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Abercrombie & Fitch: Valuable Branding Lesson Abrasively Presented

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

abercrombie & fitch logoThe fashionable (ie snooty) retail clothing industry has more than a few elite and upscale brands. Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) is one of those labels. But in the media recently, their uber-appeal to “the cool kids” crowd sounded abrasive, and offensive to many.

But nearly buried in all the negative press coverage are some valuable lessons about branding.

The headline in Business Insider reads: Abercrombie & Fitch Refuses To Make Clothing For ‘Large’ Customers. [Abercrombie & Fitch] “doesn't stock XL or XXL sizes in women's clothing because they don't want overweight women wearing their brand. They want the ‘cool kids,’ and they don't consider plus-sized women as being a part of that group,” they reported.

A&F Chief Executive Michael S. Jeffries—according to Business Insider—has a core marketing strategy that exclusive sells, and that including everyone would make his business “boring.” While we don’t like the apparently elitist attitude, the CEO makes a valuable a point. That is: Marketing is not about being everything to everybody.

The “cool kids” comment, and not making women’s clothing in XL or larger sizes, ignited a ton of negative backlash. CEO Jeffries subsequently told the Los Angeles Times that he regrets the out-of-context comment from 2006.

The take-away marketing lessons that we find in this noisy brouhaha are:

Attempting to be everything to everybody means you are exciting (and engaging) to no one. It's about answering a specific need with a specific solution. It’s about properly selecting and using the communications channels that connect to a defined audience.

This is a classic mistake by providers to believe they are “for everyone.” A “universal” approach dilutes your message. In fact, successful providers focus on the cases and patients that they can serve best, such as seniors, soccer moms or appearance-oriented individuals for cosmetic procedures. By definition, your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) must be precisely defined. In the mind of the consumer it is the differentiating concept that you own. Everyone is not your market.

Speak to your ideal consumer, but not against others. In this recent PR blowup, A&F is portrayed as concentrating on a select audience with such intensity that they abrasively communicated whom they don’t want as customers.

Defining the audience that you are for (and the one thing that you want patients to remember about you) does not require an exclusionary statement about others. It’s simply not necessary, and as is painfully obvious with A&F, negative PR can result.

We’d like to hear what you think. Post your comment below. And for related reading: How to define your target audience a critical health care marketing success factor.

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