Stitch Fix, the online personal shopper clothing brand, has a problem. The brand is losing active customers, closing warehouses, laying off staff and is bringing back its founder as CEO to right the ship. Data indicate that since the height of pandemic shopping, Stitch Fix lost 95% of its value. The Wall Street Journal states that the huge decline in Stitch Fix’ valuation is due in large part to becoming a brand that is “everything to everyone.” In other words, Stitch Fix’ dilemma is due to serious mission creep.
In marketing, mission creep is the expansion of a brand beyond its original vision, promise or ambition. Mission creep is when a brand expands while losing focus on its core.
Regardless of whether the brand is healthy or failing, it is essential that the main core business be protected and cultivated. Keep the heart of the brand alive and restore it to health. When the heart stops, the business dies. With Stitch Fix, the main core business was an online, subscription, personal shopping service where anyone could have their own personal shopper to select and organize their wardrobe. A subscribed customer filled out a questionnaire, an algorithm kicked in. And, then, a human “stylist” curated a personalized box of clothing. Once delivered to the customer, the customer could keep (buy) all or some of the clothing or send back what is not wanted.
Somewhere post-PO and post-pandemic, Stitch Fix took its eye off of the brand’s core identity. Stitch Fix did not figure out how to make the core newly relevant and differentiated in a new era of shopping behaviors. Instead, the brand’s focus wandered away from the core.
Brand management is an ongoing process. Leaders must continuously focus energies on communicating, implementing, nurturing, developing, enhancing, and reinforcing the brand’s core purpose. Stand up for something special or you stand for nothing. Be the best at something relevant and differentiated. Never compromise quality in the name of efficiency or availability.
Losing focus on the core happens more frequently than you might imagine. Thinking the grass is greener with different brands and/or different market segments is death-wish marketing.
For example, when McDonald’s business started to decline in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the brand expanded by buying a host of other restaurant brands: Donato’s Pizza, Boston Market, Pret A Manger and Chipotle. It was a “BOB” strategy – Believe in Other Brands. Additionally, the brand increased the number of restaurants by 50% over 10 years. At an analyst meeting in 1998, then chairman and CEO, Michael Quinlan’s plan for new stores was equivalent to opening a new store every four hours.
Another, more current example is Meta. Meta is focusing more on the metaverse and less on Facebook.
There is no doubt that Stitch Fix implemented a mission creep approach to profitability. When brand-business was losing steam, the CEO looked everywhere. In 2016, Stitch Fix expanded to men’s wear. In 2018, Stitch Fix expanded to children’s wear. In 2019, The brand expanded into the UK. And, in 2019, Stitch Fix created Stitch Fix Freestyle, an a la carte service now open to new customers. According to The Wall Street Journal’s “Heard On The Street” analysis, none of these expansions did anything positive for the bottom line. When the brand wants to be for everyone, it becomes a brand for no one special.
But, not only has Stitch Fix lost its focus on its core, Stitch Fix continues to have a branding problem that is exacerbating its ability to manage. Stitch Fix must figure out how all of its offerings – men’s, children, Freestyle – relate to each other within the Stitch Fix brand portfolio while continuing to enhance and relevantly differentiate the Stitch Fix core brand promise. What is the Stitch Fix brand corporate brand architecture?
Brand architecture is the brand identity approach used to define the relationship of each Stitch Fix brand offering to another in a portfolio. The Stitch Fix corporate brand expresses the authority (quality, leadership, trust, expertise) of Stitch Fix as a personalized online shopping experience. What are the relationships of each of these additional “brands” to one another and to the corporate promise?
This really matters.
How you manage your brands is how you manage your business. Brand management is business management and vice versa. Brand architecture provides a framework for job descriptions and assignments, resource allocation, communications, market research, media, brand loyalty and brand power. Brand architecture helps customers sort out if a particular brand is for them. When there is more than one brand, customers want to know the benefits to expect from each brand. Customers do not care about the strategies; they just want to know about the expected experiences.
Brand architecture is significant because it dictates how resources are allocated. It also provides clarity of brand management. Brand architecture provides a strategic framework.
Analysts are worried about Stitch Fix’ forward strategy. Is the plan to focus on Stitch Fix? What will be the relationship between Stitch Fix and Stitch Fix Freestyle, for example? What is the future of this pioneering brand? How do these other offerings relevantly differentiate Stitch Fix from other retail options, whether online or brick-and-mortar? Is the original Stitch Fix proposition still viable?
The Stitch Fix mission creep has rendered the brand more of a commodity than a relevant differentiated experience. Walking away from its core promise of providing anyone with a clothing stylist, curator and personal shopper left Stitch Fix at parity with any department store or clothing provider. Additionally, among the strategic plans that need to be articulated is this: Stitch Fix must adopt and manage its portfolio against a desired brand architecture. The brand must decide now what the offerings will be in the future and how these offerings will be managed. How you manage your brands is how you manage your business.