Better known for sturdiness and comfort than style, Clarks has been labouring since the appointment of CEO Melissa Potter in 2010 to move toward more stylish offerings. But its product-led approach has led to a dichotomy between the brand’s offerings and its international perception.
“While Clarks’ is well known in the UK, its global brand positioning differs a bit,” acknowledged Anne Gaelle Lacondemine, the company's UK-based vice-president of marketing for Asia-Pacific. “Until recently, our company has been product-led. But with the appointment of Sylvia [Woon] our global marketing director, the direction has changed and we are becoming brand-led.”
In preparation for this brand push, the shoemaker launched a major global consumer study around its brand last year. The survey, which involved 20,000 respondents, found that the brand was already favoured by a more mature consumer segment who were sensible, pragmatic and seeking a balance between comfort and style. But to grow and to appeal to a younger audience group, it had some work to do.
The new global campaign, through BBH, targets men women and kids, Lacondemine said. "For women, we are looking to reach more premium consumer segments than we have previously reached without alienating our current consumer base.”
The brand’s new target consumer, she continued, is a confident and successful woman who wants the best for herself and the best for her family and friends. One who enjoys beautiful things, is highly discerning and lives life to the full. “She loves shoes, loves the glamour and appreciates quality, craftsmanship and refinement. Comfort is secondary but definitely part of the consideration.”
For men, the brand is likewise trying to reach a more stylish audience. The ‘Clarks man’ is one who looks for timeless quality in his shoes. “He seeks to invest in shoes that are well crafted with good materials,” said Lacondemine. “He is attentive to the details such as colour and finish, he likes his shoes to look good, feel good and to last.”
The study also helped the brand identify the best way to reach its target audience around the world. In Asia-Pacific, the main touchpoint for the brand is undoubtedly its retail outlets. “Our marketing strategy is to make sure our stores provide the experience our consumer wants," said Lacondemine. "We’re currently testing a shopping concession in Shanghai [pictured below] that’s different form our regular stores. It’s a new environment designed to appeal to the stylish and sophisticated lady in China.”
Currently, Asia-Pacific represents just over 8 per cent of the group’s total sales, but is also Clarks’ fastest-growing region, said Lacondemine. The brand intends to take its retail experience for the region in-hand from its window displays to the different sections of the store targeting different consumer segments. Clarks will be looking at gender-specific stores, for example, and seeking to match expectations in its global markets.
Besides retail, e-commerce has been an important sales channel for the brand in China and in India. “We have two online stores in China, one on T-Mall and on JD Mall as well," Lacondemine said. "It’s been a great way to enter the Chinese market. In 2013, on singles day, we reached a million page views and had fantastic sales, just on the T-Mall platform." In India, the brand is working with Myntra and Jabong.
Although less present in Southeast Asia, the brand is working on determining how to approach and to expand in the market beyond its bastions of strength in Malaysia and Singapore. “We have some good ambitious targets there,” she added.
The brand’s product lineup, while staying true to its native Brit-Chic appeal, will have select shoes adapted to local markets where factors such as the weather and consumer tastes may influence design. “Our merchandising team is working very hard to provide local shoes when it’s required," Lacondemine said. "If you’re a true global brand you have to adapt to these things, but there will intrinsically be a look that shows the hands of Clarks. A style that defines us.”
Working with BBH and media agency Havas Media Group, the brand has launched its Life Styled campaign across a mix of channels including print, out-of-home and online. The campaign will also be appearing in taxis in China. Clarks will also be diversifying its rather homogenous models to reflect a “true modern British society”, said Lacondemine.
The buildup for the campaign has been gradual and at present there are no plans for a TV campaign. “We are developing brand awareness and changing brand perception through controlled distribution. From the start of the year, we’ve been working very hard with the global team to make sure all our online properties, whether e-commerce or non e-commerce, have been relaunched to show a single consistent brand presentation,” she explained.
Social media has also been a top focus for the brand’s global restructure, starting with the look of its Facebook Pages around the world and now moving on to content, said Lacondemine. “We’re working with fashion writers and editors in the UK to put together content that demonstrates our fashion credentials and that matches our consumer target," she said. "Today we’re creating about four times the amount of content we’ve created previously.”
All this is supported by the push that accompanies the new global campaign, explained Lacondemine. “We’re working carefully towards ensuring that the brand is portrayed in Asia-Pacific exactly the way we want and we’re making consumer experience in the region a priority,” she concluded.