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Kate Spade on How Clear Branding Wins in the Battle for Mindshare

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In any one day, there’s more content produced than can possibly be consumed in an entire lifetime.

That’s the hard reality Kate Spade EVP and chief marketing officer Mary Beech opened with during her keynote at Decoded Fashion NYC Tuesday, pointing what brands are up against when vying for consumers’ attention. And the time to grab a consumers’ attention is short—8 seconds, to be exact.

“We are living in a world of 24/7 activity,” Beech said, adding, “That’s an incredible amount of content to be competing with mindshare.”

With all of that noise, one thing Kate Spade has found to be true is that clarity of brand voice still wins. A brand has to be true to itself at every single touch point with its customer, from its call centers to its live chats to its product stores, it all has to deliver the brand voice.

“Every single thing you do is either a deposit to your brand or a withdrawal from your brand. Very rarely do you have a chance to be neutral,” Beech said.

Kate Spade, the fashion brand known for its playful appeal, is doing things a little differently than other brands.

How Kate Spade approaches its customer

For one, the company doesn’t define its customer by demographic, but by a mindset.

“We are so much more than a number on our driver’s license and we need to give our customers more respect than what that is,” Beech said.

Kate Spade defines its customer as quick, curious, playful and strong, and those qualities can come through at any age.

Sharing a story to drive the point home, Beech said three generations of women came into a Kate Spade store to shop together, each choosing product they loved and each enjoying the experience equally.

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“That 89-year-old woman has the same attitude about life as her daughter and her granddaughter,” Beech said.

Where Kate Spade is approaching its customer

Acknowledging that retail right now is more about catering to the consumer than it has ever been, Beech said, “We want to bring our brand and our customer wherever and whenever both are served best.”

Kate Spade’s customers’ journey tends to begin on mobile, but because some still don’t want to finish it there, the company is making the transition between channels as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

The company just started piloting an online appointment program in the last 30 days so customers who have been poking around online can make an appointment for tailored attention in the store.

“We still see that human touch is becoming even more important in a digital world,” Beech said.

For those who do want to buy online, shipping and returns are free for orders within the 50 states, and stores in many of Kate Spade’s markets even offer same day delivery for nearby consumers.

How Kate Spade branding delivers on experience

At Kate Spade, shopping is just as fun as the products are.

“Our stores are a moment of joy in our customer’s day,” Beech said. “It’s like a fantasy land.”

Kate Spade stores are designed to look like what its customers’ dream apartment would look like, complete with couches and rugs and throw pillows. Playful quotes sprinkle store walls and quotidian electrical outlets have notes next to them that say: “Shoes turn me on.”

In the shoe section of the store, fanciful floor mats make it look like the shopper is trying her shoes on on a diving board. Dressing rooms have backdrop options to encourage selfies that will make their way to Instagram and there’s a writing desk in the store where shoppers can sit and write out a handwritten note for a just-purchased gift.

What’s perhaps even more innovative is Kate Spade’s “Pack a Purse” station. Noting a woman’s need to know how the things she carries in her purse will fit into a new purse, the retailer decided to create a station where a shopper could pull a purse from a shelf and then pack it with headphones, any size of iPhone, water bottles, and the like—all in white and made of resin—and see how it all fits.

Customers are muses of the interesting life, Beech explained, and as such, store staff are trained to make the customer experience as enjoyable as possible first, with selling as a second.

Online, a personalization page lets shoppers pick a purse, add leather stickers, metal letters—even decide exactly where to place them—select the color of the bag, pick a strap, add a monogram and even a charm if they’d like.

How Kate Spade lives its own brand

At Kate Spade corporate, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see staff having cupcake parties, sipping champagne from time to time and generally just having fun, Beech said.

Staff at the company is 88 percent women, the interview process is a lot about what the candidate does in her personal life and whether that jives with the brand lifestyle and summer Fridays are given year round because, as Beech puts it, “We want people to go out and have an interesting life.”

The company supports the notion that it can’t be truly successful if it doesn’t know who it’s customer is on the inside.

“How you are on the inside as an organization should be the same as what you put out into the world,” Beech said.

Kate Spade carries its brand voice into trend-right technology

We’re entering the world of wearables, but for brands where pretty is prominent, unsightly or un-pretty tech isn’t going to translate to a wearable that the shopper is actually going to wear.

“Sometimes we’re so anxious to get the new technology out there that we forget about the brand voice,” Beech said.

So when it came to smartwatches, Kate Spade made one that does the standard linking to apps, tracking steps, sleep and other habits, takes selfies, controls music and alerts the wearer with a vibration. The difference is, the watch looks just like any other Kate Spade watch would (instead of something just tech-y), with champagne glasses spouting bubbles at 6:00 p.m., and its wearer can add a countdown to anything, like an upcoming vacation, and a little crescent fills up pink as the date draws nearer.

A bangle, that no one would know was a tech device without being told, also works as a tracker, connecting to the Kate Spade app, tracking habits, taking selfies and counting down to goals, among a slew of other things.

Content is king, but distribution is queen and she wears the pants

Calling on then BuzzFeed VP of Agency Strategy Jonathan Perelman’s quote from a few years back, Beech said content may still be king, but distribution is just as important.

Seventy percent of Kate Spade’s current media spend is in digital, not print, Beech said, adding that is shifting more and more each year.

The company is continuously looking for new ways to share product in a way that is fun and seems organic.

That was one impetus for the Kate Spade’s #missadventure film series showcasing the adventures of three comedians, explaining it on the website noting, “For these three ladies, every day is one long comedy routine.” On the #missadventures web page, consumers can click to shop product featured in the skits.

In the film, Kate Spade product is everywhere, but because the viewer gets caught up following the foolery the characters engage in, it’s like an advertisement that isn’t an advertisement at all.

“It’s like conducting an orchestra from behind,” Beech said of marketing in retail today. “There’s no more control in marketing because the consumer is in control.”