Burberry offers a lesson in consistency

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On any decent MBA course there is usually a marketing simulation. The class divides into six teams and each is assigned a specific brand. The teams then have to make strategic decisions on an annual basis and as these decisions are fed into the simulation their subsequent performance compared with the other teams is computed.

The team that usually triumphs is not the one that made the best decisions, but the one that made good choices and stuck to them, while less experienced, and ultimately less successful teams, chopped and changed their strategy from one period to the next. Success is as much about consistency and execution as it is about analysis and decision making.

That’s the key message marketers should take from Burberry’s continued success. Last week we learned that the brand’s revenues are again up by 27%. Profits up by 40%. And with the Asian taste for luxury – and particularly Burberry – catching fire, there is only more growth to come.

Burberry’s current success can be traced back to 1997 and the arrival of CEO Rose-Marie Bravo. It was Bravo who surveyed the late 20th century fashion landscape and dug deep into the roots of the brand to uncover the right positioning. When she re-emerged it was with a clear focus on three brand associations. First, it had to be British. Second, it was a curious blend of function and fashionable because Burberry’s history, unlike those of its Latin peers, was one born from gabardine – a thoroughly practical and waterproof fabric. Third, the brand was certainly luxurious but it was always accessible. Burberry was, after all, the product of a draper from Basingstoke, not a couturier from the Left Bank of Paris.

You must combine the right marketing strategy with consistent execution

It’s one thing to have a clear position, but quite another to apply it consistently. Bravo tightened up the licenses, sorted out distribution, introduced flagships, cut back more than 75% of products on offer and, crucially, hired a creative director, Christopher Bailey, to restore the fashion credentials to the dusty Burberry brand.

Bailey, of course, turned out to be a masterstroke. Not only was he a gifted designer, he was also perfectly aligned with the brand positioning Bravo had articulated for Burberry. He was British, he designed clothes that you could actually wear on the high street and – as anyone who has met the man can attest -he is also one of the most humble and accessible designers on the planet.

But perhaps the best and most successful application of Burberry’s positioning can be witnessed in its advertising strategy. To follow Burberry’s advertising over the past decade is to walk through an English meadow of beautiful yet ever-consistent muses. Always fresh, always the same.

In 1998 Stella Tennant represented the brand – she was British, she was fashionable and she had that practical posh kind of look the brand aspired to. Then came Kate Moss, who added even more fashion to the brand while simultaneously increasing its accessibility. Kate is, after all, the only supermodel who comes from Croydon. There was Rachel Weisz, then Sophie Dahl, then Agyness Deyn, followed by Emma Watson, then Rosie Huntington-Whitely. And now Karen Anne in this year’s campaign.

I haven’t heard of the last one, either, but we will and that’s the point. Burberry has selected a different young face each season to continue the brand’s rejuvenation. But while the face might have changed the story has remained the same. These are all British girls. They are stunningly beautiful and yet each one is solidly middle class. Accessible yet fashionable.

Thanks to Mario Testino taking the photographs, the ads remain high fashion in their aesthetic appeal, but because the clothes being worn are Burberry they remain relatively practical in their style. Fashionable yet functional.

A decade is a long time in branding. Average brands have gone through three marketing directors and at least as many brand positionings and communications campaigns in that period. The likes of Vodafone, Barclays and Nokia, for example, have shared more than a dozen different approaches in the past ten years. Each has danced an uneven and confusing jig of different steps and mis-steps that have served to only confuse the consumer.

In contrast, Burberry has stayed true to a simple, beautiful and carefully choreographed waltz. The greatest achievement of Rose-Marie Bravo and now Angela Ahrendts, the woman who replaced her as CEO in 2006, is consistency. Marketers have short memories and even shorter attention spans. The lesson Burberry teaches us is that you must combine the right marketing strategy with at least ten years of consistent execution.

Ignore your new manager and your new ad agency and steer the ship in the right direction and hold course for a decade or more. Do this and the real power of brand success will start to reveal itself around about year six or seven.

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