Strike Up the Brand

So Lillian Vernon is about to join the pantheon of human brands that includes boxer-cum-barbecuer George Foreman and everyone’s favorite mad housewife, Martha Stewart. In Mark Del Franco’s story about Vernon on page 5, analyst Ken Gassman notes that Lillian stands for low-priced, solid-valued gifts. Surely brands have been built on less of a definition than that.

Take the case of Spiegel. When I was growing up, Spiegel was simply a sponsor of prizes on game shows, located in “Chicago, Illinois, 6-0-6-0-9.” I couldn’t have told you if the catalog sold swanky products, or chintzy products, or products somewhere in between.

I’m still hard pressed to tell you about the kinds of products it sells.

Oh, I know that it sells apparel, home decor, consumer electronics. I could give you a sense of its price points. But as a brand, what does Spiegel stand for? Beats the heck out of me.

As Paul Miller was writing his article on Spiegel’s latest woes (see page 6), I received Spiegel’s spring/summer “big book.” Leafing through the women’s apparel section, I noticed that the offerings were grouped by house brands: Clifford & Wills, 4U from Spiegel, Blushe, Milano. Copy set out to differentiate each brand from the others. Clifford & Wills, for instance, offers “sophisticated solutions to every wardrobe dilemma”; the Together line, “unique styles that get you noticed.” The Apart line, which appears immediately before the Together clothing, doesn’t include a summary description, which is a shame, as I couldn’t tell Together and Apart apart.

In fact, none of Spiegel’s private-label brands seem to have a distinct brand image. I remember buying from Clifford & Wills when it was a stand-alone catalog back in the ’80s. I knew I could rely on it for apparel that was urban without being edgy (think Minneapolis rather than Manhattan). Now? Yes, there are some items in the catalog that I like, but I wouldn’t think to search on the Web for Clifford & Wills next time I need a shirt or pants, in the same way that I head to the Ann Taylor or J. Jill or Bluefly Websites. I know what these brands stand for — and that’s an important shortcut for me as a consumer, and important shorthand for a marketer.

If I were Spiegel, I’d consolidate some of those house brands, then focus on crystallizing the meaning of those that remained. For Clifford & Wills, why not include a few shots of a model on the streets of, say, Minneapolis? (You could even revisit the intersection where Mary Richards threw up her hat. After all, Mary wore clothes that were urban without being edgy.) For Together, point out the “unique” aspects of the apparel with inset photos and copy callouts. For the 4U line (“beautiful, comfortable, keyed to your body”), show the models looking comfortable, for goodness’ sake! (And if the tagline is going to remain “Sizes for Real Life,” please include petites along with misses and women’s sizes.)

Then the Spiegel brand as a whole could come to mean a clearly defined, well-edited selection of wares for a clearly defined target market. The Spiegel Website would become an online destination that could rely less heavily on offers of reduced shipping and product discounts. And to those of us old enough to remember watching Let’s Make a Deal in prime time, Spiegel would mean more than just a zip code.

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