When selling products and merchandize, branding is fundamental to develop an image for market target groups. Branding can be easy for some retailers who are able to emphasize the needs of consumers. However, others face challenges such as brand development and and image control. This can be seen in specialty retailer Ann Taylor. Over the years the company has struggled to sustain their brand. Although they have a distinct branding and commonly recognized, the brand is lost to audiences. They are unable to develop the brand of sophisticated, high end, classic, professional women they are popular for. With different retail sectors to address the needs, quality, and style of women apparel, CEO Kay Krill fights to maintain the separate brands associated with Ann Taylor Stores Corporation.
Branding is defined as, “a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and service of one seller to differentiate them from others”, (Lake, 2011). Many continue to recognize Ann Taylor as an upscale boutique for the sophisticated, business savvy, professional woman. Despite this, the company continued to face challenges with branding. Established in the 1950’s, many are familiar with their image and message portrayed to audiences. However, the problems with brand control began in 1995 when the corporation developed, Ann Taylor LOFT. LOFT was created to meet the needs of a separate target audience. LOFT apparel is lower priced, marketing to the young, casual professional. Almost 10 years after its launch LOFT earned more profits and value including store square footage than classic Ann Taylor locations. This realization caused branding challenges for the company. CEO Krill was forced to make an important executive decision, to maintain the classic Ann Taylor image. It was imperative to maintain consumer appeal, sustainability, and a competitive advantage.
In response to branding challenges Krill changed the organizational structure. She created executive positions that gave Ann Taylor and LOFT separate Vice Presidents and executive management for merchandising, design and service. This organizational change allowed each sector to have separate market targets and direction for merchandise and inventory. Giving each sector separate management teams helped to create division, individuality and uniqueness between Ann Taylor and LOFT. This “internal brand management” allow corporations to utilize strategies to alter or sustain their brand image, (Burt & Sparks, 2002). Changing the organizational structure was done to strategize the corporate brand. As customers began to shop at LOFT instead of Ann Taylor to purchase similar items at a lower price, strategy was needed in order to encourage new customers and increase sales in Ann Taylor and LOFT simultaneously.
Krill made changes in branding to change the image of Ann Taylor LOFT. This strategy changed the brand and image profile of LOFT. Before this change, many customers were confused. Customers directly associated classic Ann Taylor with Ann Taylor LOFT. They found they could purchase similar styled merchandise at a lower price. As a result, these two sectors were competing with each other. Changing organizational structure, Krill put specific emphasis on brand differentiation. To do this Krill remodeled stores, changed location, and added merchandise to each sector to further emphasize the difference in design, style, and quality. “Retailers also create their brand images in different ways e.g by attaching unique associations to the quality of their service, their product assortment and merchandising, pricing, ,credit policy, ect”, (Aitawadii & Keller, 2004). This way, consumers can easily differentiate between the style and quality of the two.
To maintain corporate responsibility Ann Taylor Stores Corporation continues to support breast cancer research. Through programs such as ANN Cares and LOFT Cares, the corporation raised millions to fully fund four researchers through the Cancer Research Foundation, (“Ann Taylor”, 2012). To fulfill their social responsibility Ann Taylor maintained a competitive advantage for business continuity. Krill made an executive decision to maintain the classic Ann Taylor image. The organization may have lost valued customers had she changed the branding of the original décor. Today, Ann Taylor continues to meet the needs of their upscale, high-end business professionals. She “understands the needs and wants of customers and prospects”, (Lake, 2011). To cut cost, Krill also cut store expansion. These are necessary adjustments to preserve Ann Taylor image. This includes adding different wardrobes that fit the needs of the high-end market, like evening gowns and special occasion attire. By maintain and differentiating the two brand images Ann Taylor is able to meet consumer needs.
Ann Taylor is a specialty market known by many professional women for its high-end classic apparel. Despite their popularity the corporation faced many challenges with their brand and image. These are real and common problems that industries must address. Maintaining an image can be difficult despite the recognition and appeal. Ann Loft is associated with high quality, professional and classic business attire. They were able to develop strategies to combat the problem and establish a long lasting brand for business continuity.
- Aitawadii, K., & Keller, K. (2004). Understanding retail branding: conceptual insight and research priorities. Manuscript submitted for publication, School of Business, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, Retrieved from http://mba.tuck.dartmouth.edu/pages/faculty/kusum.ailawadi/research_articles/JR-Retail Branding.pdf
- Ann taylor stores corporation supports the fight against breast cancer. (2012, September 27). Retrieved from http://www.adventuremall.com/about-us/media/breastcancerawareness/anntaylor.htm
- Burt, S., & Sparks, L. (2002). Corporate branding retailing and retail internationalization. Corporate Reputation Review, 5(2-3), Retrieved from http://itu.dk/~petermeldgaard/B12/lektion 6/Corporate Branding, Retailing, and Retail Internationalization.pdf
- Lake, L. (2011, November 07). What is branding and how important is it to your marketing strategy. Retrieved from http://marketing.about.com/cs/brandmktg/a/whatisbranding.htm