Three Branding Lessons from Giorgio Armani

By Vanessa De Nardi

We live in an age of disruption and as economies, technologies and attitudes continue to change, so too does the art of branding.

Opinion Piece

We live in an age of disruption and as economies, technologies and attitudes continue to change, so, too, does the art of branding – or so conventional wisdom holds!

As the proliferation of start-up brands demonstrates, today’s workforce and consumer increasingly favours self-employment and entrepreneurialism as an outlet for their individual creativity.

In the climate of innovation and renegade thinking that results, it’s a common mistake to dismiss legacy brands as out-dated, irrelevant and lacking the agility to adapt. However, this ‘let’s throw away the rule book’ attitude may actually be the reason why so many start-up brands, notwithstanding their grandiose intentions, not only fail to bring the disruption they promise but just fail – pure and simple.

Easily overlooked is the uncomfortable fact that, through trial and error in its path to success, the ‘establishment’ has often acquired invaluable baked-in know-how, which should perhaps be used more respectfully as a reference for good branding practice.

Love it or hate it, Giorgio Armani has stood the test of time as a luxury fashion brand and has sustained its position as one of the most respected brand names in the luxury industry, not to mention one of the most valuable fashion enterprises in the world. So, taking Giorgio Armani as an example, what lessons can other brands learn as they look to grow and strive for greater commercial success? Among many possible learnings, here are three I find worthy of note:

1. Singularity of Vision
Giorgio Armani founded his eponymous brand in 1975 with a clear market proposition built on his unique personality and tastes. As a brand that from the outset has had a solid understanding of who it is and what it stands for (quality, class and exclusivity), Armani has created a coherent, powerful and differentiating identity. While some may criticise Armani’s regular collections as monotonous or safe, the brand consistently delivers a design clarity that believes in luxurious simplicity and extols what the ‘Made in Italy’ label represents.

Not every brand has the fortune of a hub of creative endeavour in the form of a founding visionary (although it’s interesting to note that Giorgio Armani had no prior experience in fashion design and yet has managed to build an impressive empire based on his unique creative talent). However, what every brand requires in order to have any chance of success is a clear sense of self so that the products or services delivered become a truthful artefact of said identity.

It’s this unshakable singularity in vision as evidenced in Giorgio Armani that brands should aspire to emulate in defining who they truly are, what makes them different (from their competitors) and special (to their audience).

2. Strategic Brand Expansion
Whenever a brand gains popularity and acceptance from one target audience in its core business, the obvious next step is to charter new waters by venturing into adjacent industries, markets or segments.

By exercising fashion and luxury industry knowledge, Giorgio Armani has successfully grown his brand from a signature menswear label into a luxury fashion empire with multiple brands, which include Armani Privé (Haute Couture), Giorgio Armani, Armani Collezioni, Emporio Armani, Armani Exchange, Armani Jeans, Armani Junior, Armani Casa and Armani Hotels & Resorts, the brand extension that Luxury Branding was responsible for conceptualising and defining.

While some snobs may turn up their noses at the diffusion brands with lower price points for diluting brand equity, there is no denying that the brand management of Giorgio Armani is an exemplary. Having created a brand presence in several lucrative sectors by leveraging existing capabilities and fashioning a brand architecture with clearly delineated sub-brands, Giorgio Armani has grown to become Italy’s second-biggest fashion brand generating an annual revenue of €2.65 billion in 2015.

And while positionings and propositions may differ across the brands, in all instances Giorgio Armani’s personal philosophy and signature qualities of elegance, sophistication and comfort have been applied to ensure a consistent Armani experience.

Accordingly, when considering brand expansion, brands would benefit from the same level of strategic thinking as Giorgio Armani to avoid making poor decisions that may cause brand over-stretch, customer alienation or cannibalisation.

3. Exquisite Execution
To quote Giorgio Armani himself, “the difference between style and fashion is quality” and in fact, one of the brand’s three core pillars is quality. Ultimately a brand must deliver on its promise through performance. Giorgio Armani has done something phenomenal to move the history of fashion and change the structure of the way we dress. On its journey to earning much renown in the industry for its modern aesthetic and ability to translate relevant themes and trends into fashion, the brand has never compromised on quality. Through its superior design and operational management, Giorgio Armani has maintained its status as a true luxury brand.

It’s therefore important to remember that “the proof is in the (execution of the) pudding”, so no matter how perfectly you construct your brand from a theoretical standpoint, if you don’t deliver in line with the expectation of your market, then your audience will look elsewhere.

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