How Legendary Brands Win in the Age of Disruption

Written by

Davin Wilfrid

Published on

August 1, 2019

Times are tough for organizations in the retail and media sectors. Changing consumer preferences and digital disruptors have dramatically shifted the way companies in both sectors need to operate and innovate. 

Despite the tough circumstances, however, there is plenty of hope on the horizon. At a recent event hosted by Catalant, innovation leaders from the legendary Condé Nast and Tommy Hilfiger brands shared their secrets for staying one step ahead of disruption.

Banner image of TommyNow Rock Circus

Tommy Hilfiger has seen revenues soar thanks to innovations like TommyNow, a traveling fashion show that offers immediate availability across all channels.

It All Starts with the Customer

Not long ago, retail brands aspired to open large flagship stores in expensive cities. These cathedrals of consumerism would draw huge crowds and drive massive volumes of transactions, while showcasing the brand’s importance and influence. These days, online shopping, subscription services, social media, and other modern inventions have forced retailers to think differently. Smart retailers are taking cues from disruptive players rather than retreating. 

“We’re constantly getting inspiration from the disruption that’s happening in our industry. We’re fortunate to have leadership that actually looks at that as a blessing as opposed to a threat,” says Christian Lang, SVP of Business Strategy at Tommy Hilfiger. “It’s not about behemoth flagship stores anymore. It is about how you understand the consumer journey and how do you explain the experience and the ultimate convenience to the consumer as a brand in a more targeted and focused way?”

Companies like Rent the Runway, a leading fashion subscription service that was recently valued at over $1 billion, have inspired Tommy Hilfiger leaders to think differently about how they bring their brand to the public. The brand has seen a resurgence in the past few years thanks to innovations like TommyNow, a series of instantly-shoppable catwalk shows that changed the way the brand brought its apparel to the market and increased US sales

At Condé Nast, business leaders took a slightly different tack by repurposing existing cultural insights into a new revenue stream. According to Liz Gough, SVP of Strategy & Accounts at CNX, an agency Condé Nast launched in the fall of 2018

We never said we’re going to build this brand consulting group. It just sort of evolved and we were responding to what our clients were asking for, and also trying to keep our bottom line in mind.”

Liz Gough
SVP, Strategy and Accounts
Condé Nast
Photo of Liz Gough

The promise of CNX is simple: Condé Nast spent over 100 years at the forefront of American culture, publishing titles like Vogue, Bon Appétit, GQ, Vanity Fair, and Wired, among dozens more. In that time, the company developed a focused lens into consumer interests, providing those insights to brand partners as part of the traditional advertising relationship. As the digital era blossomed and the relationship between advertisers and print outlets changed dramatically, Condé Nast leaders saw an opportunity to capitalize on their vast insights to create high-quality experiences with brand partners. 

“About four years ago we said ‘What are we really good at, and where do we have a seat at the table with our clients?’” says Gough. “And it was data, consumer insights, and cultural foresight. When we started this four years ago, we never said we’re going to build this brand consulting group. It just sort of evolved and we were responding to what our clients were asking for, and also trying to keep our bottom line in mind.”

This new revenue stream is already projected to bring in 5% of topline revenue for the company, says Gough. 

Photo of a bottle of LifeWTR brand water on an art table

Condé Nast CNX is parlaying the company’s cultural insights into agency work for brands like LIFEWTR

Getting from Strategy to Execution

With apologies to Mark Twain, the difference between good strategy and good execution is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. A great idea is worth nothing to a legacy brand that cannot turn that idea into action. 

It is precisely here that many established organizations struggle, says Lang. Layers of management, functional silos, and task-driven myopia all conspire against innovation. The secret formula to bridging the strategy-execution gap starts with getting the right mix of people involved. 

At CNX, that meant placing leaders who had earned respect internally in key roles rather than hiring from the outside. 

“When they started the group four years ago, they chose people who were veterans of Condé Nast,” she says. “On the creative side we had someone who had been an editor-in-chief for a long time, and on the business side we had someone who had helped launch our digital efforts.”

If you’re not being diligent and disciplined as you set those seasonal targets or range plan targets, you’re going to pay the price later on.”

Christian Lang
SVP, Business Strategy and Transformation
Tommy Hilfiger
Photo of Chris Lang

At Tommy Hilfiger, leaders launched an internal transformation initiative staffed by insiders who had already built credibility within the organization. The initiative enjoys the full-throated endorsement of the organization’s CEO, who sought to build on the momentum Tommy Hilfiger had created over the prior years. 

To meet its goals of transforming the organization’s ability to deliver new apparel products to market faster than ever, transformation leaders created nine separate workstreams, six focused on improving processes along the value chain such as planning and supply chain, with three supporting workstreams focused on analytics, IT infrastructure and other functions.

“We looked at the current way of working and our current value chain, and our goal was to turn it on its head, shake everything up and put it back together,” says Lang. “And what came out was a blueprint for a holistic transformation to increase our speed to market.”

One of the team’s early wins, Lang says, was to get the team on a shared cloud-based calendar so all teams from supply chain to planning to design, development, marketing and more can be accountable for milestones along the entire journey from concept to release.  

Measuring and Tracking Results

In the information age, almost everything can be tracked and measured quickly. But many organizations pre-date the digital era, and must undergo a cultural shift toward rapid iteration and insights. 

At Tommy Hilfiger, the transformation team set up a series of KPIs for each department across the entire end-to-end development process. This helps the organization avoid common missteps such as overdevelopment (when brands move more than what was planned into the design and development phases). 

“If you’re not being diligent and disciplined as you set those seasonal targets or range plan targets, you’re going to pay the price later on,” says Lang. 

At Condé Nast, the CNX team settled on a variety of “hard” and “soft” metrics to track progress. Hard metrics include topline revenue growth and other quantitative measures, while the group also tracks some other success signals. 

“We’re building a brand from scratch, so we track things like press mentions and how many of our customers are new to Condé Nast and don’t work with us on the media side. For example, several of our earliest adopters are CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies because we have all this incredible consumer data and insights,” says Gough.

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