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Two Worlds Collide at Ralph Lauren – Mass & ‘Class’

The Ralph Lauren brand needs to be rescued from itself.  This once iconic American luxury brand has fallen on hard times, taken down by a failed strategy to extend itself down from high-end into the mass-market.  These two worlds collide and have done in the brand.

With ‘authentic’ Ralph Lauren polo shirts offered in its Polo Ralph Lauren line for $85 at its namesake boutiques, and available widely discounted by upwards of 50% elsewhere, who is going to trade up to its Purple brand offering at $350?

Too few, and that is the essential problem, when we asked a jury of Ralph Lauren’s peers to give their perspective on what’s wrong at Ralph Lauren and what can be done about it.

Said simply, “The off price products and many channels of Ralph Lauren create confusion and raise questions for the customers – what is the real price that I should proudly pay for polo shirt?”

The result is the Ralph Lauren brand has become irrelevant and that in today’s hyper-competitive fashion world that means death.  “Market saturation inevitably leads to habituation. Habituation leads to irrelevancy,” commented one of our respondents.  “All this coupled with new consumers, new buying beliefs, habits, and choices has caused the Ralph Lauren brand to become unimportant.”

Ralph Lauren hit the mark 20 plus years ago and lost its relevance since then.

The brand has become too old, stuck in the 1990s while the customers have moved on.  Young people view it as their ‘grandma’s’ brand, not their own.  “Brand needs a less staid feeling.  It seems like nothing ever changes and nothing’s new even when it is new.  How many different ways can you make a cable sweater or polo shirt or khakis?”  explained one survey respondent.  “American style is fresh and ever changing.  Ralph Lauren hit the mark 20 plus years ago and lost its relevance since then.”

A number of people pointed to luxury brands like Hermes, Prada and Chanel as brands that Ralph Lauren should aspire to.  “Ralph Lauren is classic, but no longer aspirational. Compare it to another classic brand like Chanel, which maintains an equally classic brand equity, yet is continuously perceived as fresh and trendsetting. Ralph Lauren has not managed to evolve its image in line with current trends,” was heard.

And another, “It is tough to be luxury and mass market. They need to decide where they want to be.  If luxury, look at Prada and Hermes’ business models–they are still doing well in a tough retail climate.  Luxury to me is exclusivity.”

Ralph brought his own unique creative talent and aesthetic to his business. As soon as he stepped away, those aspects were lost.

Finally, as the recent upheaval in the Ralph Lauren management ranks testifies too, the brand’s corporate culture takes a good deal of the blame for its current state.  Ralph has become insulated from his customers, out of touch with what is really going on in his corporate kingdom.  “Ralph brought his own unique creative talent and aesthetic to his business. As soon as he stepped away, those aspects were lost,” said one.

And another with personal experience inside the company said, “Ralph needs to surround himself with people that are honest and will be truthful instead of only telling him what they think he wants to hear. If they want to really change, Ralph Lauren needs to PERSONALLY get in there and see what is happening…with his eyes, not his ears…because those working for him DO NOT TELL HIM THE TRUTH.”

In other words, the emperor has no clothes.  But the rest of the world has way too much.

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