Why American Eagle’s New Teen Brand is Doomed to Fail

No one likes a copycat.

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With the Brandy Melville teen takeover, American Eagle won’t win back their teen customers by being a copycat.

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Image source: American Eagle ae.com

According to the most recent research by Piper Jaffray in teen brands and spending, it looks like the #1 hot spot for teen apparel has been filled by none other than Brandy Melville. For many years, Forever 21 and American Eagle were the top. But like all things, what goes up, must come down. Nowadays, everything is fast and attentions are short. It’s not even enough for brands to stay abreast of trends. Sometimes, generations stick with brands they grew up on and often times, new brands are adopted by the next generation. It’s a cycle, like everything else. And I think Big Corp needs to accept they just can’t stay on top forever.

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Source: Piper Jaffray

Brandy Melville seemed to emerge almost overnight (although it’s been in USA since 2012). The beloved teen brand went viral thanks to Instagram and swooped in to take center stage of American Eagle’s teen audience.

So how did AE react to the competition? By creating Don’t Ask Why, a collection initially launched as the ‘Made in Italy’ collection in August 2013, and re-branded September ’14.

The motivation was to shift the collection to a brand to compete with Brandy Melville – and in doing so, they created some of the exact same styles, with the exact ‘one size’ sizing model, also made in Italy, and with similar pricing.

On the Left: Brandy Melville styles, on the Right: AE’s Don’t Ask Why styles

Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of the styles from this collection. And I love AE jeans a lot – which is what Brandy doesn’t have. There’s the weakness the execs missed.

So why do I think this new brand strategy is not going to work?  Because of several factors:

  1. The name is bad. ‘Don’t ask why’ What does that even mean?  Don’t ask why –what? Don’t ask why you’re knocking off a teen brand? Who came up with this? Using a negative or sarcasm in your brand name probably isn’t a good idea. I know, teens are sarcastic. But unless you are trying to hang with Nasty Gal, Local Heroes or Dolls Kill, I don’t suggest it. ‘Don’t Ask Why’ does not suggest: Made in Italy, sophisticated soft basics.
  2. Teens are not dumb. They can see what’s going on. Some will care, some will not. But for those who do, it’s kind of an insult to their intelligence.
  3. Brand Loyalty, Respect, Trust, Authenticity. Teens like Brandy because it is something to call their own, within a network that’s all their own. And it feels authentic to them. Teens like American Eagle for what it is. Awesome jeans and shorts. They may not be keen on a mainstream big box brand taking on an indie vibe for the masses. Just like Snapchat, teens like things where adults aren’t. 
  4. Collabs and social media works pretty well. Working out an underground collab with teens and teen models on IG with Brandy and AE jeans and shorts would have been a much better strategy to win back teen audience and gain influence as one of America’s #1 denim brands. Perhaps a strong social media strategy including hundreds – no, thousands of awesome shots of top influencers wearing your AE brand with the Brandy Melville brand. Brandy doesn’t do denim. But a lot of their shots on IG are girls in denim. The question you should have asked is, “why aren’t they wearing AE denim, and how can we fill that gap?”
  5. Unique is important for teens. Teens like finding clothes that set them apart from the others, mixing and matching styles they like. Teens like vintage, new, obscure, different and trendy. Jumping on a bandwagon, creating almost the exact same styles and competing with their favorite brand (and in some cases, charging more) may not win them over. It’s not original. It looks like a desperate attempt. If they want a mainstream brand to wear that emulates Brandy, they will head to Forever21, who is the queen of cheap, knock-off styles.
  6. Leader or Follower? Again, everyone expects F21 to knock off everyone, and it’s pretty much OK because they are a fast fashion company whose schtick is to offer whatever is trendy. But coming from AEO, the biggest American brand, it’s surprising, and may raise doubts.
  7. The brand message is confusing. I don’t understand how the one brand “Don’t Ask Why” can be a testing ground for your main brand “American Eagle”, with two separate labels. In an interview with Racked, Chad Kessler, AE Global Brand President states, “We use ‘Don’t Ask Why’ as a kind of testing lab for the American Eagle brand. For example, the team came back from Coachella with new silhouettes we hadn’t incorporated into the American Eagle collection yet, and now we have those in the works with ‘Don’t Ask Why’. We’ll bring those into ‘Don’t Ask Why’ stores in the next month or so, and if they work, we’ll roll them out for American Eagle.”  Man, WTF?
  8. Stick to What you Know. Denim is the key AE product and their kryptonite; not many big box retailers do it quite as good as AE in fit, quality, variety and price. Girls, teens and adults LOVE American Eagle denim. They just need to stick with that and not be something they’re not in an attempt to gain customers by “chasing” what’s already being done well. Teens love vintage high waist jeans. Don’t believe me, check out these vintage AEO shorts.  AE should do more of that.
  9. Many may not be OK with the ‘one size fits most’ strategy. In fact. Brandy has faced a lot of backlash from news, bloggers, customers and moms with it’s ‘one size’ (which is Small) strategy. A petition was launched at Change.org against American Eagle and Brandy with a “Stop the misrepresentation of women by the “One Size Fits All” label in clothing stores”

That’s my two cents. We all understand that imitation is the best form of flattery, but..no one likes a copycat.

 

Image sources: Brandy Melville, AE.com

Why Social Influencers Need to STOP Thinking Small

If you think that social influencers aren’t the next Beyonce’s and Biebers (oh wait.) Then you’re dead wrong. Companies like Target, PacSun and Abercrombie need to start paying attention. FAST.

You’re a big influencer in the social space. You’ve put in your time, built your fan following, built your personal brand, now what?

Beyonce + Ivy Park with TopShop, Kate Moss with H&M, the list goes on when it comes to celebrity brands. But don’t you think top influencer branded products are next?

I certainly do.

We are already beginning to see it with makeup companies and beauty bloggers.

Influencers, up to this point, have largely relied on teaming with established companies to collaborate on, for example, clothing or beauty lines…That’s changing.

– Women’s Wear Daily

If you are a successful Vlogger or Instagrammer, where are you in your branding stage? Have you even thought about it?  I look at a lot of top influencers and I see where they are winning and I see a lot of others who could definitely be doing more.  I wonder if they are limiting themselves purposely, or if they are just kind of lost about the next steps to take.

Perhaps they don’t want to do more, and that’s OK, too.  Personally, if I had millions of followers and subscribers to my YouTube channel, I would be hustling the shit out of that. (I mean that in a good way, of course)

One YouTube girl in particular (I won’t mention her name) has a huge influence and what is she selling?  Stuff that looks like she created it on Zazzle.  If that’s what she wants for her brand, that’s totally OK.  I am not going to say what she’s doing is all wrong if it’s working for her and if that is what she is aiming for.  However, I will say that what she’s doing and what Chiara Ferragni are doing are what separates the right now influencers from the ‘it girl’ brand builders and future company CEOs with staying power.

Cheap tees from Zazzle are not going to cut it for long term branding strategy.  Do what Beyonce would do.  Think you can’t?  Think again.

Think bigger.

If you think that social influencers aren’t the next Beyonce’s and Biebers (oh wait.) Then you’re dead wrong.  Companies like Target, PacSun and Abercrombie need to start paying attention.  FAST.  Don’t you think that PacSun should have been keen on a  Justin Beiber capsule collection?  Uh, yeah.

Know who Cameron Dallas is?  If you’re a clothing company or any big brand, you should.  If you don’t, I’m going to say, you need to wake the fuck up.

California native Cameron Dallas has gained over 15 million combined followers on social media in less than a year.  He’s the 7th most followed Viner and, since starting to post on YouTube a few months back, has already added over 3 million subscribers to his channel.

As a social influencer, what you do now is going to set the stage for whatever career you wish to create, or residual income you plan to make in your future. Riding the hot social media train right now is awesome.  You are creating content, building your brand-but you have to think of where you’ll be 2 or 4 years from now. How will you stay relevant in your current space, and what are the next steps for you or your brand?  Are you working toward what you have already planned and are you reverse engineering that vision?

For some, they got into YouTubing because it was fun, and the next thing they realize is their channel has blown up and they don’t know what the hell to do with it next.  So they stay on that current flow and focus, never really thinking about what’s coming ahead in the pipeline.

Remember this guy?

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Chris Crocker, 2007-08

His name is Chris Crocker and once upon a time he had millions of YT Followers, even before his ‘Leave Britney Alone’ video that went viral. In fact, his video was one of the most watched YouTube videos of all time. He literally became a founder of ‘viral videos’.

Where is he now?

He is still active on social media, and has a good fanbase on Instagram but has since deleted his YouTube account and the infamous Brit video because of well, “toxic troll haters”. And you can’t blame him, his brand was himself and his past was part of that brand. Now in 2016,  we see him reinventing himself to leave the old persona behind.

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Chris Crocker, now

 

The beginnings of his brand and YouTube career were in the early stages of  YouTube in general, so many of us had no idea how the current Tube world would evolve.

And that is the lesson I am talking about right here and now.  We don’t know what 2 or 4 years from now will look like, but if you have a solid plan and an audience right now, you can be harnessing that in the most positive way.

In the case of Chris, he just did what everyone else was doing, vlogging. He shared a very personal part of his life with the world because that’s just who he is.  He realizes now he made a few poor choices with his fame then (i.e. the Maverick Men porn videos). But if he had known all of this would blow up, perhaps he may have made more strategic plans. If I could have talked to him back then, I would have suggested a super funky or soft androgynous underwear line, named Crocker.  Why the hell not? 

And this is where all of you who may be (or probably aren’t) reading can make a difference.

Stop thinking so small.

Stop thinking within these invisible parameters, they don’t exist.

If you have half a million or even 200K followers, be ready. Be thinking ahead, reverse engineer your brand and your strategy. Don’t assume this is all going to be here 4 years from now. If you have an idea, I urge you to go for it while you have the attention of your audience. If you LOVE writing, vlogging and creating videos then keep doing that. Chances are, you will excel and evolve with the social media trends. But if you see something bigger ahead for yourself, such as the case was with Jessica Alba or Chiara Ferragni, plan your strategy now.  Your current career is your skill honing, your brand building, your research.  Your future career is going to be supported by whatever work you are putting in now.

Jessica Alba started The Honest Company in 2011, and it has been wildly successful, to the tune of $1.7Billion. She leveraged her celebrity status to launch the brand and company, but she stepped back and allowed the quality of the products and the message to speak for itself. You see, it isn’t quite enough for a celeb to just build a brand and reap insta-rewards.  You have to create something pretty worthwhile with a worthwhile agency, or it might blow up in your face.

Just ask Kate Hudson how Fabletics (owned by JustFab) is doing amidst the thousands of complaints from disgruntled customers.

When you strip back all the marketing hype, the core of every good celebrity endorsed, celebrity branded product or collaboration should be the product. Quality product and quality marketing is key to long term success.  

Your audience is tuned in, it’s time to start thinking of taking your brand to the next level. If it is your desire to take this as far as you can, you need to know when to strike and start creating a foundation for long-term growth by creating quality products that will become an extension of your brand and eventually a COMPANY.

All of this-this crazy cool internet madness that allows any one of us to write a post or create a channel with videos and succeed like we never have before, this is a gift.  You and I are in the midst of an evolution that is incredible and intriguing.

Understand where you are and harness your fanbase.  There has never been a better time than NOW to reach out and grab the limitless opportunities. 

How Do I Brand Myself?

The ultimate roadmap to building your brand

BRANDING 101: A Roadmap & Strategy Guide to Personal Branding

First of all, What is a Personal Brand?

A personal brand, or your personal brand is the culmination of your skills, knowledge, experiences and personality that come together to speak to the world about who you are. Your brand is what essentially attracts and retains customers.

Creating and developing yourself as a personal brand is similar to product branding. The overall goal with branding is to not only tell the world your story, but to differentiate yourself or your product in the market so you can reach your goals as a top influencer, brand, product or successful blogger.

Product or brand development is not always about creating something different, but about doing something differently.

To assist you in moving forward with your product or branding goals, I have created this roadmap that I like to follow.  (GET OUT A NOTEPAD AND PEN.  You’re going to need it).
I have used it often for my own brands as well as for clients’ branding purposes and it’s nearly foolproof if you follow it correctly.

This one is intended for new brands who are looking to launch fresh, but you can also use it if you want to wipe the slate clean and totally re-Brand.

This process I have created is going to require a lot of thought and some research on your part. But I promise, it will be worth it.  The more research and honesty you bring to the table, the better off you and your brand message will be.

The following questions will walk you through your thoughts, ideas, aspirations and images of your personal brand to assist you in clearly defining your brand and it’s personality.

A. PERSONAL BRANDING

  1. Define your goals. What are your personal and/or business aspirations?
    (Be specific. Clearly define your goals and objectives whether it’s becoming a famous singer, motivational speaker, CEO of a major company or fashion blogger)
  2. Who do you aspire to emulate?
    (i.e. Ariana Huffington, Oprah, SPANX, Zuckerberg, The Blonde Salad, etc.)
  3. What does your brand look like 1, 2 or 3 years from now?
    Take a moment to really visualize all of the aspects of your brand and company. (I am a firm believer in visualization. You can’t create it if you can’t imagine it.)
  4. What is your brand tagline, message or three key words that define your brand?
    (i.e. Fun, Colorful, Young; Informative, Smart, Tough; “Never Stop Creating”)

B. RESEARCH

Before you can clearly define your personal brand goals and strategy, it is important to conduct thorough research so you can answer your own brand identity questions. This is a paramount  step in creating your brand, and one that shouldn’t be skipped or skimmed over.
Research! Research! Research! Do your homework. 

  1. What do your aspirational brands look like?
  2. What are your aspirational brands doing?
  3. What have they done to get to where they are now? (read their bio, research history)
  4. Are you willing to put in the work to succeed and do what they have done. (This is a VERY important question)
  5. Who are your 3-5 biggest competitors?
  6. What are they doing to brand themselves?
  7. What can you learn from what they’ve done (positive or negative)


C. WHAT’S THE STORY?

  1. What is the overall message you want your brand to convey?
  2. List 3 brand attributes (adjectives) associated with your brand.
  3. Where is your Brand niche in the market? Define this as precisely as you can.
    (i.e. Yoga Wear in Women’s Plus Size Apparel, Writer of Motivational Books)
  4. Where is your Brand right now?  How does your audience or the general public currently perceive you?
  5. How far off are you right now from where you want to be (or be perceived)? (If you are not sure, compare your answers from #1-A to this question.)
  6. Based on your current assessment and goals of question #6, what can you change?

D. ‘GO TO’ BRANDING STRATEGY PLAN

Now that you have your image and goals hammered out, it’s time to start implementing your brand.

Make sure your brand image and message across all social media platforms is cohesive. This means your social media accounts will be consistent and look the same. Consistency is key. Do a deep social media audit and make sure you include all of your social media outlets, from YouTube to Twitter, Facebook Fan page to LinkedIn, from Goodreads to your Gravatar.  Using the same photo across all media platforms is vital in branding. Your face or your logo is what everyone sees.  The more times they consistently see that image, the more they will remember you and/or your brand. Make sure you delete any accounts that are duplicates and/or ones which you will not be needing.

Think about your personal branding attributes, what key aspect(s) will be memorable?Is your font or brand name easy to read? Is your logo good?  Is it memorable?  What about your personal style? It could include a signature piece of clothing, hair, makeup, a tagline, your public persona, etc.  If you are branding yourself, You are your Brand.  (Cocoa-Cola is always in red and white, Iris Apfel is always in big, round glasses, Donald Trump is always saying something shocking.) This is a key in strong branding strategies, and may or may not be one you employ.  But do give it some thought, and find something that is authentic and meaningful to you.

Using, Leveraging and Managing your brand. Now that you have created your brand image, message and have globally branded across all social media platforms, you will want to define which channels you will use and how. Perhaps you will use Twitter or LinkedIn to post your business articles or share links from your blog, or YouTube to post your latest travel review videos, or Pinterest for your recipes.  Whatever methods you choose, make sure to respect the platform and target your audience and place your content accordingly.  Constantly posting links on sites which are irrelevant can kill a brand and your image fast. I manage several very successful LinkedIn groups and I notice when a business or blogger is no only over posting, but over posting irrelevant content. It just looks bad and disrespectful. Target the appropriate platforms for your content or message. People may not always notice you, but they will notice if your messages look like SPAM.

[Here is where it might get overwhelming and tricky if you aren’t social media marketing savvy.  If you are not, refer to my previous post about social media marketing. It’s a long read, and one you should save in your Favorites for when you’re at that stage]

Secondly, reconsider the option of sending automatic Direct Messages (DM) on Twitter for new Followers.  This, in my opinion, is impersonal and may get you deleted as quickly as you were added. Oprah doesn’t send DMs and frankly neither should you.  If you find someone you want to connect with, politely send them (personally) a quick direct message if their email or website info is not listed on their Twitter profile. A great way to win brownie points for your brand: send a welcome tweet that says something like: Hi @AvaMarieC  Thank you so much for the Follow.  I’m looking forward to sharing Tweets!

Automated shout outs are OK and can be fun, or in line with your brand message. For Berry Jane, I like to have fun with my new Followers by sending shout out Tweets that say: @twitteruser Thanks for Following…you MUST be awesome! or  Shoutout to our new Followers: @XXAmandaxx @XXmclanexx You ROCK!!

Managing the Brand. Assuming you are now at this stage, you will want to manage all areas of your brand proactively and consistently.  Make sure all of your posts, reviews, communication styles and even photos are in sync with your brand image and message.  For example, seeing a posting of a funny cat video from a data management guru would seem confusing, wouldn’t it? Not that humor has a negative connotation in branding, but if your brand image goal and story is one of a resolute, data-driven professional with tons of knowledge in your field, posting a silly cat video on your brands’ Twitter account might not be in alignment with your goal.  If, however, your brand message is one of a very humorous and personable guy who shares more than just useful info, go ahead.  Whatever it is you do, make sure it is consistent. There is nothing wrong with connecting on a very personal level if that is who you are, and what you want to do.  Even Taylor Swift makes it a point to connect with her fans in very personal ways.

Personal-Branding-Infogrpahic


Most importantly:  Keep your image, message and goals cohesive and consistent. 

COHESIVE AND CONSISTENT.  Don’t create a Facebook page that doesn’t match your Twitter page. Don’t post negative comments if your brand is all about positivity and love. Ask yourself before you post or comment, “Is this in line with my brand message?”  If it is not, don’t post it. And last, but certainly not least: Make sure the brand you are creating is at the very least the most authentic version of who you are, or in line with what you value or enjoy most. Not only will it be easier to maintain, but it will feel a lot better to you.

How did this plan work for you?  I want to hear your story!  Leave a comment below or email me at: ava@avacarmichael.com