Eileen Fisher’s core customer is herself. She has always designed her clothing according to her own preferences, and as a result, the brand has aged with her. She is growing older as are the customers which her brand currently appeals to. The threat to Eileen’s existence is her own evolution as she ages beyond the main market of women purchasers.This is leading the brand to its own end, and she must build a new strong brand. Eileen Fisher should expand its core brand by targeting the segment of 35-44 year old “emerging” women in order to achieve higher growth. It should spin off a new brand called Emerge.

Why Emerging Women?

  • Emerging women are more similar to established customers than nascent women (ages 21-34).
  • The emerging age group (35-44) is going to sequentially transform into the established customers’ age group (45-64).
  • Nascent women’s negative perceptions are too high to nullify or overturn.
  • Emerging women command stronger buying power than the nascent group.

By employing the multi-branding approach, Eileen Fisher is mitigating the risk of transferring negative associations from the current brand to the new target market segment. Also, this position makes it possible for Eileen Fisher to target a very specific age group that can grow into full-fledged customers of Eileen Fisher in the future. We consider emerging women the “younger, cooler” customers that are up and coming. They can grow into Eileen Fisher’s core brand. Given that there are high negative biases against the Eileen Fisher brand within this group, the company must be nimble and spin off Emerge from the current brand. By spinning off Emerge, the company is mitigating the risk of losing core customers with the new approach.

The quality of the core brand centers on high quality artisanal fabrics with premium yarns that provide durability and comfort. Eileen Fisher uses a traditional design approach incorporating seasonal “passion pieces.” In order for Eileen Fisher to compete in the “younger, cooler” arena, the company will have to adjust its traditional and individualized passion-driven approach to a competitive price-conscious customer preference. Durability and comfort will have to be compromised to some extent for the sake of price and cost.

Emerge is a brand that will maintain the core values of Eileen Fisher while increasing the accessibility of its product for emerging women in an efficient and effective way. This new brand will bridge the gap between emerging and established women. The company will maintain its core design values while being socially-conscious and committed to its employees. However, the company will make the products more accessible by saving busy mothers’ and professionals time by promoting an online marketplace for those who prefer less service. The product must be more form-fitting since emerging women are concerned with a body-conscious fit. They are trendy but not overly trendy and still favor the design values of Eileen Fisher. Emerge’s products will also be versatile and will allow the emerging women to mix and match pieces with other brands as well. This aligns with the company’s overall repositioning strategy.

Eileen Fisher can initially cultivate brand awareness for Emerge by investing in promotion and developing social media presence. Emerging women engage with companies via social media. Such active engagement drives loyalty more than the push marketing in newspaper and TV ads. Eileen Fisher must support its efforts to increase brand awareness and accessibility by building the brand association and image for Emerge. Emerging women must associate the new brand with fashionable women who are on the go and on the rise in their careers. The company will advertise via Facebook and Instagram pages as well as higher-end fashion magazines. These advertisements will show women wearing Emerge pieces while heading into an office setting or with young children. Emerge’s target customers balance family and work, carefully allocate resources for clothing purchases, but yet maintain higher fashion. The new brand’s promotional media will project a brand identity that emerging women can identify with and see themselves as.

Emerge must work towards perceptions of brand quality by consistently delivering strong products. Earning premium brand status requires that the customers perceive significant value above pure functionality. Since emerging women lead busy lives and prefer minimal service, Emerge can offer them added value by incorporating online shopping into its distribution channels. The company must consider and take on new channels when attacking a new market. Younger customers do not demand the same service level. The company needs to include online shopping. While an online format reduces sales consultancy, it adds value by creating accessibility and convenience. To ensure competitive advantage, Eileen Fisher must conduct research on the online offerings of Emerge’s potential competitors. Eileen Fisher must differentiate Emerge and command a premium for its products by filling online offering gaps.  The new brand must achieve a perception and understanding of its high quality inputs, and the parent company’s core values make those high quality inputs possible. In order to market to a younger and cooler audience, Eileen Fisher should use a hybrid between current distribution channels and those attractive to the emerging women market.

By delivering on its promises, Emerge will encourage loyalty unaffected by age. As emerging women transition into the established women’s market and attain more affluence, Eileen Fisher can transition them into its traditional product line. Thus, the company will simultaneously maintain the current established women segment and prepare emerging women for the Eileen Fisher brand in the future. As Eileen Fisher champions this repositioning strategy, it will lower and maintain a younger average age for the company so that it does not retire out. In this way, the company will pipeline new customers to the Eileen Fisher brand as they emerge into established women.

In the future, the company can alter the Emerge brand name to “Emerge by Eileen Fisher.” It is important that the company wait to do this because of the negative associations that emerging women currently have with the Eileen Fisher brand. In time, Emerge will establish its own brand equity. Then, Eileen Fisher can attach her name to the Emerge brand so that customers will begin associating her core brand with Emerge. That way, when emerging women grow older, they will more likely transition to the Eileen Fisher brand. In order for this to be possible, Eileen Fisher must make sure that Emerge and Eileen Fisher have congruent features and concepts. The company’s ability to meet the needs of a new marketplace will help Emerge “back-transfer” positive associations to Eileen Fisher. If consumer associations with the new brand back-transfer to the brand image of the core brand, the back-transfer would be positive to the firm’s brand equity.

Risks

Repositioning the brand poses several risks to Eileen Fisher. The company must acknowledge those risks and mitigate them. An analysis follows.

Risk: Success has been based on Eileen Fisher's personal intuition and she does not know the market or style of the younger segments (Nascent and Emerging). There is a risk that core competencies and understanding are lacking in management’s ability to grow the brand.

Mitigation: The company has conducted extensive market research with IDEO. In order to keep the brand current, Eileen Fisher must continue to commission such research. Thanks to IDEO’s research, Eileen Fisher understands the differences between the two possible segments. Emerging women bear more similarities to established women in their taste and therefore pose less of a risk to Eileen Fisher. In order for the brand to have a future beyond Eileen Fisher’s lifespan, the company must take on the risk of repositioning itself in the emerging women segment.

Risk: By targeting the emerging women segment, Eileen Fisher risks alienating the very profitable established women segment who purchase their entire wardrobe through the brand.

Mitigation:  Eileen Fisher will employ multi-branding strategy to spin off the brand with a different name. In this way, it will avoid alienating its core segment.

Risk: The emerging women segment is less profitable. These younger buyers are more focused on price, they look for sales, and they bargain hunt. Eileen Fisher’s social consciousness in supply chain distribution and manufacturing means that the company must charge a premium in order to maintain current margins. The company follows the SA8000 Standards governing child labor, discrimination, working hours, remuneration, and health and safety.

Mitigation: Eileen Fisher must ensure that its new spinoff brand adds value in order to command a premium price in the emerging women segment. For example, the company can extend its distribution channels to include online shopping so that emerging women receive the convenience which they crave in their busy lives. This will simultaneously prove more cost effective for the company, which will help reverse any decrease in margins. Importantly, younger customers strongly relate to Eileen Fisher’s social values and may likely make purchase decisions based on them.

Risk: Repositioning the brand could cause brand confusion. Negative associations with the core brand could carry over to the new brand. Consumer surveys revealed opinions that wearing Eileen Fisher was essentially giving up on fashion. Consumers perceive the clothing to be for older and heavier people. Women in their 30’s and 40’s are no longer attracted to the brand and see it as something their mothers wear. Some had difficulty embracing the brand because of negative reviews of its style in news publications. Emerging women associate Eileen Fisher with high prices—something particularly undesirable in a more price-conscientious segment. Emerging women’s current perception of Eileen Fisher is the brand’s biggest obstacle to growth.

Mitigation: Spinning off the brand under a different name will prevent any brand confusion for the core brand. Additionally, it will eliminate the risk of transferring negative associations to the new brand.

Risk: Eileen Fisher could fail at repositioning its brand. There are multiple examples of brands that have failed at expansion. For example, Ellen Tracy repositioned itself as a sportswear brand, moving away from its bridge status. Similarly, Dana Buchman tried to move to a lower price segment. They both experienced difficulties when they later attempted to recapture lost customers.

Consideration: Eileen Fisher’s customer base is aging with the brand’s founder, and eventually her generation will stop buying clothes. If Eileen Fisher does not take action to reposition the brand, the company will fail regardless.

Risk: Eileen Fisher underserves nascent women, and if the company continues to ignore them, this group will not grow with the brand. Nascent women may not aspire to wear Eileen Fisher as they get older and more affluent.

Consideration: Marketing the current Eileen Fisher brand to the nascent market is highly incongruent. Many of Eileen Fisher’s values and strengths are misaligned with nascent shoppers.  Even after spinning off the brand under a different name, nascent women will remain undesirable customers due to the cost of developing the core competencies necessary to serve them. Their extreme price-conscientiousness will not help counteract the cost of the drastic changes required to capture their market share.

Benefits

There are many potential benefits to pursuing this brand repositioning and expanding the Eileen Fisher brand through the Emerge fashion line. This expansion into a younger target market will ensure that the Eileen Fisher brand does not die with Eileen. In using a multi-branding strategy that spins off a separate brand, the company can still supply the same level of quality as the established core brand. This will benefit the company by attracting and encouraging loyalty among the emerging women market segment. The company can later redirect this loyalty into the Eileen Fisher brand, increasing the length of customer relationships.

IDEO’s consumer research revealed that both emerging and established women are seeking an edgier look. This indicates demand for the new brand, which will increase the company’s bottom line. While many retailers may compete in the emerging women segment, Eileen Fisher has the advantage of over 25 years of experience. One should note that for many years of that experience, Eileen Fisher was competing in that same segment since the company has moved through the different segments as its customers have aged. The company’s experience and core competencies will aid in its success in the emerging women segment, benefitting profitability.

IDEO’s consumer research has helped uncover this clear positioning opportunity. It is an opportunity beneficial to the company’s growth goals. During the company’s growth, it will consider new distribution channels. Like Eileen Fisher’s style, the company’s distribution channels have not been keeping up with changes in the market. Eileen Fisher can utilize alternative retail formats including online presence to market to the younger segment. By introducing the new distribution channel of online shopping, the company will benefit from a vast enlargement of its potential customer base.

Re-positioning the brand through multi-branding will give the company an indirect opportunity to improve its core brand equity. Once the company successfully promotes positive brand associations for Emerge, it will add “by Eileen Fisher” to the Emerge brand name. As consumers see Eileen Fisher’s name on products that they know and like, they will begin to positively associate her name with features more in line with their values. Thus, Emerge’s brand equity will eventually back-transfer to the core brand and benefit the company overall. As the company is developing new core competencies, it should take advantage of the opportunities that social media provides. The company can utilize social media to raise awareness about Emerge and further repair Eileen Fisher’s core brand, yielding even more benefits.

Since Eileen embodies the target customer, she has been very successful in creating inspired designs by listening to her intuition. However, the company has realized that the founder’s intuition is unsustainable. The average customer age is increasing and Eileen Fisher is losing touch with modern fashion trends that appeal to nascent and emerging women. This brand expansion increases the target market size and provides the company with the ability to obtain lifelong customers who can dress themselves in Eileen Fisher clothing throughout all stages of their lives.

Eileen Fisher has the benefit of positive associations coming from distribution channel owners such as the CEO of Bloomingdales, a B2B customer. He mentions her heart and soul, values, strong intuition and views her as a visionary. The retail employees provide a direct example of Eileen Fisher’s values and beliefs by acting as disciples to her brand.  They share an age and lifestyle with the core customer. This provides social proof to customers that enter the store. Currently, Eileen Fisher designers throw away good designs which do not suit the established women market segment. This brand expansion gives them the opportunity to put many of these good designs to use by marketing them to the younger customers.

Eileen Fisher’s current aging market (ages 45 to 64) represents 25% of the $200 billion women’s apparel market. There is potential demand within both the 35-44 and 21-34 age groups that accounts for 12% and 16% of the apparel market. The emerging women market (ages 35- 44) accounts for over $56 billion in market share revenue. Targeting the emerging market of women would allow Fisher to position its brand in a manner more consistent with its current target market.

Conclusion

The Eileen Fisher brand stands out as simple, stylish clothing meant for real working women. Eileen Fisher took an unconventional path to brand building by engaging itself with real women. Meanwhile, its contemporaries took to models and big brand fashion shows. Eileen Fisher appealed to baby boomers and found a loyal base. Its customers went for comfort and clothing. With the average lifespan of women stated to be 79.5 years, Eileen Fisher is running out of time to find a new customer base. To maintain current core business, Eileen Fisher will adapt her current designs to maintain the baby boomer crowd. To gain ground in the emerging market, Eileen Fisher can leverage current distribution channels and department store connections to get her product seen by consumers. However, she must also incorporate marketing techniques and strategies used by competitors in the emerging women market in order to have a realistic chance of increasing consumer market share. Eileen Fisher must anticipate some brand enthusiasts’ pushback against brand expansion. As a defense, there should be a completely new spinoff brand, Emerge, with a different image and identity from Eileen Fisher. The core values are the same, but the product, price, promotion and placement are different.