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Calvin Klein’s Approach-Avoidance E-Commerce Challenge

April 5th, 2009

Like the CEO of any business that annually sells some $6 billion of merchandise globally, Murry said he’s concerned about the economy now. But he sees a bright spot, with many less-deep-pocketed rivals in serious risk of shutting down. “That increased marketshare is giving us a bigger slice of a smaller pie,” he said. When—if?—the smoke clears from the economic fallout, Murry said, his hope is that his brand will emerge much stronger.

But from a strategic marketing perspective, Calvin Klein’s approach-avoidance relationship with E-Commerce and New Media is fascinating. First, of top consumer brands, Calvin Klein is among those most associated with youth. (We’ll try and avoid suggesting that if their consumers were actually as young as their models, they’d do fine.) And yet, it’s the subtle aging of the department store shopper that has Calvin Klein’s people most worried.

Like so many businesses, that worry is well-founded. Youth buzz is based on two factors: marketing and brand reputation (advertisements of all kinds); and purchases of peers that are seen as trend-setting. That means that a slight drop in marketshare in that demographic can very quickly mushroom into an irreversible plummet.

The youth market has another infuriating attribute: The relentless drive for something new and different. The mere fact that a brand is popular with parents—or even much older siblings—can label it as old and insufferably uncool. So a strong marketshare with one age grouping might actually be a disadvantage with the next younger grouping. (Full disclosure: My 11-year-old daughter would want me to point out that anyone listening to my insights on what is and isn’t cool for today’s youth probably needs to be a lot pickier about their influences. Full disclosure complete.)

But the retail marketer’s struggles with understanding the young consumer is hardly new, as Gen Y strategies tend to be contradictory. Indeed, some recent E-Commerce stats tend to reinforce the marketing notion that social media (Twitter, Youtube, Myspace, Facebook, etc.) and mobile is a far more effective tactic than E-Commerce. Not so sure I fully buy into that, but those numbers do tend to raise some frightening questions.

Back to Calvin Klein’s approach-avoidance.


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