philosophy and approach to social content is governed by one rule “When In Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Social Communities like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr are really like worlds or countries to themselves. So, when you insert your brand into that community you need to adapt your behavior to that environment in the most brand appropriate way. In the case of Original Penguin the constant question we ask ourselves is how our positioning of “Be An Original” can be authentically integrated into each of these communities.

Why did the brand launch “Be Original” on Tumblr? How is visual storytelling affecting the way you market to men and women ages 25-35?

We chose to launch our blog on Tumblr because of several key factors: a pre-built-in audience with a strong male following, the ability to customize the brand and visual experience of the blog, and finally the ability to natively share content and crowdsource new audiences.

That said, at Original Penguin we understand that vertical brands need to embrace content marketing as building an aspirational lifestyle and staying culturally relevant requires telling a compelling story and making your target audience want to engage in the brand dialogue. Watching the success and rapid growth of visual social communities like Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, etc. has definitely opened up the doors for brands to be much more innovative/creative in how they build visual content. For Original Penguin and where I believe the industry is headed next, is a much stronger push on video content – visual storytelling with movement. Whether its animated Editorial Features on E-Commerce or 15-second Instagram clips and weaving an entire storyline, this type of visual storytelling is what really drives engagement with this new generation of connected consumers.

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