She may be known for casting off Ann Summers’ ‘raincoat brigade’ image and repositioning it as a female institution but Jacqueline Gold believes rebranding should be evolutionary rather than revolutionary
The 1980s were undeniably stuffy. Things were changing fast though and as women became increasingly empowered they were looking for ways to dial up the temperature in the bedroom. The trouble was they were too embarrassed to venture into high-street sex shops.
I knew we had to make some big changes if we were going to start appealing to women so I closed our existing high street shops and launched a more female-friendly party-planning model for the business. When we were ready to return to the high street, everything from the shop’s colour palette to the language we used was designed to put women at ease. This wasn’t just a cosmetic change.
But that was by no means the only time we’ve changed our positioning. What I’ve learned is that rebranding isn’t something you do every few years: it’s about evolution, not revolution. I’ve seen how quickly trends and social attitudes change; you have to adapt to stay relevant.
Because of this, successful rebranding requires you to understand your customer and touch base with them regularly. It’s a big mistake – not to mention hugely egotistical – to think you will always be representative of your customer and that what you want is what they want. Our target demographic has shifted over the years and our main audience tends to be younger. These women are sexually confident, digitally aware and fashion-conscious. To connect with them, we aim to be an extension of their lifestyle. We look at what’s on the catwalks, read what they read, watch the TV shows they watch and work with celebrities they care about. Partnerships with other brands like ASOS and House of Fraser have also gone a long way towards changing perceptions of our brand.
Understanding and listening to our customers in this way has spurred us on to be bolder or, at times, dial things back. In 2012, we launched a range of products to tie in with the 50 Shades of Grey franchise – a move that brought people who weren’t our typical customer into our shops. But while we don’t place too many restraints on what we do, we never want to be deliberately provocative. So when women told us they thought our 50 Shades window displays weren’t quite hitting the mark, we readjusted the campaign.
But while you are changing, make sure you don’t lose sense of your identity. We never want to lose our edge entirely. There is such a thing as being too acceptable.