Legacy fashion brands have plenty of gravitas. They are the industry’s titans. But what becomes of them when nostalgia can’t sustain relevancy?
A rewriting of brand DNA is needed. To become modern, playful, and cool, every brand must break fashion’s traditional rules. While you’re not an anarchist, ripping them up for the sake of it, you will rebuild a brand that knows where it stands; in relation to the culture, the consumer, and the category again.
Ana knows the secret to doing that.
In this episode of Building Brand Advocacy, Paul sits down with aspiration Guru & Chief Brand Officer at ESPRIT, Ana Andjelic. Author of ‘The Business of Aspiration’ and creator of ‘The Sociology of Business’ newsletter, Ana shares authentic advice from her vast experience building brands with a culture-first approach. As the ex-CBO of Rebecca Minkoff, ex-CMO of Mansur Gavriel, and ex-CBO of Banana Republic – where she led the label’s iconic rebrand in 2021 – no-one is better placed to help reinvent your fashion marketing strategies.
It’s true that the aspirations of the fashion community have changed. Now, ‘taste’ rules everything. As we live our lives through 24/7 marketing campaigns, brands must go further than simply paying influencers to wear their clothes – it’s not about having the budget, but knowing what to do with it.
With advice for finding creators as you would friends and tactically translating your brand’s values in every campaign, Ana reminds fashion Brand Builders of something many forgot. If you’re in fashion, you’re in the business of fun.
Discover Ana’s vision for bringing brand & performance marketing together (like she successfully did at Banana Republic and ESPRIT), the brands she sees injecting a healthy dose of playfulness (Corteiz, Jacquemus, or Casablanca anyone?), and how B Corp’s philosophy of betterment can be built into any brand’s strategy.
Tune in to hear why shortcuts to customer acquisition never work, and why playing the long-game always will.
Rate & review Building Brand Advocacy:
Connect with Ana:
Paul: Hello, welcome back to Building Brand Advocacy. You're here with your host Paul Archer, and I'm incredibly excited today to be joined by Ana Andjelic.
Ana: It's wonderful to be here and I'm delighted to be your guest. And I very much look forward to our conversation.
Paul: I started subscribing to you when COVID took off, which I think it might make me one of your earlier subscribers, and I'm a bit of a fan. I'm a proper fanboy. We're very excited about this chat because I don't think I've really read very many people who align with my values around like long-term band building and like focusing on the humans, the fans, the customers at the heart of it. And I think that everyone should check out the sociology of business, Ana's newsletter, which is one of my absolute faves. Just to kind of give you a bit of an insight in her incredible career, you are the Chief Brand Officer at Esprit.
You were doing the same at Banana Republic, Mansur Gavriel, Rebecca Minkoff. I mean, these are some incredible brands and you've done so much around that kind of like that, that branding and the repositioning. So my first question to you is when you take on a project like this around repositioning a brand, like what's the first thing that you do?
Ana: It's not necessarily repositioning. It's resetting the brand vision and enforcing that positioning because, you know, brands have certain position that they originally assumed at a certain time, at a certain place, at a certain cultural and economic context. And they say, Hey, we are maybe a premium brand or a mass brand or aspirational brand or a prestige or luxury. And it's all about how do you renew that position? How that vision, original vision, how do you bring that back? How do you modernize it? And in that sense, it's always being clear really where you stand in relation to the culture, to the category, to the consumer, and what are your internal resources and capabilities to deliver on, on what you want on that, at that desired position where you want to be. But it's really the first thing that happens is setting that vision. Setting that vision, where do we see this brand in 10 years? Where do we, what, what do we want this brand to be?
What do we want this brand to stand for? What is its role in the world, which is now going into the brand purpose. So brand vision and brand purpose are very connected. But when you talk about vision, that's a static vision for your product. And that's creative vision for all the brand expressions. And literally, are you getting the heads of the brands in the room with a whiteboard when you're trying to come up with this? Is it an external piece when people bring their thinking to it? What's that process look like?
Well, the process involves first a lot of research thinking and a lot of dot connecting, so to speak, which is basically looking at the DNA of the brand because all brands have a DNA. There is a reason why the founders of those brands created those brands in the first place. They want to achieve what need they perceived at that time. And it's just more about productizing and operationalizing that context, that original intention. And what does that mean?
You need to consider what was the world like then, and then you have to say thank you to that and then see what the world is like now. And basically see if that brand was a baby with that DNA that was born in 2023, how would that baby look like and what would they do? So that's kind of keeping that core, but really creating different expression, modern expression, modern interaction. And then modern visual language and verbal handwriting because you know, things get dated. Nostalgia is not enough. Oh, well, kind of talking of nostalgia, I mean, you are a brand that has quite a lot of nostalgia with this three and going through quite a remarkable transformation there, like how's that going and where is it that you want to take that brand? Well, we are taking again the same thing that made this brand successful in the first place, the brand was unbelievably modern in a way that they used the photographers, Olivier Tuscani, real people in their campaigns. Like this was the eighties, the brand exists since the seventies, but it really came into that prominence in the eighties with that visual language of real people, of jumping, of not posing, of that pure optimism, pure human fun and optimism.
So we took that kind of modern aspect in also an aspect that the brand was very connected to society with a campaign. What would you do? I'm asking American teenagers, what would you do if you're in charge? And that was AIDS epidemic and there were some very mature and very relevant for that culture and society at that time answers very active participation in the world. So that's what makes a brand modern, to be actively present in the world, to actively participate in culture. And then that brand is also very playful. Always has been in design of its stores, in partnership with the Torres Sotsas, who is one of the founders of Memphis Design. And the clothes were very playful, the colors were playful, everything was made for movement, everything was made in pastels in oversized unisex. So that was also that something that, that the brand is known for that's playfulness. And then finally that brand was a cool brand. It was aspirational brand. Teenagers wanted to wear that brand. College students, young adults, they were all like, Oh my God, I wore a sprit to my prom. I thought I was the thing. Or I remember living in my black Esprit pants throughout the high school. So that's when that, you know, that gave people that sense of that they're happening, that they're cool. You know, so in that, we took those three things, playful, modern and cool, and then just are looking and re-looked what does that mean today and what is cool today, what is modern today, what is, how is playfulness expressed. But really at the core of the brand is that attitude that brand attitude that rules don't apply because the founders, the original founders and then later in Germany when the company was sold and moved from United States to Germany, they're basically reinventing the rules of the fashion game through their catalogs, through their styling, through their stores, through their overall communication and it was all very, very original. That said, yes, there are fashion rules, but then how do you move that? And all the best brands really become modern and cool and playful by breaking those rules. So if you're not anarchist, we don't break rules to break them, but it's also playing them. That playfulness comes through.
Paul: Okay. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. How do you actually translate that today, in today's environment? That's what you're trying to get across now. You've got the legacy, you've got what you want it to be going forward. Like how are you making sure that consumers today, particularly, you know, new consumers that may not, that weren't around in the seventies and eighties in that sort of era know who you are, who you stand for?
Ana: Different brand expressions and brand communication. So for us, it's very important to connect with the creative class and the creative class is basically you, for example. All those people who are carving their own work and the work that looks like leisure and leisure, that looks like work. And it's all that, that creative expression that you can make money off. And that basically is built on, on having a platforms to express yourself through different media, through different conversations and through different topics to different creative outputs. So it's important for us to connect as a brand to that creative class that's urban and global. And again, of all ages, but focused on creative employment, if you will, or creative labor, so to speak. So photographers, graphic designers, directors, podcasters, creative directors, art directors. We use the creative class in New York, representatives in our denim campaign for our denim relaunch. And it was unbelievably successful because at the same time, we know that to the real people campaign from the eighties, from 40 years ago, pioneering real people as pre real people campaign and to the fact that now we are all living in 24 seven marketing campaign, that we are all kind of featuring ourselves and promoting ourselves and we are all in our own campaigns. So we kind of connected with that current existence with the original intention. And that's one example, oral campaigns really embody that playful, modern, cool DNA of the brand. And so that was very important in the first year to really show people internally and externally, what the brand vision tangibly looks like, not just in a form or a presentation, but also as a video, as a story, as visual merchandising, as influencers that we are working with, as a content and creative output, as a campaign at the end of the day, as a social. So that is what we're doing this year. And then we started just now in Amsterdam last month, a European tour called Fandom. Fun, F-U-N, but like fandom. So it's kind of mixing what the brand stands for, being in the business of fun, but also capitalizing on Esprit's current and past fans.
Paul: And so what in your kind of thinking about, dow do you make that cool? So I'm kind of one end of that creative class, you've got WeWork stickers on a laptop that say hustle harder. And then the other end, you've got musicians and artists who are very, very cool. That's obviously a spectrum. How do you make sure that you land on the cool end of that rather than the sort of try hard end?
Ana: I think the most important thing is that we consider Esprit as a creative platform. And that creative platform includes creative collaborators of all kinds. So for example, in New York, a few weeks ago, we worked with the New York based photographer Kat Erlin. She has more than a million followers. She reached out to me, said, Hey, let's do something together. It was like, fantastic. Let's, let's shoot maybe a cashmere shop and an outerwear shop. You choose the models. You do the art direction, you go on the streets of New York, you retouch, you own that. And we are gonna feature that on our website, in our email, on our Instagram and so on. But that's what we wanna do. We wanna allow a lot of creative voices, that creative class to participate in the brand on their own terms, within that rules don't apply. So that's one recent example. The other is again, that fandom tour, because for example, for Amsterdam, we are always in each of the cities, we are tapping into cultural happenings that there, and in Amsterdam was a music festival and we have eight signature products as a brand. And one of the signature products is a track suit. And so we tapped into creators who interpreted that track suit through the rave culture of the 90s. It was entire installation. So you see, you start creating giving platform but then starting that dialogue with specific creators and their communities, their own fans in order to promote the idea how important fans are for the brand. So it's kind of very connected with, again, the community, the culture, and the creators in a very organic way and also in a way that everyone gets something out of it. We're not paying influencers to wear our clothes.
Paul: And that's so fundamental and something I actually bang on about a lot on the podcast, but just like it seems that every brand has missed the crucial value of an influencer in that someone who is going to influence another person to make a purchase, it isn't someone who's just been on the latest reality TV show. It is a real human who authentically loves the brand, wears the products day in, day out and is going to talk about it regardless of whether they're going to get paid or not. And it's that, like the authenticity that they come from a place of customer, they come from a place of fandom is the is like the basic premise. So how do you go about finding these people? Are you are you opening up the gates to any customer who wants to work with a spree to be a part of your journey and tell your story? Like, how's your approach to that?
Ana: Well, we usually like it's very organic in a sense that we see who comes to the brand. And usually people who come to the brand like Kat, for example, those people are excited about the clothes, they're excited about the brand, they're excited about what we are doing and we like that sort of a natural alignment, the same way you find friends, you know, you have some shared values, you have some shared interests, you have some shared aesthetic and taste. So that's what we are doing. And don't take me wrong, we also use influencers, but that's our media buy. That's completely separate of these building communities, building fans that we are doing through our European tour, that we are gonna do through American comeback tour. For that one, we really wanna expand what this brand is in contemporary culture. How do we participate in culture and what areas are important to us of creative expression and the creative class.
Paul: And so, shifting gears a little bit, talking of that creative class and talking about the different definitions, what is the premise of your book, The Business of Aspiration? And what is the aspiration economy?
Ana: Yes. So the main premise of my book, The Business of Aspiration, is basically how aspiration is different now today in 2023 and beyond than it was in previous decades or eras or cultural contexts and economic settings. So as humans, we always aspire to be better, to present ourselves as better, to acquire more, to know more. And that's very tightly connected with status signaling. So basically the business of aspiration, look how we decide what is aspirational for us and then how do we present ourselves as aspirants and signal that through our status. So the main idea of the book is that now we're moving not just towards intangibles, but towards taste as the core of the new aspiration, not having money to buy things, but having knowledge to know what to buy. And that knowledge to know what to buy goes back to the core of being part of a community, to curation and relationship with curators and all of us wanting to curate our life, our taste, and then also for brands. Because when we see brands collaborating with other brands, that is usually to create something that is unique, that is one-off and that is made for those who are in the know. And how do you expand that cultural clout for a brand? And then like the final thing is...
What is the role that content plays in all of that now that we are consuming not just physical products, but we can also signal our status by just taking a photo of a jacket without even buying a jacket, for example, or a pair of shoes without buying them, because that is how we curate our own presentation of taste. So that is that new aspirational economy when you have companies like Goop, for example, that is all about
Yes, everything is very expensive there, but you can learn about a lot of things. What is around the corner just by, by going there because someone curated that for you. And that's not the only company. A lot of brands are doing that. You've seen a lot of luxury brands collaborating with streetwear in the past. That's not that, that that's not that cool anymore, but five years ago, it was all the rage and then basically how that movement is really happening towards not justnbuying the luxury brands that anyone can have, but really having something that comes with a story that only you can tell, that's unique to you.
Paul: So how can brands actually play into that? So it's all like, I mean, I totally see that in terms of the thrift shopping mentality and the entire trend that people are trying to find these unique pieces that have, you know, they've been pre-worn. It's not that they went into a store or one of the e-commerce places, they did it, they hunted for that. And that's what makes it unique. And that's what they can show off their taste with because there's that narrative for it. But for a brand like Esprit or for any other brand who sells lots of the same piece and they want to sell as many of them as possible because they're a business, how can a brand play into this trend?
Ana: Well, that goes back to your first question of aspirational economy and what makes aspirational economy. So that means once companies were selling or trading in goods and services, they were And even experiences later on, if now they're trading in tastes, how do they create that cloud that is connected with the brand that is reflection of specific taste. And that's why as a Spree, we're looking to that connection with the creative class who have their own creative output. And we are presenting ourselves as intellectual property brand, as an IP brand rather than a retail brand. Which means that. Everything we do is really in the business of fun, in the business of entertainment. So that means that we are investing a lot in content creation. Even events are there to create content. Products are there to create content. Community and fans are there for content creation. And our job is to be in the business of fun, to entertain our customers. And if they're entertained, yes, it's great if they buy something, they're going to buy something. They're not going to go around, you know the world naked, but the whole thing is really to have that association with the brand because you're enjoying the content that we are putting forward and contributing to that content. So it's more like a movie studio rather than a retail brand.
Paul: That makes total sense. The brand is so much more than what they sell. They are what they stand for and by wearing that brand, you are displaying to your audience that you've got the same values as that. In your mind, who's doing really well? Who's killing it in this front?
Ana: Well, I really love what Mischief is doing. They're not a traditional brand. They label themselves as an art collective. And what they're doing, they're really poking fun at the consumer capitalism. And they're messing with a lot of brands. We're playing with the logos, playing with intellectual property and creating something new for the fun of it. And I think that is really like a fun new thing that brands really do as a future. I like what Cortez is doing in the UK as a brand with the secret drops. And we're basically doing the opposite of what current mass branding is. It's kind of making it as secret as possible, as much in the know as possible. And then I also like what Jacquemus is doing. I think that their content is unbelievably fun. And they have such a clear aesthetic territory and I love their marketing stunts as well as their visual puns of a product, the mini, mini bag and the trends they start. And then I also think that the Casablanca has a wonderfully optimistic and playful outlook as well as Loueva.
Paul: Amazing. It's such a great list and if everyone sort of check out. So kind of looking at the book answers, what is good for my brand long-term? How is this business decision going to impact our culture? What are the main objectives of growth then for a brand? Everyone talks about growth. In particular, there are many brands have VCs, have private equity pushing them towards growth. Do you think that those models, are actually, can they exist in this now modern day of the aspirational economy?
Ana: Nothing is going away. Everything has their specific role. So what exactly there are you interested in?
Paul: Yeah, well, I think so. I mean, for example, in your newsletter, you've talked about how VC investment and customer acquisition for brands doesn't work. So definitely the finance part is always going to be there. But if they're not spending at all on meta as for customer, what should that money be spent on and how should they approach that conversation?
Ana: I mean, brands always need to acquire customers. So the question is not what, it's really how, how do you acquire that customers? What are your time horizons? Why are you acquiring customers and overall, what is your overall timeline? And then how are you doing it again, going back to the original. So there are shortcuts, but shortcuts never work in the longterm. So customer acquisition that is based on performance media buys, it's a very, very effective, but it's very, very short term as well, because you need to put, be putting money in the leaking bucket in order to get results, the same time, the customers you acquire, you can get a lot of traffic. You can even get a lot of short term sales. If the price is right, if you're what you're offering is that sort of value proposition is right. But without having, without moving that relationship with a brand from being purely transactional to being emotional, what brand is at the end of the day, it's a story. It's an emotion. It's how you, how it makes you feel, how it makes you perceive yourself and how you want others to perceive you. Then a brand needs to keep spending in order to get the same level of traffic. And because performance marketing works so well on a short term, it becomes almost a drug for, for companies because they're like, Hey, our traffic is down. Let's put items, let's put products on sale and let's spend money on driving very cheap junk traffic. So that's kind of empty calories of, of junk food. Some of those customers are going to convert and become a long-term customer, so on. But usually that's not the case. Usually what you get, you get a short-term hit. So again, performance marketing is unbelievably important. Marketing tactic, unbelievably, a set of tactics, I should say. But it needs to work together with, it needs to cover the entire funnel basically. And it needs to amplify brand marketing and storytelling and loyalty and CRM and bonding advocacy that are happening deeper in the funnel or deeper in the customer journey. So it's a matter of being a marketing mix. And problem is not that, oh, what are the shortcomings of brand marketing and performance marketing? Problem is that they don't work together. Still to this day, that they usually sit in different departments. One sits under marketing, the other sits under e-commerce or whatnot, and they compete for a budget and they compete with each other and they don't amplify each other. And they have different time horizons and different goals and different, different KPIs. And that's a mistake. It's always a good idea to see what your goal is for each stage of the customer journey, what information they need, what do you need to get them? Sometimes you do need to like, Hey, I need so many people. I need awareness. I need the blast. I need like a just rush of traffic. But then you're going to have a KPI, but then you're going to connect that rush of traffic with a specific follow-up value add that's based on data. And that really activates the CRM and the loyalty tactics and really keeping people deeper in the funnel. And that's usually not the case. Again, that's like, we're always seeing tactical approaches versus strategic approaches. It looks at the full funnel and it looked at all media and marketing tactics, a brand's disposal to work in sync.
Paul: And not to ask too tactical a question, like how do you think teams should be structured for that? Because we do see that a lot. You've got performance teams, you've got brand teams, they don't even pass in the hallway yet there is a trend going on. And they're kind of being thrown together. They cross over on sort of social affiliaty programs and they're starting to build a relationship for the first time. How do you think that a brand can get around this idea of them being competing?
Ana: A lot of brands, for example, at Banana Republic, we had one team that was a marketing team that owned all media, the same at Esprit. Performance marketing and brand marketing, we don't look at it like that at all. We mostly look at it, what are our commercial goals, what are our brand goals, and what do we use to achieve that? What is our budget? What is the expected return on investment? And then we don't even look at return or advertising spend because brand marketing is not going to give you that on that time horizon. Obviously we look at where we can, but we define their KPIs very granularly, but also very strategically and very holistically. What is the brand goal? What is the business goal? How do we achieve that goal in terms of sales, in terms of traffic, in terms of conversions, and then basically reverse engineer from where we need to be. What, what looks like a success. And then we put different marketing tactics against that. That sometimes it's going to be paid social, sometimes it's going to be like boosting an organic posts, sometimes it's going to be an event. And usually it's all of that together.
Paul: Amazing. I love that. And so back in 2020, in your newsletter, you said that in the future, all companies are going to be Beacons. Now, speaking of someone who runs a B Corp company quite obsessed with this concept. We're kind of in the future since 2020, like how's that going? And how do you see that evolving over the next few years?
Ana: Well, what I meant by that is basically saying that right now, or back in 2023 years ago, which is a while ago now, is that when people, when companies do sustainability initiatives or equality, inclusion, community initiatives, social responsibility, corporate responsibility. Those usually sit in separate departments, in separate tabs on their website. And B Corp is a corporation that does social and environmental good and economic good at the end of a day as embedded into their P&L. So that's a difference that once all those initiatives become part of your P&L, you have dedicated people and then throughout the entire organization, not just sitting in one team, number one. And that becomes part of the business and brand goals. And annual, again, P&L report, and you have to calculate your actions and evaluate your actions from a business side and from the brand side, all of your actions, including your corporate responsibility actions, how do they contribute? So basically that becomes part of your business strategy and it becomes part of your brand strategy. If you are certified as a B Corp. If you're not, then it's not part of your brand strategy. It's not part of your business strategy. It's part of your corporate responsibility strategy and you measure success completely differently.
Paul: Do you think that in the future, every brand will have to become a B Corp brand so that they can be held accountable because they'd be side by side with other brands and if they're not a B Corp, then it makes them look bad?
Ana: Well, I think there are many ways to get there. Not every co company can be like, ah, we're a B Corp. I mean, like Patagonia can do that because the founders are truly really dedicated to their love for the outdoors. I mean, the guy is like a hiker. He, he kind of the entire world. He was like, you know, that he's a conservationist anyway. So that's kind of embedded in the values, but you have a lot of companies that are made to sell products and that's going to take a minute. And then especially. Then you look at especially wasteful industries like fashion, you're not going to be like, oh, we are totally green and then you create stuff in Bangladesh or wherever and it's made of polyester and it's polluting water and so on. However, looking like that is also not productive because I think that all companies are doing a lot and they understand that they have to do something. So when Esprit, for example, is creating sustainable, then name it's like saving water or recycled cotton or completely recyclable packaging.
So I think that we should celebrate efforts of companies that they are already doing while pushing them to do more. It's not something that you flip the switch and the model switches because they have ways of making money and it's about transition of those ways of making money. Again, it's really important to put all of that in P&L conversation and say, hey, if we switch to more sustainable models, this is going to be the loss, but then it's going to lock term and so on. So it's kind of becoming something that is part of the business conversation, not just social responsibility conversation.
Paul: Do you think that consumers are looking for it? Because I guess the kind of the quote is that every company is going to go that way. Do you think that actually those companies that aren't, because the way that the consumer is looking to buy right now is just not going to buy them, so therefore those companies will either adapt or die?
Ana: I mean, I don't think it's that clear cut because there are a lot of contradictions, as you know, Gen Z is very sustainable and, but they're also buying Zara. So I don't think humans are humans. Humans are full of inconsistencies. They have, they tolerate cognitive dissonance and resolve it in a way that makes them feel good about themselves. So I just think that it's important to have those conversations. I think it's important to have clear action plans and targets and all of that, but I just don't think that we should look at it so literally.
Paul: Yeah, I think that makes sense. The rise and rise of Shein is a testament to that. And so when you're kind of looking outwards for the next couple of years, I know that you've come to quite a lot in the way that the metaverse crosses over with brands. We're looking at aspiration, we're looking at something which is about more than what you can afford. It's about how you curate the image that you put on the world. Where do you see the major trends over the next 12-24 months going?
Ana: Honestly, I'm never into trends. I'm a sociologist, so I don't look at the short-term trends. I mostly look at what are the patterns and influences in culture and society. And what does that mean? What does that, what does those shifts in consumer behavior mean for brands? What does the cultural shifts mean for brands, economic and social? So I'm like, I can't tell you about the trends exactly, but we can talk over all that, like in the context of the new aspirational economy and what is new aspiration, you can deduct a lot of things, a lot of hypothesis that are possible to test and that we are seeing around that are explained by that new aspirational economy, aspirational culture. And so the sociology of business is your newsletter. How does that come about? Where do you see the intersection of sociology and business in your role as a sociologist? Again this goes back to our entire conversation because again brands are not just economic entities, beings that are focused on transaction. They're emotional, cultural, social beings, and brands are as well. They're cultural entities. They play a role of culture. They play a role of society. They provide employment. They connect with the communities. They interact with the environment. So in that sense, I think it's very hard to regard business without looking at sociology and vice versa, because when you look at sociological trends, adoption of innovation how influence spreads in society, how people are directed to like certain things and not like other things that has economic impact. And when you're doing business, you need to think, you operate in the world. You're not isolated. There is no such thing as a market. Market is always social.
Paul: That makes absolute sense. Okay, and so I mean, it's been amazing. Like Anna, where can people find you if they wanna learn more?
Ana: They can find me on Instagram. They can find me on threads. They can find me on X. They can find me on LinkedIn. But guys, subscribe to my newsletter, Sociology of Business, and go to Amazon and buy my book, The Business of Aspiration. That's the best way to find.
Paul: do both of those things. They're both amazing. Ana, thank you so much for your time. I've been looking forward to this for such a long time and it has definitely not disappointed. I've really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
Ana: Thank you very much for having me great conversation.