When a 150 year old company was growing by 2% within an industry growing at 13% in 2006, it was time for a new direction. The company hired Angela Ahrendts as the new CEO to turn things around. Angela knew this would not be easy with the long established London based Burberry. Yet Angela had some big ideas on how Burberry could become a highly desired luxury fashion brand. Angela believed it would take recasting the product line and tapping into our very deep core human feelings to create human energy.
After 8 months on the job, she hired consultants to evaluate the strategy they developed. The consultants told the Burberry Board that Angela had a “5% probability that she could achieve the plan she put forward.” Undeterred, Angela began taking back the brand by reducing licensing agreements that were producing low end products including dog covers. She reduced the signature checkered plaid to less than 10% of the product line. Her focus was on merging fashion and technology to create what she describes in her TED talk as human energy.
Most successful companies have experienced modest growth since 2006 as a result of the great recession of 2008 and a slower economy. If you had to guess which company has had a 300% revenue growth since 2006, you may start naming young internet based Silicon Valley companies. Yet it is Burberry, the now 157 year young company that successfully achieved Angela’s big idea to become a global luxury fashion brand.
To achieve a dream or big idea, it requires mastering communications and creating human energy. There are few great business leaders that do this as well as Angela.
Brand – The implied promise, trust and competence to deliver an expected outcome and feeling. When Angela took over Burberry, the brand was associated with cheap counterfeits, inferior quality from licensing agreements and the antisocial youth subculture. Today it is a premier luxury brand. Angela believed it is not about the product, it is about the experience. It is how people feel when they walk in the store or purchase something online. It is feeling special wearing hand-rolled collars and high end hand-stitched craftsmanship.
Message – The 15-20 second story, the inspiration and the positive energy. Burberry’s London flagship store is digitally-enhanced retail experience chock full of tech innovations. It has mirrors that transform into screens displaying catwalk images using a technology sewn into clothing and accessories. The retail stores were redesigned to create a consistent experience that resembles the company’s website. During the recession in 2008, Angela refused to cut prices in order to establish the brand as high end luxury. She felt that creating a luxury message is about creating an aspirational feeling rather than a product for the masses.
Marketing Platform – A platform to create awareness, conversation and convert aspirations into immediate online sales. Burberry’s Spring/Summer 2013 campaign YouTube video went viral with 1 million views within the first 48 hours. Burberry’s interactive website entices visitors to watch fashion shows, see artistic creative videos displaying the latest collections and music videos with performers wearing Burberry clothing. Customers can even order the fashions displayed in the videos.
Network/People – Creating brand advocates, enriching and expanding the network of people that believe in the brand. Burberry has over 15 million Facebook fans, 2 million Twitter followers and large followings on Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram. Burberry rewards these followers as insiders with runway videos before they are shared with celebrities and editors.
Dialog/Engagement – Social Media conversation, participation within groups and generating a positive feeling in each individual discussion. Burberry has mobile apps to enable submitting images of yourself and friends wearing the Burberry trench coats by uploading to the Art of the Trench website or via the Instagram app. Burberry uses their internal Burberry Chat to have a dialog with all 11,200 employees.
Angela was born and raised in the Midwest and married her middle school sweetheart Gregg. She is a mother of three and graduated from Ball State University. She is the highest paid CEO in the United Kingdom at $26M per year.
When Apple needed a new leader for retail and online stores, they hired Angela. Apple is already the world’s most valuable brand with stores that generates twice the revenue per square foot of any other retail store.
Angela summarized creating human energy in her Ted Talk by quoting American poet Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you did, they will forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel”.
Communication that creates human energy around an aspirer, a dream or a big idea may help create the belief, trust and commitment to make almost anything happen.