Vera Bradley Preps For Rebranding

Vera Bradley is shopping around for a reset. Revenue slipped 6% to $470.8 million in the most recent quarter, and the company has lost some favor with the crowd who once clamored for those colorful bags. The brand has drifted away from its original personality in small increments, says chief marketing officer Alison Hiatt. She’s spearheading a major rebranding effort for later this year. She tells Retail Insider how the Fort Wayne, Indiana-based company aims to recapture some sizzle.

Retail Insider: What’s behind the sales decline?

Alison Hiatt: Consumers are keeping us guessing. With the current macroeconomic challenges, it’s hard to sort out the different influences. Retail always keeps you guessing. But we are looking forward to turning a new page.

Retail Insider: How will rebranding help?

Hiatt: We're operating in two worlds. Right now, we are very much ourselves. Over time, brands sometimes move in a slightly different direction, maybe just an inch a year. All of a sudden, you pick your head up, and you're like, "Wait a minute. We’ve drifted too far."

So, we are in this shift back to where the brand started. We are uniquely multigenerational, which means we’ve got to keep that scope wide. We need to be relevant, modern and fresh to maintain that multigenerational love.

Retail Insider: Can you give us some hints about the rebranding?

Hiatt: I’ve been playing around with the word “reintroduction” because that may be more accurate. It’s more than just a new logo. It's an entirely different product line. It is a new in-store experience. It will be a new web experience that we hope will be felt across all channels and departments. It’s all-new, from beginning to end.

Retail Insider: Founded in the early 1980s, Vera Bradley’s first fans were boomers. Who is your biggest customer segment now?

Hiatt: Women in that 35-to-55-year-old group, which is a broad range. They are people in the thick of things. They’re busy. They may be establishing a career or a family or changing any of that. And it’s this bigger bucket of people because they influence the younger generation, perhaps because they buy things for them. But they also affect older generations, because they are so involved in their prime-of-life activities.

Retail Insider: How is your marketing approach changing?

Hiatt: We have done a great job forming relationships with our existing customers. I'm overwhelmed with the love that people have for this brand. We need to open up the lens a little and introduce the brand to newer audiences.

Retail Insider: What’s your marketing mix right now?

Hiatt: Digital, in all forms and fashions, is critical. Email is very important to maintaining relationships, as is social media. I look forward to putting us out there with bigger branding moments. We have a celebrity brand ambassador we're working with, with a unique sense of style similar to Vera Bradley. She’s known for being both fresh and very much herself.

Retail Insider: You’ve got a special challenge. On one hand, there’s a need to make Vera Bradley buzzy, hot and fashionable again. To keep growing, you also need to nurture your image as a staple. And you’ve got to do that in your 130 stores, your ecommerce site, and the thousands of wholesale doors.

Hiatt: Yes, and our outlet stores, as well. At its height, Vera Bradley spoke to a broad group. Not too high, not too low, but very stable. We were a constant companion to a woman's life, and she knew she could count on us for her day-to-day accessories and travel needs.

So how do we get back to being that tried and true? I've been studying that a lot, looking at what makes some brands endure over time. I keep coming up with a word that is so overused, I know, but it’s authenticity.

Being true to themselves helps brands ride out any storm. For Vera, that has always been letting women be who they want to be at that moment. This is their style, celebrating whatever moments she is having in life. That means our mission is to help her take it up a notch, like "Here’s a really fun bag for your weekend trip," something new for date night or a new crossbody bag. You have to evolve with fashion and tastes, but remember what keeps people coming back.

Retail Insider: What are some of those brands you admire?

Hiatt: I look at luxury brands because they are enduring. We are not saying that we're a luxury brand, but we aspire to bring something fresh and new. We tilt things ever so slightly. There are a lot of beautiful bags out there that people can choose from. And so, how do we stand out in that sea of sameness? In terms of traditional competitors, though, we’re up against every company that sells bags, from hard-sided luggage to purses and wallets. It spans a lot of players.

Next story loading loading..