November 14th, 2017
French Connection and brand failure …
16 Mar 2017 Dominic
Consider where French Connection are just now – 9 years of losses, an owner who is the CEO and also the Chairman, shareholder revolt, apetite for change and continually uninspiring and under-performing ranges. Why are they in this position and how much is the brand perception to blame?
Back in the day the CEO, Stephen Marks, hired Trevor Beattie to be the new French Connection marketing guru who then introduced the infamous “FCUK” campaign – responsible for selling 1 million of the “FCUK” T shirts and spawning a range of slogans based on the “FCUK” strapline.
This sent the companies value soaring to around 500 million – and this week it was valued at a more modest 32 million. The problems it experienced were primarily the campaign attracted a different customer compared to it’s core customer – one who alienated the core French Connection customer.
The brand became chavvy – something you DIDN’T want to be seen in – plus also the counterfeit business did a roaring trade in the brand flooding the market with more “FCUK” branded product.
Unlike other brands such as Burberry, French Connection has struggled to recover from this period and sales have just declined over the year to the current situation.
Given above, I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the background of what was an iconic UK brand in order to understand just why it has been suffering so much over the last 9 years and look at the traditional brand failure models to which it may belong.
What is branding?
Branding acts as a guard against failure – it encourages differentiation in the marketplace and allows product standout on USPs other than quality or durability of the product. Branding plays a part in protecting a product from direct economic factors however branding can also work negatively if not managed carefully – which is where French Connection have fallen down over the years.
Reasons for Brand Failure
This is when brands forget what it is and what it stands for. They try to experiment with their identity and marketplace positioning to such an extent that it takes a totally different route. This route could result in that brand’s failure as it might not be congruent to the existing image and positioning of the brand. Look at French Connection over the years – did they forget who they were or did they actually try to be too clever with their brand to such an extent that they found it nearly impossible to recover? I don’t think they forgot who they were – but never recovered from the “FCUK” campaign.
Icarus paradox (Overconfidence)
Icarus flew to close to the sun and burnt his feathers – despite being warned against it. Some companies follow the same path – over stretching themselves or re-positioning the brand to such an extent that they get burnt. They get lulled into complacency and don’t look at new strategies to grow. French Connection certainly didn’t become complacent however they attempted and succeeded with the “FCUK” re-brand to such an extent they did get burnt – by introducing a “chavvier” element to their customer base which they couldn’t get away from.
If the marketing strategy is designed to cover up the reality then the brand won’t last long. It’s true that not everything can be told to the consumers but the product has to compliment the brand promise or the company could get a great fall. Deception, at today’s digital age, would no longer result in the success of a brand as the consumers are much aware of the current scenarios and, with an increase in competition, aren’t hesitant to switch over to a new brand. I certainly don’t think FCUK suffered from this – but the recent Volkswagen fiasco is a great example of brand failure through deception
Lack of Change
The environment in which the brand functions is dynamic and requires it to change its marketing and branding strategies from time to time to keep up with the trend and to maintain and gain new consumers. In this age of digital world, if a brand still sticks with print media, it surely lags behind many of its competitors. Similarly, if a brand fails to infer the current and future needs, wants, and desires of the customers, there are greater chances that it may loose to its competitors. French Connection have moved with the times but I keep going back to the “FCUK” campaign – they changed but it did suffer commercially in the long term
I think for me the tale of French Connection’s rise and fall is a telling one for any business starting out and looking at how they develop a brand in the long term – organic brand growth is all well and good but where you try to take market share – be careful what you wish for ….