Minding The Gap
How the Retail Giant Is Transforming Itself
It’s been a long journey back for The Gap, but there’s a light showing that signifies it is finding its way back from both a leadership and relevancy perspective.
Recent headlines speak to this. Financial performance has been trending up. It’s been getting kudos for creative marketing and merchandising – from the bricks and mortar launch of its hugely popular Piperlime online clothier to Banana Republic’s very successful tie-in with AMC’s Mad Men. Then there’s the inspired move to bring on Michael Francis (former Target CMO and JC Penney president) as its first marketing creative advisor.
Seth Farbman, brought onboard 18 months ago as the Gap’s first Global CMO, has been steering the Gap’s transformation. During a recent presentation as part of Prophet’s Change Agent Webinar Series, Seth discussed the journey. Portions of his commentary follow:
No. 39 tells the story
“So, the number 39 is what? The average age of our customer. A 39-year-old customer, while still valuable, was not going to deliver the growth we needed to meet all of our objectives.
The millennial generation is one of the most connected, most powerful in terms of buying ability and buying power, and one of the most optimistic generations we’ve seen, well, since 1969 when Gap was started. We decided to focus on this generation, not ignoring our strength of being a cross-generational brand, but recognizing that, if we got it right with this group, we would get a halo up. A 39-year-old customer takes cues from the millennial generation. So, that meant a completely different view about how we market, how we design our product.”
Gaining Back Relevance
“…We leaned on our points of differentiation, like a founder’s story, our American heritage, and the way that we develop product. We leaned on the values that we’ve had for years, things like sustainability, our belief in all our employees…in using our scale for good and creating a social message that is incredibly authentic because it started in 1969 when [co-founder] Doris Fisher talked about creating a store with a heart.
It provided differentiation against some of our rapidly growing competitors, like Zara or H&M, that don’t have the same kind of depth of story.
Leveraging Employee Ambassadors
“And it allowed us to reengage with our own employee base in a meaningful way that makes them better ambassadors.
Frontline employees, the greatest differentiator between a sale and somebody walking back out the door with nothing, now have more of a sense of purpose and meaning. That’s incredibly important because we had lost our relevance. The 39-year-old number had proven that. And in our industry, relevance is pretty much everything.”
Redefining and Releasing Brand Control
“We all recognize as marketers that we no longer control our brands like we used to. Our brand is controlled by the people who engage with it.
It led us to look at partnerships in a different way. We partnered, for example, with Threadless, a community of designers of graphic tee shirts, whose members vote which designs should go into production. This partnership allows the design community outside the Gap to actually influence what it is that we’re selling and delivering to our customers.
We also created something called styld.by, a digital experience where we partnered with digital media brands like WhoWhatWear, Refinery29. We gave them what we thought was some of the best of our product for each season, why we were excited by it, why we think that this is an optimistic expression of Gap. And then we got out of the way. We let them style. We let them deliver our product and our brand in a way that they thought most fitting for their loyal customer base.
We got out of the middle of the conversation. We’re allowing our brand actually to breathe and to feel relevant in a way that is very meaningful to the audience we were trying to reach, in this case mostly millennials.”
“Strengthen the strengths.” That’s what Farbman says is the charge for the Gap as the basis of its transformation. That means not chasing the competition or trying to make its brands into something they’re not. It does mean being a very good Gap.
And then what? “When we’re the best at being Gap,” he says, “we can figure out what’s next.”
To listen to Seth’s presentation in its entirety, click here.
This post originally appeared on the Forbes CMO Network on Scott Davis’s blog, The Shift. To read related thinking from Scott on Forbes, follow his blog here.