Strategy shifts with a heritage brand – is it time to let it go?

 In Blog, Uncategorized

When the Pringle of Scotland brand of knitwear was prime for reinvention in 2000, the strategy was to win market share by positioning it as a high-end international luxury fashion brand.

Its cashmere and Argyle ranges had long been associated with royalty and ‘the twin-set set’, but had been overtaken by brands full of cashmere offerings, albeit without the Pringle quality.

It’s sad to see a heritage brand disappear from the market, and the question is, can Pringle reinvent itself again twenty-plus years later?

Brand strategies require a lot of insights gained from multiple perspectives, internal company and external market research, risk analysis, some gut feeling when it comes to more creative components like brand design and advertising campaigns, and clear communication. International distribution adds a more complex element again.

Pringle’s reinvention strategy #1 – leverage into an international luxury fashion brand

Branding Identity Marketing Strategy Copyright Concept

Pringle’s overarching strategy was to leverage off its heritage to reposition into the luxury fashion market, and effectively leap-frog over the fray of low-quality cashmere offerings.

In order to deliver on that strategy, the decision was to create a new luxury positioning, to maintain its signature high quality but at lower costs of production, and of critical importance in that decision was a new infusion of on-trend and fashion-forward styling. It also required new channels to market.

It launched new ranges on the catwalks of fashion shows in Milan, created flagship branded stores in key locations such as Bond Street and Sloane Street London, Milan, New York and Tokyo. All this would have required considerable investment.

This early strategy was developed and executed by a retail brand veteran, and reignited the brand’s presence for the next 20 years. However, after millions have been invested in the brand and it continues to lose money, Pringle now needs another new strategy. Add to that the severe impact of Covid on both the consumer and the supply chain. It is not surprising that at the end of 2020 the brand went into ‘hibernation’ as many businesses did around the world, to regroup, reassess and hopefully reinvent.

How long do owners prop up their brand?

At some point, investing in a brand (or business) that isn’t producing returns will need to cease.

However, emotion is a stronger driver than reason, which is why so many founders keep working in and on a business that should be wound up. Like Seth Godin says in ‘The Dip’, “winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.” Of course, the big challenge is knowing when it is time to quit.

Now is the time for the owner of Pringle of Scotland to consider if indeed it is time to quit, or time for reinvention number two.

Was it too big a leap?

Flagship stores in premium global locations are expensive liabilities if you get it wrong. Build it and they will come? Or drive traffic to these stores based on data the brand already has about buyers and spending patterns, and locations. Did that data exist when previously the core business would have been in and from the UK?

It seems a big leap to aim for international luxury brand position when the brand was floundering locally.

Pringle, in my opinion, was a British brand to the core, with traditional designs, styles and clothing items (like twinsets) that needed a huge facelift to morph into a luxury fashion brand.

If you look at its website today and long list of international stockists you could think that it has succeeded in this strategy, but at its heart, Pringle is still about knitwear, albeit luxury cashmere.

There are other luxury heritage brands with their own stories of success, failure, and a search for relevance, stability and growth through changing decades with some more successful than others. I have included in my list Burberry, Aquascutum, Coach and Austrian brand Swarovski.

These brands have all forged different strategies based on creative direction, market focus, brand positioning, brand ambassadors and advertising campaigns, and retail strategies. Some would have been based on objective data-driven decision-making, and others on subjective gut feelings about potential risks and rewards.

What next for Pringle of Scotland?

The owner of the brand (and the board) is working through his options, which will see a shift in focus from the current brand foundations, to one that also addresses the business model, the collections, the supply chain, and delivery channels into their markets. He said there are many questions to ask.

The brand mission is ‘excellence and innovation inspired by heritage’, which has remained constant for the last twenty years and will underpin the new shifts in strategy. But is this working? Is it still relevant? Or, does it need to be executed differently?

In my opinion I would turn to the numbers first to help show the full story. When assessing the future fate of a business or brand, emotions don’t help, and hanging onto a brand because the owners are attached to it will not automatically improve its performance. In some cases, gut feeling is needed to make decisions before you have data. Will the new brand ambassadors help revive the brand? Will the new digital customer experience help improve online sales? Will the new brand campaign translate to a global increase in sales? Will the new creative director be able to recreate the same success with this brand?

All these questions and more need exploring from different perspectives and areas of expertise: the numbers, brand marketing, advertising, international retailing or a production perspective. All viewpoints need to be considered in developing the next strategic phase of the Pringle of Scotland brand.

Do you think it’s time to retire the brand and let it go?

What would you suggest to reinvent the Pringle brand?

I know where I’d start…


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