LBrands, [the artist formerly known as] Limited Brands, also Victoria's Secret's parent company, is down 47% in stock value in 2018. Not a small issue for the once dominant category leader. They have a massive problem, and they can't seem to identify it. With analysts selling off stock or predicting continued decline, brands should be asking, "how did this once powerhouse brand set themselves on fire, and what can we do better?" When I was 18 and a newly-minted college student, I would have cut my own legs off to work for VS. Nigh a decade later, you couldn't pay me to invest in their stock. Here are my biggest takeaways as VS continues to drag LBrands down in flames:
1. Know your audience. I'll say it again. Know. Your. Audience.
Founded as a shop for men to buy lingerie because department stores were uncomfortable for male shoppers [true story], Victoria's Secret could once live and die by the promise of sex. The majority of consumers are now women, but you'd never know it from the marketing. Ask a woman what she wants in a bra that she is expected to wear for 18 hours. [Hint: The answer is not metal in the ribs, boobs under the chin, and sequins visible from space.] The number one category bra by volume sold is Body By Victoria--their second-skin "comfy" bra. But their marketing doesn't align with that, and they've made some serious blunders in doing this that I'll detail in a second.
2. Adapt to the market and consumer changes
Name one brand that has stopped photoshopping. Name two. I bet you can. Brands like Aerie and ThirdLove and Swimsuits For All bank their brands on authenticity and VS simply cannot compete. The refusal to carry inclusive sizes and hire diverse and inclusive models perpetuates VS at every level. From their models to their corporate PR teams, it's no wonder they can't market to a consumer they've never talked to. The days where female consumers accepted model-esque high fashion beauty ideals and campaigns that support them are over. #NotBuyingIt and #BoycottVS campaigns are the proof [you know, in addition to the harsh stock decline if anecdotes are not enough for you]. Brands that have adapted to consumer demands have survived, even thrived. Sure, it pays to be true to your core brand identity. But if you're missing the mark with product and audience ID, there isn't much hope for you. If you can't sell a product to your core consumer, who has every reason to be loyal, perhaps you're the problem.
3. Innovate and learn from your mistakes.
VS never learns. How many times have they put on thoughtless campaigns [see: "sexy little geishas" and Karlie Kloss' infamous Native American "headdress" at the fashion show]. They iterate the same version of an old product and call it something new [looking at you, Incredible], and then balk when it doesn't sell. An old car painted a different color doesn't make it new. It's amazing that this has to be explained. A company founded on making women "feel sexy" should know better than to tell women that their bodies aren't perfect. Time and time again, VS has shown that it would rather throw some splashy sexy photo up and slap a quip on its product name over top rather than think through its brand. It "spends millions of dollars to innovate its products" [its store associates are sold], but then re-releases old bras with new names, or old bra designs in new colors. Let's all agree that isn't R&D.
But it's this cycle that VS can't seem to get out of. Thoughtless branding, thoughtless product design, thoughtless targeting. Brands need to do better in 2018 to be successful, and if a 47% decrease in stock value isn't proof of that, I don't know what is.
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