Lands’ End Makes Unforced Error, Branding Experts Say

By Dustin Siggins Published on March 3, 2016

Valued at $1.9 billion when it was purchased by Sears in 2002, Lands’ End was worth only $780 million when the newly independent company brought in the president of Dolce & Gabbana USA  to turn things around and find new markets for the company. “We will never, ever lose an inch of focus on our loyal customer” even as she looked to expand, Federica Marchionni told Business of Fashion.

Business of Fashion described that “loyal customer” as “the 34- to 54-year-old parents who’ve kept the label chugging along for decades.”

“I don’t want to change what is working,” said Marchionni, who came to Lands’ End just over a year ago. She said her goal is to“just tweak whatever is needed to be tweaked.” But she is also “aiming for a younger, cooler crowd, all while keeping loyal suburban parents happy,” reported Business of Fashion.

A Tactical and Strategic Error

However, three branding experts interviewed by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel say that Marchionni’s interview of abortion radical Gloria Steinem in the latest Lands’ End catalogue was an unforced tactical and strategic error  that has led to widespread condemnation on both sides of the abortion fight and lost business from both.

“It’s just been a bad decision to associate your fantastic brand with something that was polarizing,” said Neeraj Arora, marketing professor at University of Wisconsin and executive director of the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research. “From a marketing standpoint, I think it’s fair to say that there was a misstep.”

John Mose was even more critical. “It’s hard to think if you’re sitting in that conference room with them and someone says, ‘OK, what do we do if people start to complain about us working with Gloria Steinem?’ and the answer is, ‘Oh, we’ll immediately issue an apology and retract everything.'”

“Who would do that?” he asked.

Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, was likewise critical. “You don’t do something like what they did at the beginning, pick someone, and then say ‘Oops. Sorry. We made a mistake,'” he said. “How do you make mistakes like that? This isn’t a little start-up that doesn’t know what they’re doing. This is a fairly established organization that should know better.”

Speaking to The Stream, public relations and branding consultant Marana Moore said the backlash among liberals shouldn’t surprise Marchionni and the rest of Lands’ End leadership. “Just because Lands’ End decided that neutrality was the best approach at the end of the day doesn’t mean that their previous actions disappear. To some the retraction is also seen as a stance, despite any professed neutrality in the accompanying statement. It should come as no surprise that on such a highly controversial issue, another group finds the opposite stance offensive.” 

“While a political focus of any kind could easily have been avoided, the brand initially chose to single out and profile an individual active in a particular political area which is the subject of some religious and political debate,” she explained. “Although we can’t be sure what led Land’s End to align with any political stance in the first place, it goes without saying that best approach in this case would have been to utilize a more neutral editorial from the start.”

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