Eileen Fisher Case Study
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While reading through Eileen Fisher, Repositioning the Brand, it became apparent early on that the company’s main issue was relevancy—an issue that many companies face in today’s market. Keeping the company current in order to attract new customers while not abandoning already loyal customers in the process is a huge challenge that EILEEN FISHER struggled with. For purposes of differentiating between the company and the person, “EILEEN FISHER” shall refer to the company for the duration of this analysis summary. As a company that Fisher started from scratch, she seemed to gear the company toward making clothes that she herself liked to wear, which is a perfectly fine business model, but only to a certain extent. As she aged, so did the company, and 25 years later, the only women who were interested in buying her clothes were women her own age. Women aged 30-40, the demographic she initially intended to reach upon the company’s creation, considered her clothing to be a generation behind. Upon hearing this verdict, Fisher realized she had a problem and had to do something about it. “The company then hired IDEO, a leading design and innovation firm to clarify the company’s brand vision and to apply those principles consistently across retail channels to reach new audiences without alienating veteran devotees.” What resulted was the creation of the THREAD and STITCH projects.
Much like how you have to prepare the needle (thread) before you take it to the fabric (stitch), the THREAD project consisted of all the prep work that would be launched during the STITCH project’s phase of the operation. The point behind THREAD was to develop clear brand guidelines and to identify ways to attract new clientele. IDEO first conducted interviews with the company’s employees, loyal customers, and consumers who had negative feelings towards the company’s products, in order to get a better understanding of the brand. IDEO then created a series of design principles that laid out the foundation of the brand’s future and guided the team’s collaboration with the company’s staff. Keeping these principals in mind, IDEO and EILEEN FISHER then set out to connect the brand to younger shoppers. After IDEO’s strategies were finalized, they were implemented during the 2009 fall season via the STITCH project. Together, both companies decided that a holistic approach would be the best way to revitalize the company, updating the company’s advertising aesthetic, changing in-store visuals and merchandising, overhauling the website, and embracing video as a communication medium in the process—all of which helped to attract a generally younger consumer.
While Fisher herself saw the rebranding as a huge success as in-store and online sales both saw large increases after the change was implemented, the company itself saw a decent amount of backlash from its already loyal clientele. Regular customers felt insulted at the apparent short-sightedness of the company’s rebranding, stating that by creating an edgier product for a younger consumer, they were implying that the older consumer has no edge, thereby alienating them in the process. Without an already well-established social media presence, the company had no real way of responding to the criticisms. Despite the negativity surrounding the brand repositioning, EILEEN FISHER continued to embrace the change, narrowing down its potential customer base to three categories: the established woman, the emerging woman, and the nascent woman. The emerging woman seemed the most attractive consumer base to target, as they would be the ones who would have a more “is this in?” mentality when purchasing their clothes, forcing the company to stay relevant with their available styles.
The only issue with this consumer group is that they are less profitable; the established woman would be more likely to purchase ten items of clothing, while the emerging woman might only buy one or two. Emerging women would also be less likely to wear the Eileen Fisher brand exclusively. Trading the established woman for the emerging woman would ultimately result in a loss for the company. Furthermore, if the company focused its attention on either the emerging or nascent woman, they would have to adjusting their prices, as these women are those who are just entering the workforce and don’t have the level of disposable income that the established woman has. While lowering their prices might help reach the younger audience, it also runs of the risk of the company’s products losing their high status placement in department stores, relegating them to less expensive sections, decreasing the company’s high-end reputation. A possible solution to this market focus issue was to develop a separate sub-brand for the nascent woman, allowing the company to cater to all age groups. Rebranding a company is a difficult task to execute effectively.
As in the case of EILEEN FISHER, rebranding runs the risk of losing already loyal customers who might not appreciate the new direction the company is taking. This then becomes a simple issue of gains vs. losses—will the new clientele’s business make up for the loss from the old clientele’s lack thereof? If a solid business model is followed from the company’s inception, this repositioning situation could be avoided completely. When Swarovski Crystal decided to start manufacturing and selling jewelry, they knew there were many ways to go about it. Ultimately, they decided that by creating different levels of products, they could ensure that no market group would be left out. They then decided to create two categories of jewelry—their timeless and high-fashion collections. The timeless pieces range in price from $40-$200, while the high-fashion pieces may go from $150 and up. Creating different categories of merchandise while maintaining product quality is what allowed Swarovski to engage many different types of customers. EILEEN FISHER made the mistake of limiting their appeal to a very specific category of woman: women of the same age as Eileen Fisher at any given point in time.
As Eileen grew older, the company grew older, and the style of clothing it provided reflected that. Had the company made an effort to not let the company age with Eileen, then it would have never been in a position that required a rebranding scheme. Another way to look at this situation is that by exclusively selling women’s clothing, Fisher has already limited herself to 50% of the available market. The more refined she makes her product, the more she is minimizing the list of potential customers. IDEO had some great ideas with regards to revitalizing the company. An online presence that engages in an aspect of social media will greatly increase the company’s exposure to a whole other category of consumers they had previously been neglecting. Should EILEEN FISHER not want to compromise their already unique style of clothing in order to attract these new customers, that’s fine; why not go along with the separate sub-company that was previously mentioned? Keep the identity that has already been created, but create a new one with the intention of attracting a whole new set of clients. This eliminates the possibility of losing customers who feel alienated.
“Design Strategy for Eileen Fisher.” n.d. Ideo.com.
Keinan, Anat, et al. “EILEEN FISHER: Repositioning the Bran.” Harvard
Business School (2012): 1-21.