INTEGRATED MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS PLAN
A critical analysis of Fashion Retailer French Connectionâ€™s current brand strategy and issues to 1 provide a comprehensive integrated marketing communications plan
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Research into French Connection has shown that there is a dis-connect with the companyâ€™s brand vision, values and promise which affectively have been impacting the brandâ€™s staff and consumers resulting in a decrease of sales and performance. Furthermore it is clear to see that the brand is not connecting to their core target audience, their target audience being fresh, stylish and fashion conscious. There is confusion about the brand identity. French Connection is showcasing the brand as being sophisticated and wants to be associated with a classy elegant look but at the same time their campaigns are showing a totally different image of the brand, in addition to not delivering the brand promise with new pricing strategies. French Connection needs to build relations with their customers in order to increase their sales. The research shows French connection customers visit their stores occasionally, mostly women. The aim is to drive the consumers into the stores more often with them actually purchasing.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Executive Summary
Table of Contents
French Connection Overview
Performance, Market and Customer Review
Marketing Mix Review
Brand Image and Identity
Appendices Pest Analysis
Brand Positioning Map
Brand Positioning Analysis
Mission Statement Analysis
Brand Vision Analysis
Mission â€“ Vision Analysis
Brand Religion Analysis
INTRODUCTION The high street fashion market has seen various retailers struggle and fashion retailer French Connection is no exception. Undergoing a possible period of disconnect amongst its consumers, as an increasing number of reports arise describing a five year period downward trend of company sales.
Founded in 1972 by on-going chairman and majority stakeholder, Stephan Marks; French Connection had previously enjoyed a stunt of unrivalled success, however are now faced with tough challenges as the company tries to recapture past success.
Renowned for the controversial four-letter marketing campaigns of the late nineties; French Connection has become synonymous with the â€˜FCUKâ€™ identity and in such the campaign has become the brand.
Used as the logo, adorned across all product ranges, the manipulated swear word became universal. Capturing the bold, confident and rebellious essence of the decade, French Connection became a cutting-edge globally visible brand.
Within the changing environment, rebelliousness moved way for corporate social responsibility and consumer attitudes changed. Hudson (2011) suggests that within the new environment rather than challenging Comms, FCUK was more of a cheap controversy, leaving the brand outdated.
Realising the need to move away from the FCUK concept, French Connection has undergone a significant change in positioning from the younger FCUK branding to a more expensive stylish label, Resulting in confusion over the brand positioning and low sales (Assessing the French Connection Brand).
FRENCH CONNECTION OVERVIEW French Connection operates in the fashion-led high street retail market, primarily concerned with the designing, manufacturing and distribution of its own branded range of accessories and apparel to over 50 countries worldwide.
Retailing garments through a network of online services and high street stores and shopping centres across the UK, Ireland and North America. French Connection also has concessions within selected department stores such as House of Fraser and John Lewis. (Annual Report 2011)
Providing consumers with its-own branded ranges, French Connection pride themselves on being original, distinctive and Fashionable. Through its in-house design teams French Connection aim to deliver stylish, well-designed quality products to its customers.
In-line with the core purpose of French Connection (See Appendix Nine) the French Connection Group has positioned the brand to target consumers which share the similar characteristics and ideologies being extremely fashion-led and original.
French Connection state that their consumers are aged between 18 and 35, which is in keeping with the initial brand concept of ‘well-designed, stylish clothing that appealed to a broad market’. (Fashion is our Business)
As well as wanting to be an accessible brand, the target group of French Connection is extremely broad and can appeal to anyone who has an interest in fashion and being on-trend in regards to clothing and accessories.
‘Balancing new and existing ideas with a constant delivery of quality and affordability (Fashion is our Business), is the core values that underpin French Connection. Again being very broad and can relate and appeal to a large number of consumers.
The consumers of French Connection tend to be of a younger demographic with less disposable income, therefore the deliverance of the core values in regards to French Connection being affordable, is essential in gaining customer loyalty.
It has been Highlighted that a large proportion of consumers due to the vast array of product variety and choice within the high street market base purchase decisions mostly on brand choice. Brands which consistently reinforce appeal to consumers through differentiated offerings will draw the most loyal customers. (Okonkwo, 2007:106)
Brand differentiation can be gained through the functional and emotional values that a brand provides as well as the brand promise. De Chernatony (2010:13) describes a brand as cluster of functional and emotional values that bring about unique experiences.
The diagram below highlights the functional and emotional values of French Connection in which the organisation offers consumers, to enrich the experience of the brand and create differentiation amongst its competitors.
Promise Quality fashion-forward ranges at affordable prices
Emotional Values Cutting edge, stylish brand and brand culture
Functional Values Original and distinctive clothing and accessories
Providing own branded clothing and accessories is the functional benefit of French Connection. Functional values however can be easily understood by competitors who can then not only imitate but surpass these.
French Connection cannot rely solely on the functional values that it provides, as within the market that it operates many of its competitors offer own labelled clothing and accessory ranges.
It’s with the emotional values that organisations gain leverage over competitors, as it’s with these organisations’ are able to gain consumer trust and build on relationships.
French Connection is a cutting-edge brand which produces stylish, on-trend fashion clothing and accessories. Due to the brand’s heritage it has built on a brand culture which provides the emotional values of the organisation.
Consumers are more likely to be emotionally attached to the brand due to the brand heritage and culture which provides a sense of belonging, being a part of the brand’s culture. This can be related to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Solomon 2006:99), in which the level of belongingness is provided by French Connection as they are meeting the motivational needs of its consumers.
French Connection promise to deliver quality fashion-forward ranges at affordable prices, however within the shift from the FCUK identity to the more expensive stylish label, the brand has increased its price premiums leaving some of its consumers isolated and the brand’s promise unmet.
PERFORMANCE, MARKET AND CONSUMER REVIEW The economic downturn of the recession has seen the high street struggle with various retailers going into administration as people are cutting back on purchases, it was recently revealed how the high street spending slumped last month.
The volume of retail sales fell by 0.8% in February, while the previously reported 0.9% rise in January was revised down to 0.3%. More than a third of consumer spending is accounted for by high street and online sales. The rally in consumer spending in the final three months of 2011 which saw a 1% rise in retail sales has slowed down. (Guardian, 2012)
French Connection have had reported losses for over a five year period, the below table shows the brandâ€™s performance over this time frame, measured by the total shareholder return compared to the FTSE small cap index.
Source: Annual Report (2011)
There seems to be a correlation between the drop in sales of French Connection and the brands new positioning strategy. (Hudson, 2011) states that French Connection begun is reidentity process during late 2004.
Currently within the fashion high street retail market, French Connection own an overall market share of 0.2% being dominated by the likes retailers Zara, H&M (Hennes&Mauritz), TopShop and Next as shown in the chart below.
Fashion High Street Retilers Market Shares 6 4
Market Share (%)
Sources: Apparel in the United Kingdom (2011)
There is an indication that the pricing of the French Connection products has impacted the companyâ€™s performance. Compared to its competitors French Connection has positioned the brand at the higher-end spectrum of the fashion high street market.
The retail brands where ranked from one to five, with five being the highest in terms of its pricing by consumers, and then compared to the present market shares of each organisation, see below:
Market Share and Price Premium Comparison 6 5
Price level Ranking ,5
4 3 2 1 0
Market Share (%), 0.2
The results showed that the retailers that had a higher price premium within the market accounted for the lower market shares whilst those that presented reasonable pricing had higher returns on investments.
In the current economic climate consumers are spending less and are more conscious of buying into designer brands; instead opt for mid-priced clothing retailers mixing and matching products. . (Okonkwo, 2007:234)
In the shift to a more expensive and stylish brand position, French Connection has raised its entry point creating a barrier for its customers. Under the FCUK positioning the brand targeted a younger audience offering lower costs.
However within its new brand positioning strategy French Connection has almost doubled its price premiums for its minimum entry product (Assessing the French Connection Brand), thus making the brand less assessable.
As a result French Connection has failed to deliver on the brandâ€™s promise which has accounted for the loss of consumers, market share and sales. In addition to this whilst undergoing a new branding position, the organisation has failed to remain core to the values that French Connection was formed upon which contributed the companyâ€™s success.
French Connection is one of four other subsidiary brands under the French Connection Group – French Connection PLC (Appendix Nine) contributing to over ninety per cent of the group’s revenue sustaining a market capital of £45.7 million. (London Stock Exchange)
Currently undergoing a hybrid brand architecture whereby French Connection comprises aspects of all Monolithic, Endorsed and Branded structures.
The brand concept ‘stylish, well-designed quality products at affordable prices’ is the underlying corporate message of the French Connect group which is transferred throughout the group’s portfolio providing the initial values and culture throughout its brands.
Although the French Connection Group incorporates the company message throughout the brands, there is no direct link or association between the brands leaving the corporate message disorientated and the individual lines left freestanding.
In this French Connection has allowed its company portfolio to take on a branded structure whereby each of the brands has different names, lifecycles and personalities of their own. In this architecture brands tend to compete with each other (Brand Strategy and Architecture).
The French Connection Group however have positioned each of its company brands in different markets which results in each of the brands competing only with other organisations in its sectors and H&M as the parent brand being able to endorse its product services.
As a result of positioning each of the brands in different segments of the fashion retail market, the group can target different audiences creating further opportunity to increase the groupâ€™s sales revenue and performance.
As shown in (Appendix Nine) French Connection although offering a vast array of products, only own two sub-brand ranges all of which are only available online. With such a large target audience the brand arenâ€™t utilising its main resources being its in-house design team and creating products that would appeal to the various sub-groups within the desired target group.
Although the French Connection Group have knowingly created brands to meet the needs of the different target audiences; having no direct link between French Connection and the other brands, consumers are unaware that ultimately they could be receiving similar products more suited to their needs and refer to the brands competition resulting in missed opportunities for French Connection.
STRATEGIC DIRECTION French Connection aspire to be leaders in cutting-edge fashionable products, the brand see themselves as innovators of design and creativity having strong values derived from ‘balancing new and existing ideas’.
Constantly striving to increase the brands sales margins and consumers experience, French Connection want to be associated with quality products and excellent customer service (Annual Report 2011)
In achieving this; the organisation structures this vision throughout its outlets being either online or in-store and have said to push this vision and culture amongst its entire staff.
The advertising and marketing campaigns of the brand have always represented this vision, getting consumers to think about the concept thus making the ideas new, exciting and fresh.
In keeping with the vision of the organisation; French Connection states that the brands consumers represent the same attitude as them being: fashionable, authentic, original, stylish and recipient of new ideas.
However, even though the brand understands the type of consumer that buys into the brand the company has repositioned them-selves to a completely different market and in such isolated its target audience which reflects the group’s vision and potential success.
Although the brand has repositioned them-selves and undergone various new campaigns which reflect the ‘new’ brand identity, French Connection remain to use advertising which represents the same audience that the brand has tried to move away from.
The table below highlights the core business operations of French Connection on a global scale and the product ranges that are on offer. The table below highlights the core business operations of French Connection on a global scale and the product ranges that are on offer.
This has caused confusion as to what the actual identity of French Connection is and what the brand represents which can be seen within the sales performance of the group.
It seems that as French Connection has tried to increase its sales it has lost sight of its vision and stepped away from the core aspects that made the organisation an iconic global brand. In order to reach the desired envisioned future the brand may need to reinforce its values and concept and communicate this with all its consumers not just the older spectrum of its target audience.
INTERNAL ANALYSIS Brands are likely to succeed when the values of staff align with the values of the corporation, and so they need to ensure that employee values concur with those of the organisation and the brand they are working alongside.
The problem affecting French connections in store retail performance is that there is disconnect between the brand values and what is being delivered to the consumer resulting in poor customer service.
It is important for French connection to make the employees aware of what the brand represents and be able to deliver that promise De Chernatony and McDonald (2003:216) shows the need for internal alignment in which it is important and necessary for employeeâ€™s values to align with organisations values and brand values.
French connection is not very staff orientated they need to make sure that the staff carry out a service which represents what the brand stands for. It is important for staff to believe in the brand values and the way the organisation operates otherwise staff are not delivering the service and what the brand stands for resulting in the consumersâ€™ attitude about the brand being negative.
Market Force (2012) research found that 9 out of 10 people will leave a store with no purchase if they're not given the service they expect. As some retailers assume that consumers prefer online, this has resulted in customer service not being considered as important as it once was.
Market Force's research found that 79% actually prefer to shop in store precisely because of the service they've come to expect.
Four out of 10 (41%) shoppers said the biggest frustration from in-store staff is lack of interest in their needs and 59% want more staff to recommend products, as it makes the experience more personal.
Research also showed how eight out of 10 (80%) shoppers want to be taken to a product when asking about its location. Half of shoppers (51%) said how promotions drive them into stores. But interaction with staff determines whether customers actually buy. So retailers that spend money to drive consumers to their stores, but fail to help them buy due to the poor service lose out. (Retail technology review, 2012)
As research showed that consumers prefer to shop in store, but sales online is increasing yet consumers are sceptical about shopping online as theyâ€™d rather see it before making their purchase but due to the poor customer service at French connection this has resulted in the consumers to decide that they donâ€™t want to shop.
Findings obtained from primary research showed that French connection consumers prefer to go shopping in store then buying it online as they would rather see their purchase before buying it especially with the prices being high.
Due to the poor customer service however, this makes the consumer not want to shop in store resulting in the consumer to not shop at French connection. French connection feels that spending money on marketing will help sales but the main issue is the delivery of service.
MARKETING MIX REVIEW PRODUCT French Connection provide design ranges for men, women and children which initiate from underwear to casual wear, denim, suits outwear and accessories. The unique design, and authentic sense of style of the brand has been transpired throughout the expansion of this company.
However, French Connection has diversified from just the fashion clothing market and elevated its products into other areas such as womenâ€™s shoes, tolietries, watches eyewear and even homeware, which can be seen in the diagram below.
Source: French Connection
The core element of the French Connection in business is the capacity to create fashionable clothing as this is the key to the unceasing success.
The French Connection logo is instantly recognisable and is available in stores across the UK, Ireland and the US as well as globally online.
The table below highlights the core business operations of French Connection on a global scale and the product ranges that are on offer.
REST OF WORLD
New York, Toronto
Stores in US and Canada and
Joint venture stores in Hong
Kong and China
Department stores and multi-
Licensees and department
brand shops in US and
stores in Australia, Asia and
French Connection, YMC
Stores and Concessions in UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and e-Commerce WHOLESALE
UK, Europe and other export destinations: department stores, web-stores and multibrand shops BRANDS
French Connection, Toast, Great Plains, YMC LICENSED PRODUCTS
Toiletries, fragrances, shoes,
Fragrances, UK Style by
eyewear, watches, jewellery
PRICE The company describes that they have fashion-forward clothing range with a quirky spin on design, priding itself on quality and affordable prices (French Connection online, 2012), but comparing to the other high street brands, their pricing strategy is not economical. The prices they offer are higher than average on high street, and they consider their primary target group as ABC1 female 18-35.
PROMOTION PUBLIC RELATIONS
French Connection organises variours PR events and activities to promote their brand for example series of French Connection Friday Late Nights.
them was Metal Rocks, Grazia Christmas shopping event, or City Style at French Connectionâ€™s store in London.
The Metal Works event at the Victoria and Albert Museum, was in the collaboration with Royal College of Art. Students were experimenting with metal to make jewellery. The event itself created a grerat buzz in social media and achieved huge press coverage.
Another great example of the PR activity of French Connection is the Close-up fashion night, also held in Victoria and Albert Museum. The company offered a great opportunity for anyone to meet one of the best fashion photographers and stylists.
They were talking about their work for well known magazines such as Vogue, GQ or ID or Elle. There were also film projections, crafting, photoshoots and make up lessons. The main aim of the evening was to present the looks of autumn/winter collection.
Of the French Connection Fraday Lates,
one of the busiest. Besides the regular series of the Late Fridays events, French
Connection organises events in various stores around the UK: such as exclusive parties to celebrate launch of the collections, or Bridal nights with treats and discounts. Those activities help to rise brand awareness, and build engagement between the brand and target audience.
French Connection is famous for its advertising campaigns since the legendary launch of FCUK in 1997. With help of brilliant ad man Trevor Beattie the acronym FCUK (French Connection United Kingdom) was created, to become a sensation around the world.
Their famous slogan was one of the most successful treatments ever. The new advertisements were designed to give the company a more premium slant. French Connection continues to question what it means to be man and woman.
Targeting the more sophisticated, older consumer, with strap line ‘I am the collection.’ clearly wanting to show their premium status on the high street market. 101 London Agency created campaign which is beautifully surreal and poetic.
French Connection state: ‘This season we decided to challenge our customers on the way they consider themselves. Moving forward from the idealised image of Man and Woman we have created scenarios that confront the views within the question ‘You are Man?’ and ‘You are Woman?’ ‘For two weeks, French Connection set up THE MAN CAMP on the Isle of Malta and THE WOMAN CAMP on the Isle of Gozo and dared our ambassadors to discover what it meant to be a Man or Woman in the 21st century. Exploring ideas of how gender and society dictate how we are meant to act, we asked them to perform a series of tasks (ride a horse in the sea, look spectacular atop an inflatable animal, dance on piano keys, wrestle a biker, the list goes on) – all of these were captured on film to help define whether "You are Man?" Or "You are Woman?". We also like to think it pushed the boundaries of fashion photography.
We scoured Europe to find ambassadors that represented their sex with the joie de vivre, sophistication and irreverence of French Connection. People, who knew their own style, weren't faddish and were up for experimenting. We think we did quite well.â€™ Everything they say and write about their newest collection appeals to artistic niche, quite narrow target, who appreciate individuality, freedom and experimenting with fashion. (Annual Report 2011)
The campaign also includes 20 short films with the new brand ambassadors.
DISCOUNTS/ PROMOTIONS French Connection do not currently offer any loyality cards, vouchers or exclusive discounts.
PEOPLE French Connection’s website provides informations about current directiors, as well as their profiles and experience. Stephen Marks, Chairman and Chief Executive founded the company in 1972 and continues to manage firm’s development.
There is also careers section, where potential candidates can find out about current vacancies and positions available. In addition French Connection offers work placement opportunities, for marketing/advertising or business related course graduates in the company’s Camdem London office.
One of the most important part of any reatiler is the staff and service that they provide to its customers. It is crucial because sales advisors are often the main representatives of the brand, and they way they behave, treat clients affects the number of sales.
On the company website it states that possible candidates must: be friendly, well presented, enjoy working as a team and have a passion for fashion, responsible for day to day sales and customer service, working closely within their teams and with the Management team to achieve French Connection's goals. (Annual Report 2011)
PLACE The boutiqes of French Connection are based in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Europe, Middle East, Far East and Mexico. They are designed to be an extention of the brand whilst being relevant to their local surroundings.
There is a mix of urban music culture and catwalk sophistication. The stores again reflect the brand, rustic wood panelling mixed with clean lines and product displays are brightly light with lots of clean white space and large clear simply branded window space.
PHYSICAL EVIDENCE The website has a pretty simple layout with pictures from their current campaign in the centre. Navigation is easy and helpful, whilst meeting the requirements of all shareholders being available in different languages and currencies.
PROCESS Research showed that French Connectionâ€™s customer service is not meeting the companyâ€™s values or mission. The secondary research from one of the biggest customer reviews website, gives French Connection 4 out of 10 points in terms of the customer service. Compared to the brands competitors, the grade is low. Also, the primary research showed that customers were not satisfied with their service.
BRAND IMAGE AND IDENTITY Brand Essence is something that can be used to describe the brand as a whole. Van Auken (2000) defines brand essence as a two or three word phase, capturing the heart and soul of the brand. According to Upshaw (1995) the essence of a brand includes everything the brand hopes to register with prospect and customers about why it is the preferred choice. The Brand essence model (De Chernatony, 2012: 267) consists of six components see below.
BRAND Positioning Strategic Personality
ESSENCE PROMOTION/ MERCHANDISING
SELLING STRATEGIES PRODUCT/SERVICE PERFORMANCE
The brand was introduced in 1972 as French Connection, In 1994 French Connection began branding their clothes “FCUK” (usually written in lowercase). Some found this to be offensive due to the similarity to the word “fuck”. The brand insisted it was an acronym for French Connection United Kingdom. Freeman (2010); states that the launch of the Fcuk slogan turned a thirty year old brand into a cool clothing company. French Connection (2012) state that the brand’s marketing communications “has to be able to stand out from the crowd both the advertising creative and media choices are increasingly important”.
French Connection’s most recent and popular campaign was in 2010, the campaign was divided into ‘the man’ and ‘the women’. Both taking the feminine and masculine features and trends. The ads came with a few short black and white films; very simple but fascinating, in addition to print ads which were also very eye catching as they were black and white with a picture of a woman dressed in a sophisticated manner, which includes a tag line saying “this is a women, she turns lines into curves”. Advertising agency Jack based in London created the campaign, designed to challenge customers in the way they consider themselves, from the idealized image of man and woman. French connection created scenarios that comfort the viewer with the question “you are man?” and “you are woman?” The campaign was considered confusing, nonetheless according to Whiteaker (2011) French Connection posted £7.3m profit before tax in the same year as ‘The Man’ and ‘The Woman’ campaign demonstrating the campaign’s success. London fashion week is a place where French Connection has been recognised by many, by participating in London fashion week, the clothes which were worn by famous models such as Joan small and Hailey Clauson, has helped the brand to be recognised as one of the best high street fashion retailers (Hudson 2011). Fcuk has been very popular with celebrities such as singer molly from the Saturdays, she is said to have worn two dresses by French connection on one of the days during London fashion week (Alan 2012). By celebrities wearing the latest collection this then attracts then their fan base and sales increase as well as popularity of the brand. In 2011 Vogue collaborated with French connection for a party at some selected French connection stores throughout the UK; it was to promote their clothes by giving 20% (Hudson 2011). According to French connection 2012 their shop windows are crucial to their branding of their product, they reflect their pioneering imaginative design and irreverent attitude. French connection is known for the quality of their clothing, some would say it’s highly priced but the fabrics and the cut of their clothing is popular. More recently the brand has expanded
its portfolio into new areas including men’s and women’s toiletries, sunglasses and optical, watches and dresses. French connection (2012) state that the brand is driven by innovation and changes the brands strengths lies in balancing new and exciting ideas with the basic promise of quality and affordable. Although having received good coverage and an increase in sales Fcuk is still producing relatively low margins than previous years when it was the leader in its market. Participating in London fashion week and having been advertising in some of the up market magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s bazaar the brand is getting their products seen by their target audience. According to Mc Eleny (2011) the brand has a Facebook store where people can buy their products straight from the page, instead of having to go on their own website, this means consumers are able to view people’s comments about the clothing and also write their own as well as getting to see pictures of latest collections online. French Connection also has their own channel on YouTube and Twitter where consumers can get their latest news about the brand and their fashion. The last component is the Logo of the brand, French Connections logo is very simple written in black and white. French connection have recently used Lindsey Lohan to advertise in their latest ad for their new fragrance FCUK Friction, the brand have used a steamy photograph of Lohan with model Peter Wright. One may think with all the trouble that Lohan has recently been in with drugs and indecent behaviour why would French Connection make Lohan the face of their brand. Lohan is looked at by many as a troubled star who is constantly in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons. According to Willman (2012) Lohan is described as ‘notorious’ some would say that describes her well. French Connection have chosen Lohan as they like taking risks, she fits in well with their brand attitude. The target market for this brand are mostly women over 24 women which have been to university and have good jobs and come from strong families. It is difficult to believe that
these women will appreciate someone like Lindsey Lohan being the face of French Connection.
CONCLUSION Through thorough research into French Connection, it has been found that there is a gap throughout the organisation surrounding the companyâ€™s values and promise which have affected both the staff and the consumers of the brand.
As a result of the brands current re-positioning strategy French Connection has moved away from its core brand concept, losing sight of the companyâ€™s values and promise, which has affected the way in which the brand is viewed by both its employees and customers.
Formed on the promise of quality and affordability; French Connection whilst re-positioning has altered its pricing strategy raising its entry barrier for consumers and in such a large proportion of its consumers have been alienated whilst the company fail to deliver its brand promise.
French Connection core to the business concept and vision wish to be assessable to a broad market, and in such have targeted consumers of a large age group being between 18 and 35 (Annual Report 2011).
However in doing so, whilst undergoing a new brand identity have misidentified a large section of the target audience and as a result its consumers are reluctant to purchase from the retailer hence the significant decrease in sales over the five year period.
In moving away from the younger FCUK branding of French Connection to a more stylish and expensive label has caused confusion amongst consumers as to the brand identity of the organisation.
French Connection has somewhat encouraged the confusion surrounding the identity of the brand as the company foregoes brand associations with celebrities which show the brand in an ill-light due to the negative perceptions that they uphold.
By doing this the brand are still associating themselves with the whole FCUK concept being rebellious and bold, whilst at the same time raising the prices of the brandâ€™s products.
French Connection (Annual Report 2011) state that there employees are encouraged to portray the vision and attitude of the brand whilst implementing customer service.
However as the current message of the brand is misunderstood, the employees maybe pursuing the â€˜oldâ€™ attitude and vision of the company by being a bold, rebellious and controversial which is being read by consumers by rude and abrupt and bad customer service.
As a result of this it has been found that consumers would rather shop online due to the customer service which is received in-store by the employees, however fail to do so as a result of the current pricing strategy of French Connection.
As many customers feel less comfortable purchasing high cost items online with not being able to see them therefore refer to not shopping at French Connection at all.
RECOMMENDATIONS The recommended marketing plan for fashion retailer French Connection is formed on the long-term strategic goal of increasing the brand’s sales performance to enable achievement of the brand’s vision. In doing so the overall objectives will be:
Build on brand reputation and consumer experience
Re-engage French Connection’s audiences
Re-position brand the brand with consumers TAREGT AUDIENCE It is recommended that the current target audience consisting of 18-35 years old to be put into to two separate groups; this would involve creating sub brands for the organisation.
The first target group will consist of 18-24 year olds and the second 25-35. This has been recommended as there is a difference in how an 18 year old would dress in comparison to a 30 year old opting for a more sophisticated look, thus French Connection is losing sales opportunities as the individual brand doesn’t reflect the needs of its entire desired audience.
BRAND POSITIONING French connection began repositioning itself about 2 years ago, with one of the aims of being to bring younger customers to the stores; however raising prices while the rest of the market is extremely competitive was not a very smart move.
Currently the pricing strategy of French Connection does not fulfil its brand promise ‘quality affordable products’, in regards to the broad consumer base of the brand therefore two pricing strategies and ranges will be introduced.
A lower price premium for the younger target audience will be launched to lower the entry barriers for consumers as well as more suited ranges, in doing so French Connect will be able to re-engage with its consumers and potentially gain more.
Whilst still maintaining its new identity French Connection will have a higher price premium which appeals to the more sophisticated and older audience. This option has worked for many other brands including French Connectionâ€™s competitors.
INTEGRATED MARKETING CAMPAIGN PR AND MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS
French Connection has existing brand ambassadors which were chosen from the streets of France some of which are undiscovered artists and models (French Connection 2012). It is recommended
however, that French Connection have celebrity ambassadors for both the older and younger target groups which could be utilised within advertising campaigns to raise the profile of the organisation. The brand is popular with well-known celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Pippa Middleton and Brooke Vincent, (Barnett 2011). These celebs are well respected personalities which means by them wearing the clothing the brand is given extra value as their fan base will want to wear the same clothing as these celebrities and also creates an emotional response.
Furthermore it is vital that French Connection have well known celebrities with a clean past to be brand ambassadors who already are fans of the brand, again celebs such as Angelina Jolie and Molly king are regularly spotted dressed in French Connection clothing which could be a great opportunity for the brand.
The next element of marketing communication, especially during 2012 is to create some buzz around the campaign and collections. Taking into account that French Connection has stores in many locations around the world, the message needs to be spread more worldwide and more products focused.
The work that company has done in past two years has to be strengthened and kept fresh in customers’ minds globally. The upcoming events in London (Olympics 2012) are an excellent opportunity to organise an event or series of the PR events.
Fashion 2012 is the official fashion activity during the Olympic year, created by the British Council of Fashion. The organisation wants to collaborate with various brands and designers from all over the world.
One of their main objectives is to inspire and educate young people to get involved in the industry.
(British Council of Fashion) French Connection can collaborate with young
designers, not only from the UK, but also from other countries, to create the collection.
Events might include workshops, fashion shows, exhibitions and photo shoots. As a part of the events, FC can have a contest for young, unknown up and coming designers to create a few pieces for the new collection. The winning project will be produced and sold in premium FC stores around the world.
‘Encouraging new talent and exciting fresh ideas’ would be the concept of this campaign, aimed mainly at the younger audiences. French Connection could get involved with various Universities, Schools, Colleges and Youth Centres internationally utilising the company’s resources and reinforcing the brand’s values.
French Connection could also initiate a sponsorship with the Young Designer Awards, which provides the opportunity for those from as young as 9 to showcase their creativity and design skills rewarding those who excel both creatively and academically. (FDC) Showing its support to young and fresh initiatives is an amazing chance to encourage young talents in the industry, reinforce the brands values raise awareness of the brand.
Combining both the target audience French Connection will be able to appeal to the older market by showing its involvement in the community and younger people as most people of
that demographic will have some emotional attachment to younger groups as well as reengaging younger audiences by getting them involved with the brand.
PRICING AND LOYALTY SCHEMES
Just like its competitors, French Connection should have loyalty rewards for its customers. It is a great way to build customers database and customer relationships. One of the aims for the next year is to build relationships with customers and to drive them into stores more often. Exclusive discounts and events will help to achieve this.
REFERNCES 10 Principles of Brand Strength [Online], Available from: http://www.interbrand.com/en/BestRetailBrands/Brand-Strength.aspx [Accessed 13 February 2012].
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PEST ANALYSIS A PEST analysis has been conducted to establish the current factors affecting the retail market in order to identify the current potential risks and issues which French Connection needs to be aware off. POLITICAL FACTORS
In the current economic climate, High Street retailers are struggling to make profits which could further be increased as the highest rise in business rates in over twenty years is set to occur during April 2012.
(Metro 2012) state that levies will increase by an average of 5.77 per cent, resulting in the average retail space facing a yearly rates bill in excess of ÂŁ10,000 excluding rent and salaries.
This could present a potential opportunity for French Connection, as smaller companies fail to generate profits there is a high likeliness of closure, therefore French Connection will have less competition in regards to a cheaper alternatives for consumers and less choice.
The government plan to lift restrictions on Sunday trading during the Olympics, however it has been attacked by the shop workers union Usdaw who have concerns it could lead to a permanent change to the law said its members would be "vehemently opposed" to the change.
This legislation will allow large stores to trade for longer during the Olympics and the Paralympics. Whereas the current trading law, where large stores â€“ those with more than 280 square metres of shop floor space â€“ are not allowed to open for more than six hours on Sundays between 10am and 6pm.
This deregulation would have an impact on the lives of millions of staff and their families, as Sundays. As the current trading law allows mums to have the morning off and spend time with their children. (Guardian, 2012) ECONOMIC FACTORS
As reported by the office for national statistics that the UK unemployment rose by 28,000 to 2.67 million during the three months to January, with the unemployment rate at 8.4%, this saw unemployment amongst women account for most of the increase. (BBC, 2012)
The office for national statistics retail figures reported how retail discounting is driving sales with consumers reluctant to spend and retailers facing another difficult year resulting in cutting prices affecting their margins, as retailers struggle with the high costs and weak demand.
With economic uncertainty this has resulted in retailers increasing cash reserves rather than feeling they can invest in UK expansion and creating jobs. (British retail consortium, 2012) SOCIAL FACTORS
The result of discounting has seen some shoppers relax their tight hold on their finances and allowed them to splash out on gifts. Whereas where others had cut back on spending in previous months and saved up for the season.
Factor such as low consumer confidence and falls in real disposable income mean shoppers remain reluctant to spend and are only encouraged by significant discounting.
Retailers are competing hard on price and their margins are feeling the effect. For some, these difficult trading conditions have led to business failure. (British retail consortium, 2012)
Retailers hit as shoppers save, rather than spend, Director general Stephen Robertson said: â€˜Customers parked their worries in December and spent, encouraged by discounts. â€˜Now, in the New Year, reality has bitten as concerns about jobs, wages and household costs reassert themselves.
Despite consumer confidence improving in January, actual spending shows households concentrating on paying off debt, saving and battening down for another tough year. The BRC added that sales were largely discount-driven as people waited for clearance deals. (Metro, 2012)
As technology advances and the popularity of online shopping increase it is important for retailers to make sure that they stay ahead and are able to provide consumers with good service.
BRAND POSITIONING MAP
French Connection considers themselves as a premium High Street brand amongst competitors such as Ted Baker, Reiss, Karen Millen or even Zara. Having strict pricing strategies, whilst most of their competitors offer various sales promotions French Connection do not.
Even though the brand is using premium fabrics to produce their products to stand out within the market, the current position in regards to consumers is that French Connection is priced relatively high which indicates that the brands promise is not being met. Sources: Apparel in the United Kingdom (2011)
BRAND POSITIONING ANALYSIS The Balanced Perspective on Brand Positioning model has been applied to establish the brand positioning strategy which French Connection has implemented in order to measure its effectiveness within the current market.
UNDERSTAND THE NEEDS OF THE DIFFERENT SEGMENTS OF THE MARKET
FC have understood the needs of the different markets by expanding into other areas however have not diversified in regards to the HHsubcultures with in each segment
IDENTIFY THE MOST ATTRACTIVE SEGMENT
French Connection has positioned them-selves within the high street market which possesses an array of opportunity; however the company has not fully utilised is resources to take advantage of this
DEPENDING ON THE FIT OF BETWEEN THE INTENDED AND PERCIEVED POSITIONING, REFINE THE BRAND ACCORDING TO:
DEVELOP THE BRAND TO “OWN” A FUNCTIONAL BENEFIT AMONGST THE TARGET
Being internally designed, produced and distributed is the functional benefit that French Connection has developed
EVALUATE WHICH FUNCTIONAL BENEFIT THE TARGET MARKET ASSOCIATES WITH THE BRAND
Branded French Connection products is the most beneficial functional association amongst the brands consumers
Sources: Chernatony, D,E. (2010) From Brand Vision to Brand Evaluation, Annual Report Part 1
MISSION STATEMENT ANALYSIS In order to provide an appropriate marketing plan which reflects the core vision, image and cultural aspirations of clothing retailer French Connection, the company’s mission statement was analysed.
The Mission Model (Campbell and Yeung: 1990) was applied which assumes that an organisation’s mission has four interlinked elements: purpose, company values, standards and behaviours and strategy as shown below.
•Well-designed fashionable clothing at affordable prices
•Innovation and change
•Increase shareholder value through retail and wholesale of fashion products
•Contemporary surroundings with knowledgeble and friendly staff
French Connection provides quality fashion-forward clothing ranges with a quirky spin or design at affordable prices. The core concept of French Connection is centred upon creating well-designed fashionable clothing that appeals to a broad market. (Fashion is our Business) It is clear from the mission statement of French Connection that the company’s purpose is based solely on satisfying its stakeholders.
Campbell and Yeung (1990) state however, organisations which pursue a higher deal purpose whereby despite that the need to keep stakeholders satisfied is understood, organisations forego a higher more moral purpose, attract and retain committed and enthusiastic employees. COMPANY VALUES
Values are the principles and beliefs that underpin an organisation’s culture, and give meaning to organisation standards. Campbell and Yeung believe that ‘values can provide a rationale for behaviour that is just as strong as strategy’. (The Ashridge Mission Model)
Innovation and change are the foundations of French Connection’s company values, the strengths of the brand are derived from balancing new and existing ideas with a consistent delivery of quality and affordability.
In order to sustain the vision and attitude of French Connection the brand ‘cement firmly into the minds of all those that work with the organisation that they uphold a worthy and credible tradition of successfully matching product, image and context with a company culture that nurtures talent and thus ensures longevity.’ (Fashion is our Business).
STANDARDS AND BEHAVIOUR
In Keeping with the company’s purpose, French Connection present its products in contemporary surroundings by knowledgeable and friendly staff as well as the design and production of the ranges and maintenance of the retail operating standards being paramount for the organisation. (Management of the Business)
The company values are formed on French Connection’s business principles being concerned with the design, production and sale of fashionable products within the fast moving fashion market. In accordance to this all staff are expected to be knowledgeable of the operations they are involved with, taking responsibility for them monitoring them daily to improve business performance promptly and effectively. (Annual Report 2011)
In achieving the companyâ€™s purpose French Connection aim to generate increased shareholder value through the retail and wholesale of fashion products and the extension of brands into other markets through licensing. (Business Aims and Operations)
The company have an online store which contributes to a high profit margin as well as diversifying its distribution channels; however the business strategy that French Connection has, has no direct reflection on creating quality.
Sources: Campbell and YeungCreating a Sense of Mission, Long Range Planning Vol 24, No. 4, 1990, p 13, Fashion is our Business, Management of the Business.
BRAND VISION ANALYSIS The Three Components of a Brand Vision model has been applied to French Connection in order to identify the core vision and cultural aspirations of the company.
ENVISIONED FUTURE Number one best seller of quality affordable high end fashion
BRAND VISION VALUES Balancing new and existing ideas; with a constant delivery of quality and affordability.
PURPOSE To provide quality fashion-forward ranges with a quirky spin on design at affordable prices
ENVISIONED FUTURE French Connection aim to be assessable to a broad range of consumers in regards to its pricing strategy as well as being at the cutting-edge of fashion providing nonstop innovative, on-trend fashionable quality products. PURPOSE French Connection are a fashion-led high street retailer, whom design, produce and distribute its own branded clothing and accessory ranges with the promise of providing quality fashion-forward ranges with a quirky spin on design at affordable prices.
VALUES The core values that underpin French Connection are derived from balancing new and existing ideas with a constant delivery of quality and affordability in regards to both its products and customer service. Sources: De Chernatony (2010: 116), Fashion is our Business
MISSION â€“ VISION ANALYSIS The Vision and Mission model issued by Franzen (2006) is an abstract representation of the components required to create an effective brand vision, whereby an ideological platform upon which a brandâ€™s identity and operations can be developed and monitored to create longterm success.
This model has been applied to French Connection to gain a full understanding of the organisations, vision, mission, business operations and strategy. Self-Image Who/what are we?
Core Goal Why do we exist?
Target Groups Who do we exist for?
Core Values What are we promising them? MISSION VISION
Business Principles How do we do things here?
Operational Goals What do we want to achieve? Strategy How do we reach that?
SELF-IMAGE French Connection is fashion clothing and accessories provider within the fashion-orientated High Street market; the company are primarily concerned with the design, manufacturing and distribution of its own branded products. CORE GOAL The core concept of the French Connection brand is to create well-designed, fashionable clothing at affordable prices to a broad audience.
TARGET GROUPS The French Connection Group target French Connection at 18-35 year olds with a passion for cutting-edge fashion, original and distinctive style. Their brand provide ranges for both males and females and in such can appeal to a broad market.
CORE VALIES French Connection promises their consumers a constant delivery of quality in regards to both its product ranges and customer service as well as the promise of accessibility and affordability.
BUSINESS PRINCIPLES French Connection pride themselves on balancing new and existing ideas with a constant delivery of quality and affordability, this entails sourcing materials, designing own ranges and having friendly and knowledgeable staff representing the company at all levels. (Annual Report 2011)
OPERATIONAL GOALS The brand wants to be the leader of high street cutting edge fashion, constantly improving the brandâ€™s performance whilst surpassing its consumerâ€™s expectations with both the quality of the products and the experience of the brand.
STRATEGY French Connection designs their stores to represent the vision, culture of attitude of the company to enrich the customer experience. In addition the brand has in-house design teams to ensure that the products are original and distinctive to the organisation.
As well as operating via online services, retail and concession stores; French Connection manufactures their products as well as licensing them to various companies online and in other countries such as China and Hong Kong (Annual Report 2011).
BRAND RELIGION ANALYSIS Kunde (2000) proclaims that as the values of brands become stronger and more relevant to consumers; the brand becomes more involving therefore mangers need to create brand values that are more relevant to increase customers’ involvement.
This model will be used in accordance with French Connection to determine the current value level of the organisation as to whether or not changes need to occur in the position of the brands values and overall message of its consumers.
CORPORATE CONCEPT French Connection CONCEPT BRAND
French Connection is currently placed between ‘product’ and ‘concept brand’ as there is little customer involvement with the brand. Although offering the added value of quality these values are not strong enough in involving consumers.
Previously French Connection would have been seen as a brand culture as it had an edgy, bold and confident identity however, through undergoing its repositioning strategy the brand has as a result weakened in its value.
Failing to remain true to the core values and culture of the brand French Connection have lost some of its emotional value and appeal to consumers thus being less relevant to consumers and not quite a concept brand as it is with emotional values that increases the consumersâ€™ involvement with brand.
It is important that French connection builds on their values to become stronger and relevant to the consumer, and so the brand becomes more involving.
Sources: Franzen (2006) Vision-Mission, Fashion is our Business, Annual Report 2011
French Connection Group plc
Product Ranges WOMEN’S WEAR
The brand TOAST provides a range of ladies’ and men’s clothing and supplier of unique homeware, the brand is available on-line, through mail order and in a growing number of branded stores.
The Great Plains brand offers ranges of fashion basics produced in-house and supplied at whole sale to multi-brand retailers mainly in the UK. YMC is a new brand offering edgy contemporary fashion for men and women with two stores in London and a growing wholesale base. (French connection, 2012)
INTERNAL AUDIT In order to construct appropriate strategies for French Connection it is essential that the internal environment of the company be analysed.
BRAND RESOURCING The resources of French Connection have been assessed to determine the brands core competencies, which provide differentiation between the organisation and its competitors. Boddy (2008: 248), state that there are for main resources that need to be assessed in order to completely understand the competitive advantage an organisation upholds these being: physical resources, human resources, financial resources and intangible resources. RESOURCES Efficient production line (Machinery)
Steady cash flow
COMPETENCES Efficient production method (Cost effective) Established brand profile and heritage Long serving base head office in Camden French Connection stores still open worldwide 2011 yearly profit (ÂŁ71.3million),
less than previous years but still making a good ROI
Effective human resource management skills & Training Effective design teams
In-house design teams
contributing to the distinct style of French Connection
The core resources of French Connection are the in-house design team and the brand image that it sustains, which can produce the longevity of the brands success through its product offerings.
The company has several stores still open, however whilst undergoing its current identity crisis and disconnection with its consumer groups this cannot prove to be a long-term competence as the company is still at risk of future closure. RESOURCE ANALYSIS Sources: Johnson, G., Whittington, R. and Scholes, K. (2011), Fashion is our Business
The table below highlights the both the intangible and tangible resources and competencies of French Connection, this has been do gain a full understanding of the unique resources and capabilities of the organisation which can be utilised when implementing future brand
Threshold Competencies French Connection has its own branded
product ranges which are unique and exclusive to the organisation. Also the brand
Own branded clothing and accessory
has built on its brand image and reputation which provides the basis of the brands
Unique Resources Tangible
Core Competencies By having its own in-house design teams French Connection can offer its consumers
CAPABILITIES FOR COMPETITIVE
In-house design teams and own branded product ranges
original and distinct FC products giving the organisation a competitive edge. The brand Heritage and identity of the brand
Intangible Brand Heritage and identity
provides the organisation with a competitive advantage with the fashion retail market as the market is extremely brand led.
VALUE CHAIN ANALYSIS
In identifying the key variables which French Connection has utilised in creating differentiation from its competitors, the Value Chain Analysis has been applied which concentrates on the core activities of an organisation. In doing so it is possible to pinpoint the competitive strengths of the company. FIRM INFRASTRUCTURE
The hierarchy of French Connection allows the organisation to utilise a range of specialist knowledge enabling competitive advantage over smaller organisations.
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT No information could be found in relation to the HR aspect of the company, therefore it is assumed that French Connection is more externally focused. TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT French Connection currently provides its own online services as well as through licensing other companies globally. PROCUREMENT The size and long-standing business relationships and alliances of French Connection has enabled leverage over suppliers through cost efficiencies gaining a competitive advantage.
PRIMARY ACTIVITIES INBOUND
Online services – On-going
through CSR acts. (Annual Report 2011)
Customer Service Online
winner of best
of their products
from the creative
Retail and concession stores
in and around UK,
campaigns to all
Ireland and North
Health and safety regulations
to companies via
online and retail
In-house design teams and manufacturing contracts
An overview into the branding strategies of high street fashion retailer French Connection