How Modern Brands Stand Apart: Going Beyond Simple Segmentation

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I don’t envy today’s brand marketers. With so much competition out there, how do they stand out?

I’m not talking about distinct competitors like Target and Walmart or Aldi and Trader Joe’s. The lines of contrast between these companies are easily drawn by age, income, race, education, and culture.

I’m talking about an industry like apparel retail, where brands like the Gap, Banana Republic, and J.Crew compete for nearly identical audiences. The factors that distinguish the loyal consumer of one brand from another can’t be found through mere demographics. These companies have to compete on entirely deeper levels, finding and appealing to the most granular nuances of their target shopper.

Let’s look at two of these similarly positioned brands, the Gap and J.Crew. Both appeal to a younger consumer (Millennials and GenXers), at similar price points, and with similar fashion styles. However, when we look deeper, we find that both brands attract a loyal following that is distinct from the other.

Our database includes a large national sample of consumers over the past year who responded to one of our polls, saying that they “Love” either brand. In total, we found 337 people who “Love” the Gap and 398 who said they “Love” J.Crew. We can study numerous other attributes we’ve collected about these respondents to find correlations.

Let’s first look at a few ways the two groups are most similar, see Chart 1 below.


Here, the loyal fans of the Gap and J Crew look a lot alike. They’re younger and more female, on average, which ties closely to their job type, income, education, and even their political leanings. Without looking, we could predict that they are more likely to belong to Facebook, read paparazzi blogs, exercise regularly, and approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as President. That’s the easy part.

Now, let’s look at some factors that distinguish the two groups, Chart 2 below.


Here, they aren’t quite the spitting image of each other we thought they were.

Gap Lovers

Gap Lovers are more likely to live in urban areas, perhaps where they can walk to a nearby Gap store and spend less time shopping online. Gap Lovers are most likely listening to Rap, Hip-Hop, or R&B and watching Comedy movies. If you see someone at the bar holding a Mojito or other cocktail, chances are, they prefer the Gap over J.Crew.

J.Crew Lovers

J.Crew Lovers, conversely, are more likely to live in the suburbs, where it’s a longer drive to the nearest store, which might explain why they’re more likely to shop online. They have somewhat more refined tastes, like sipping on a glass of Pinot Noir while listening to Indie Rock like the Lumineers or Mumford & Sons. They are also more likely to choose Horror films as their favorite genre.

Perhaps the most telling difference between the two groups, however, is their more esoteric view on brands in general. We looked at each group’s response to the question below, see Chart 3 (these results are derived from the full US consumer population).


Gap Lovers

As opposed to the general population results above, we found that GAP lovers were 50% more likely than the average consumer to say they value brands that “Allow them to impact the world.”Product RED and “Be One” campaigns, which appeal to the social leanings of their customers. It might also explain why Gap Lovers claim to be less brand-loyal, in general. A social or ethical misstep by the company could send consumers fleeing to other, more socially-conscious brands. Still, the brilliant marketers at the Gap know what their customers look like, what they want, and how to make them feel like they’re making the world a better place by wearing Gap clothes.

J. Crew Lovers

J.Crew Lovers, meanwhile, place a far greater value on a brand’s ability to “provide joy or happiness.” This value can be seen in J.Crew’s bright style of clothing and quirky marketing campaigns. Their approach toward fostering happiness attracts consumers with a stronger sense of brand loyalty, as our data confirms. Joy and happiness are timeless virtues that keep people coming back regardless of the social trends of the day. J.Crew may not compete with the Gap’s scale and overall sales but their customers are committed to the brand and its image.

Crowded industries like apparel retail put a lot of pressure on brands to differentiate themselves and to appeal to their most loyal consumer base. Judging by their many years of success, it looks like the Gap and J.Crew have done a great job of understanding the distinct profiles of their shoppers, despite what look like nearly identical people at first glance. Do you have this kind of deep understanding of your customer?



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