Burberry’s Rebirth: From Disjointed Luxury to Global Icon

burberry trench

Burberry’s revival highlights the need of maintaining core identity while embracing innovation and digital transformation.

In 2006, Angela Ahrendts took the helm at Burberry, a brand steeped in heritage but facing an uncertain future. Despite its iconic trench coat and illustrious past, Burberry lacked focus and struggled to capitalize on its strengths.

Ahrendts saw a troubling sign during her first strategic planning meeting. Many key executives flew in from around the world, yet none wore a Burberry trench coat. This seemingly minor detail exposed a deeper issue – a disconnect between the brand’s identity and its internal culture. Burberry, with its rich history, was growing at a sluggish 2% annually. The brand had strayed from its core offerings and lacked a cohesive global presence.

  • Losing Luxury’s Essence:

Burberry’s strategy had become diluted. Franchises offered everything from dog leashes to kilts, sacrificing brand consistency for a scattershot approach.

Ubiquity, Ahrendts realized, was the enemy of luxury. Burberry needed to reclaim its essence and establish itself as a true global luxury brand. This was no easy feat, considering competitors like LVMH and PPR dwarfed Burberry in size.

  • Building a Cohesive Brand Experience:

Ahrendts recognized the power of a consistent brand experience. Think of a latte – you expect the same taste and presentation anywhere you order it. Burberry, however, offered a disjointed experience across its stores. For instance, the Hong Kong design team focused on polo shirts and check-patterned accessories, neglecting the brand’s core – outerwear.

The solution was centralization. Christopher Bailey became the sole design director, ensuring a unified vision for Burberry. Additionally, Ahrendts streamlined operations, consolidating design teams and refocusing production on the company’s Yorkshire weaving facility, renowned for its heritage and quality.

  • Reclaiming the Trench Coat Legacy:

Burberry was founded on innovation, with Thomas Burberry creating the trench coat for British soldiers in World War I. Despite its rich history, outerwear accounted for a mere 20% of Burberry’s business when Ahrendts arrived. Luxury brands, she observed, often built their success on a core product – Louis Vuitton with luggage, and Gucci with leather. Burberry, uniquely, was neglecting its legacy.

Ahrendts recognized the trench coat’s potential. It symbolized not only Burberry’s heritage but also its commitment to quality and craftsmanship. The brand reinvested in the trench coat, expanding its offerings with new styles, colours, and materials. This innovation, however, wouldn’t succeed without proper storytelling.

  • Reaching New Audiences:

Burberry shifted its marketing focus to millennial luxury consumers, a group that rivals largely ignore. This generation craved unique experiences and a connection with brands. Burberry responded with a digital-first strategy. Websites were consolidated, and artofthetrench.com, a social media platform celebrating the trench coat, was launched.

The brand’s message resonated with millennials. Burberry’s website, filled with engaging content like music, films, and brand history, became a crucial touchpoint. Understanding the importance of digital, Burberry ensured its platform attracted more visitors than all its stores combined.

  • Living the Brand Identity:

The transformation went beyond marketing. Sales staff received extensive training on the heritage and craftsmanship of Burberry products, particularly the trench coat. iPads and audio-visual aids showcased the meticulous hand-rolled collars and intricate stitching, fostering a deeper connection between customer and brand.

Burberry’s commitment to its heritage extended to its leadership. Top executives proudly wore Burberry trench coats, embodying the brand they represented. This authenticity resonated with employees and customers alike.

The Success

Burberry’s transformation was a success story. After years of effort, the brand regained its footing. By 2011, Burberry was among the world’s fastest-growing brands. More importantly, Burberry had reconnected with its core identity, becoming a global luxury icon without compromising its rich heritage.

And the trench coat remained at the heart of Burberry’s brand. It wasn’t just a garment; it was a symbol of the brand’s journey—a testament to its ability to adapt and thrive in a competitive marketplace. 

Burberry’s remarkable turnaround serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of staying true to one’s core identity while embracing innovation and digital transformation.

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