Retail TouchPoints: Ralph Lauren Looks to Stay Relevant Amid Shifts

Discussion
Feb 02, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

After more than 44 years in the retail industry, Ralph Lauren sought new strategies to reinvent itself to stay relevant with the next generation of consumers. To reaffirm its stance as a desired luxury brand, the company turned to "merchantainment," which David Lauren, EVP of advertising, marketing and corporate communications, described as "the seamless blending of merchandising and entertainment."

"Merchantainment is all about telling stories from around the world about your own products," said Mr. Lauren during a session at the NRF annual convention titled "Keeping a Classic Brand Modern."

Retailers can create stories across channels to turn items into a lifestyle, he explained, making shoppers grow more connected to brands and their offerings. Increasingly, the brand stays relevant by telling its story though interactive marketing strategies in-store, online and via mobile.

By integrating its brand image and overall lifestyle into the website, Ralph Lauren also was able to make e-commerce a more acceptable channel within the luxury industry. "Our goal was to get shoppers comfortable with the idea that they could buy a $5,000 bag, tuxedo or gown online," Mr. Lauren said. "We wanted to show that the internet was not just a cheap place to get coupons, but a place to build a luxury brand."

The retailer also released Ralph Lauren Magazine to display brand messaging and new products.

During his presentation, Mr. Lauren discussed the array of tools and tactics the retailer has utilized to create a 360-degree view of the brand. For example, to promote its Rugby offering, Ralph Lauren rolled out a QR code campaign in which shoppers can scan the code to design and personalize their own shirts. The retailer also has leveraged online product videos, celebrity testimonial campaigns, and in-store kiosks to allow easy access to the Ralph Lauren items.

To increase customer loyalty and overall engagement, Ralph Lauren developed interactive, virtual fashion shows that include Q&As with fashion editors. All of these initiatives have allowed the brand to be seen as a lifestyle, rather than a line of products, according to Mr. Lauren.

"We don’t just sell clothes: we sell a dream and a lifestyle," Mr. Lauren said. "When you shop in our stores and online, you’re inspired by this dream and lifestyle and want access into that world."

Discussion Questions: What are the particular challenges a storied brand such as Ralph Lauren has in connecting with younger consumers? Do newer media options represent an opportunity or obstacle for established brands looking to connect with new audiences?

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10 Comments on "Retail TouchPoints: Ralph Lauren Looks to Stay Relevant Amid Shifts"


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Carol Spieckerman
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Carol Spieckerman
10 years 3 months ago
Ralph Lauren is the quintessential lifestyle brand(s) and the company has enjoyed an enviable run of success through retail’s roughest waters. The company has done a fantastic job of mixing tradition with modernity (although I still see Burberry as setting the standard in that regard), and its carefully-curated brand portfolio addresses multiple generations and demographics without (too much) cannibalization. You won’t find digital touch screens and DJs at the flagship Rhinelander mansion re-do on Madison Avenue, yet you can design your own rugby shirt on the Rugby website. The next generation (David) is ensuring that the family’s portfolio of brands move with the digital times. The only major misstep seems to have been the company’s creation of its Global Brand Concepts division a few years ago which promised to leverage RL’s extensive design, production and marketing capabilities to create Lauren-esque brands for retailers. When GBC launched its first (and to-date only) American Living lifestyle brand in J.C. Penney, it seemed to be Penney’s big brand move but alas, many more came after, diluting the brand’s… Read more »
Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Ralph Lauren is a great example of a brand that has stayed true to its aspirational position. It has successfully addressed different retailers’ price point requirements (as well as the higher prices in its own stores) while keeping a very consistent “lifestyle” point of view. It’s an object lesson to other consumer brands: You don’t have to reinvent yourself every year to stay fresh and relevant.

Bill Emerson
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Bill Emerson
10 years 3 months ago
All brands, including a storied brand like Lauren, face a huge and, for most, insurmountable hurdle. Their very success inexorably identifies them with a particular generation, in this case the boomers. As one generation leaves the acquisitive cycle, the next searches for brands which are “theirs” and consciously choose them over the brands of their parents. This is just human nature. Retail history has lots of examples of once-dominant brands that either disappeared or morphed into something unrecognizable compared to the original. At one point there was a moderate apparel chain called “Casual Corner” that set specialty fashion. Gone. Gap once ruled the malls and set the fashion trends for a generation. All but gone. Abercrombie & Fitch was once a “gentleman’s” boutique with a distinctly English Squire feel. Now it’s an icon of promiscuity among teenagers. Ralph and his team are as smart and capable as you will find and they have clearly been experimenting in different labels and brand positioning. Will they succeed? Time will tell.
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 3 months ago

Ralph Lauren has a similar opportunity to have his message connect with a lot of younger consumers just as Ron Paul has with his message. But, of course, that doesn’t apply to everyone. Just focus on your desired audience.

So Ralphie, speak to the younger consumers’ targets via their commonly used instruments and they will listen just as they have — to a measurable extent — to the music of an aging Tony Bennett. Then, RL, be sure your merchandise delivers on its iconic promise.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 3 months ago
The challenge for RL is communicating that it’s cool to be classic. Their deviation from their classic approach in enlarging the size of the polo guy to the point that it’s ridiculous diminishes their brand. I’m sure it’s an attempt to appeal to the younger consumer. Their best approach would be to teach the younger consumer to be classic. In shopping this holiday season, they are absolutely great for young boys and young men. They really missed out for young women. And they are not alone in that issue. Connecting with a younger audience is a huge opportunity. It’s not an obstacle. There is a huge opportunity to teach the younger audience a classic approach to apparel. It not only makes sense from a budgetary point of view, it makes sense in style, as well. It can still be cool to be classic. I have also seen quality issues with their products in comparison to what I would consider a competitor — Nautica. For a lot of reasons, young men and young women do not… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

Bill says it perfectly. The challenge may be insurmountable. Who wants to drive their father’s Oldsmobile? History says it will not be the brand in the future that it is today. We all remember wearing shirts with little horsies years and years ago. How many Millenials are wearing them now (unless of course they are knock-offs)?

Matt Schmitt
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

David Lauren has, through the free reins and blessing of his father, been able to breathe a ton of new creative life into Ralph Lauren’s approach to branding. Using an engaging multi-channel approach is great, but the real magic in this execution has been a focus on the quality of the content and experiences. Using technologies to engage the customers is great, but not without a keen focus on the experience.

Brands face a challenge when trying to create a lifestyle affinity with their customers. Rob Walker explores the psychology and fine line of balance required in his book “Buying In.”

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

My daughter told me that kids are waking up to the fact that Abercrombie’s just a ‘hipped up’ Ralph Lauren and subsequently, the cool thing to wear now is in fact, Ralph’s stuff. Interesting.

It’s always a huge advantage to be the original. The hard part though, is keeping your edge. It’s a very good thing that Ralph has realized that in recent history. Have you ever been in one of the Double RL stores? Talk about ‘hipped up’ — they are amazing and put their wanna-be competition to shame.

Robert DiPietro
Guest
10 years 3 months ago

It is a classic brand that runs hot and cold with younger consumers. Ralph Lauren will have trouble connecting with the young consumer regardless of the media used.

No one wants to wear their parents’ brand.

David Forbes
Guest
David Forbes
10 years 3 months ago

A big challenge that any long established status/image brand has in reaching younger generations is the trap of being “your father’s Oldsmobile.” How do you overcome that? Several of the ideas mentioned by Ralph seem to be good ones. Another thought: Ralph Lauren has made a point of solidifying its brand through development of a strong logo presence on its products. This logo is powerful stuff, in that it can speak constantly to the consumer about their RL choice, and can also be a public “Badge” linking the consumer to the brand. I suspect that this logo has become “emblematic” of the established (i.e. “old”) brand. A new suite of logos that embody Ralph Lauren values translated into younger lifestyles could be very helpful.

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