POLITICO: Fashion Reveals How to Update Grand Old Brand by Denise Gitsham

Since last November’s presidential election, the Republican Party has renewed its commitment to wooing Latinos, women and 18-to-39-year-old voters. This decision sprung from a belated realization that losing these voting blocs would threaten the GOP’s very existence. The desire to woo, however, must be accompanied by a 180-degree shift in the party’s branding strategy. A case study and application of marketing principles gleaned from an unlikely source — the British Burberry luxury fashion line — could set the GOP on the right path.

Until recently, the 156-year-old label was perceived as old, stodgy and passé — much like the Republican Party today. When Angela Ahrendts joined Burberry as its CEO in 2006, she quickly set about the task of making the brand globally relevant again. Ahrendts recognized, however, that Burberry’s greatest impediment to achieving this goal was its lack of familiarity with the target growth market: luxury consumers of the future, known as “millennials.”

Ahrendts realized that connecting with these 18-to-39-year-old consumers required a complete rebranding of the venerable line. This idea was met with significant resistance and controversy; she was, after all, targeting a generation that had little knowledge of the company and its rich history. Furthermore, she risked losing Burberry’s existing customer base.

Nonetheless, Ahrendts stayed the course and directed her marketing team to rebrand the company by modernizing its image. Every aspect of the brand was redesigned to appeal to the millennial consumer through generationally relevant music, movies and images. Its sales force utilized iPads in showrooms, familiarizing consumers with the company and its premier offering — the original Burberry trench coat — through a culturally relevant medium. Burberry also revamped its website, integrating the latest digital technology. Most important, Burberry changed its hiring practices, and today, a majority of its employees are younger than 30. Burberry’s rationale was simple: In order to understand its target consumers, it had to hire those who understood their mentality. These changes resulted in a successful rebranding of Burberry’s image, and a more than doubling of company revenue in six short years, from $1.2 billion in 2006 to $3 billion in 2012.

The similarities between Burberry — once the brand of old, white men — and the GOP — still the party of old, white men — are too obvious to state. Both share a similar mission and face the same challenges in a competitive marketplace. One has already figured out how to win hearts and minds, while the other has just begun asking the right questions.

President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party mastered Burberry’s branding playbook long ago. Republicans took longer to realize that “politics as usual” no longer worked and that nothing short of a complete image overhaul can save the GOP. Consequently, the party now stands at a crossroads, similar to the one Burberry faced in 2006. It can either rebrand itself to attract targeted voters, or stay the course and relinquish its waning power to Democrats. For the sake of our nation, I hope the GOP chooses the former and embraces the only “fashion advice” that can possibly save the party.

Denise Gitsham directed President George W. Bush’s Hispanic outreach efforts on the 2000 presidential campaign. She is a founder and principal of 7 Second Strategies, a public and government relations firm in San Diego.

This op-ed originally appeared on Politico.com on Friday, February 1, 2013.

Posted on February 1, 2013 in In the News

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