Clarks footwear brand, established in 1825, has customers of all generations. How does it differentiate its offerings to them?
All brands have to have an eye on the next generation, on those who will hopefully be their most loyal customers 20 years down the line. But how do you go about winning these new customers when your brand is, certainly to generations of Britons, associated with the dreary ritual of buying school shoes at the end of the summer holidays?
As Giles Delafeld, global CIO of Clarks [IRDX RCUK], acknowledged while speaking at InternetRetailing Conference 2017, this is a constant challenge for the long-established show manufacturer and retailer. “Typically, most will think of Clarks as a brand you go to when children have their first shoes,” he said. “We know that increasingly when a child is perhaps eight or nine, sometimes sooner, they are now much more brand aware.” At this point, he said, young consumers, worried that Clarks aren’t seen as cool, often want to switch to other brands. At the other end of the age range, the perception that Clarks shoes are both made to high standards and comfortable plays into their popularity amongst an older demographic. These are customers in their 60s, noted Delafeld, who will often want to buy more or less the same pair of shoes they purchased last time around.
This doesn’t sound too promising when it comes to winning over new customers, yet Clarks also has a sizeable following amongst consumers in their 20s and 30s. To understand why, it’s instructive to look at the history of Clarks Wallabees, moccasin-style suede shoes with a crepe soul first launched in the 1960s. In 1993, New York hip-hop collective Wu-Tang Clan released their debut album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The Clan’s nine members, it turned out, were Wallabee aficionados. Fast forward a few decades and both Kanye West and Drake have been spotted sporting Wallabees. Clarks has sought to make the most of such associations though its Clarks Originals sub-brand, which has the tagline “Iconic. Authentic. Individual”. Certainly in Britain, this builds on shoppers’ sense of familiarity with Clarks and positions the brand as eternally stylish rather than fashionable. “This is a brand that’s been innovating for nearly 200 years,” said Delafeld of the company’s efforts here.
This innovation extends to embracing new digital techniques. “Technology and digital need to be deeply embedded in the organisation,” said Delafeld, adding that companies need “a digital mindset”. Accordingly, Clarks recently launched its UK website to be a mobile-first offering, even though it still expects older customers to favour desktop ecommerce. Further challenges lie ahead when it comes to winning younger customers. Talking about millennials’ love of rich online content, Delafeld pointed out that “great content” can be too immersive and impact on sales when it’s presented within an ecommerce environment. Better, he said to strive for the balance between “content worth reading that enhances your brand” and content that drives sales.