When you think of the fashion industry, leggy models,
fast and fickle trends, and the latest “it” bag may come to mind.
But when you look closely at the business of fashion (after all, it
is an industry), you see that one of its leading icons
uses basic branding principles to engage her consumers in
innovative ways, expand her portfolio, grow ROI, and most
importantly, remain relevant and differentiated in an
ever-changing, copycat industry.
As you may have guessed, this leading fashion icon is Anna
Wintour, the British-born editor in chief of American
Vogue who has sternly, yet gracefully, transformed the
magazine into the industry standard for fashion publications, if
not the voice of fashion itself. The character Carrie Bradshaw on
Sex and the City put it eloquently, “When I first moved to
New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I bought Vogue
instead of dinner. I found it fed me more." This sentiment
epitomizes the strength and influence of the Vogue brand.
Anna’s journey began in 1988: The once-mighty Vogue was
losing revenue and market share to new magazine, Elle. So
the powers that be called on publishing alpha-editor Anna Wintour
to helm the magazine.1 Her unwavering vision proved the
perfect strategy to establish Vogue as the definitive
voice of the fashion industry.
So what can brands learn from Anna Wintour? I’ve extracted from
her story 10 key insights to ensure your brand’s success.
Insight No. 1: Consistently execute a clear
Wintour has forged Vogue as a visionary-led brand. Her
vision—trendsetting, aspirational, sophisticated, elegant, ahead of
the curve, the fashion bible—is consistently executed across all
consumer touchpoints, from the magazine itself to the photographers
and models, the celebrities that grace each month’s cover, and
online at Vogue.com. Wintour’s management style is often critiqued,
think The Devil Wears Prada, but Vogue’s prestige
is never questioned.
Brand benefit: Although Vogue and Anna
Wintour have become essentially synonymous, the Vogue brand stands
on its own. Wintour was able to implement her vision while
retaining the integrity of the magazine’s legacy.
Insight No. 2: Innovate but stay true to your
Wintour has a flair for the unconventional—she spearheaded the
“high-low” fashion trend now commonplace in the industry. Her very
first Vogue cover featured a young model wearing a $10,000
jewel-encrusted T-shirt paired with a $50 pair of jeans. The mixing
of high with low was born.1
Brand benefit: This is creativity and
innovation at its best. Vogue reached an untapped
demographic, the aspirational consumer, without alienating the
magazine’s built-in affluent consumer base. Wintour was able to
appeal to both segments without jeopardizing Vogue’s brand
Insight No. 3: Be provocative and push
Calling a halt to the supermodel era, Wintour opted instead to
feature celebrities on the cover of Vogue.
Brand benefit: Now celebrities widely consider
Vogue’s annual September issue the most coveted magazine
cover on which to appear. The biggest to date, Vogue’s
2007 September issue weighed in at five pounds and is the subject
of a documentary (appropriately entitled The September
Issue), which chronicles the blood, sweat, tears, and sequins
that went into creating it.1
Insight No. 4: Have purpose
Wintour isn’t just about glitz and glam, she also gives back to
the community, and she knows Vogue’s brand should stand
for something greater than how to dress, where to shop, where to
travel, what to read, where to eat, and with whom to associate.
Brand benefit: Wintour tied Vogue’s brand
purpose to a public platform by helping raise over $50 million for
charity through her fundraiser with the Metropolitan Museum of
Art’s costume department. In 2009, she famously helped found
Fashion’s Night Out as a way to stimulate New York City’s economy
following the financial crisis, an event that has since gone
Insight No. 5: Define the curve
Wintour has used her influential position to be an evangelist
for young and emerging designers, playing an integral role in
launching the careers of Marc Jacobs and the late Alexander
Brand benefit: Thanks to Wintour, scouting the
new and next big thing is an industry standard, demonstrated by
events such as GenArt and fashion shows like Bravo’s Project
Runway and NBC’s Fashion Star. “New” and “next” are
now highly sought-after brand attributes in an industry that
previously heralded convention and tradition. It has become a
coveted rite of passage for emerging designers to be featured in
Insight No. 6: Engage your employees
If Wintour didn’t coin the phrase “employee brand engagement,”
she should have. Employees understand and execute the Vogue culture
perfectly, from what they wear to where they party. This culture,
directly dictated by Wintour herself, establishes working atVogueas
a way of life rather than merely a job.
Wintour is known for saying, "Well, I am very driven by what I
do. I am certainly very competitive. ... I like people who
represent the best at what they do and if that turns you into a
perfectionist then maybe I am."2 This sentiment trickles
down through Vogue and inspires each employee to strive
Brand benefit: Vogue employees are
brand ambassadors. They live the company culture they understand
the Vogue brand, and they represent it well in everything
Insight No. 7: Be transparent
By allowing the cameras to follow her while producing the
largest September issue in Vogue’s history, Wintour made a
smart and strategic move in a world of social media, reality
television, and a societal call for transparency.
Brand benefit: Every brand must be able to look
introspectively at itself and be accountable to its
customers—accountability leads to trust, which leads to loyalty.
And ultimately, loyalty turns consumers into brand ambassadors and
Insight No. 8: Stay mindful of the company you
Wintour’s entourage includes some of the most influential people
in fashion and entertainment. André Leon Talley, Zac Posen, Marc
Jacobs, and other top industry experts count themselves part of her
Brand benefit: Strategic alliances and
collaborations are key to a brand’s survival and ability to
Insight No. 9: Create need by adding value
An actor, musician, or artist can easily go from B-list to
A-list just by being featured on the cover of Vogue.
Gracing Vogue’s cover is seen as a rite of passage for
many celebrities, which only a select few are ever able to
Brand benefit: Wintour has beautifully mastered
creating and maintaining Vogue’s relevancy not only within
the fashion world but in the entertainment industry as a whole.
Everyone wants to be associated with the brand.
Insight No. 10: Stay relevant and
Daring to be different, consistently delivering innovative
ideas, creating an engaged employee community and culture, and
exerting her vision are all aspects of the branding business that
Wintour has seamlessly executed and that have stood the test of
Brand benefit: Endurance. More than two decades
after Wintour took charge,Vogue is still the industry
These branding insights are not just smoke and mirrors; they
lead to tangible and monetary results. Many believe that fashion is
art, and thus hard to quantify, but American Vogue was
named the “2011 Magazine of the Year” by Advertising Age.
It beat out top contenders such as The Economist,
Time, and Vanity Fair and gave Vogue a
quantifiable result for its business and branding savvy. Under
Wintour’s wing, the magazine increased its January-to-October ad
pages by more than 9% and propelled its newsstand component by
nearly 13% during the first half of 2011. And once
again, with 584 pages worth of advertising space, its September
issue did not disappoint. 3
Perhaps Wintour took her business acumen cues from Coco Chanel,
who famously said, “Fashion passes, style remains.”4
Just as varying marketing tactics may pass, basic branding
etiquette and strategy never go out of style.
1 “Anna Wintour biography,” Bio, biography.com/people/anna-wintour-214147?page=1
(accessed 2 August 2012).
2 “Anna Wintour, Behind the Shades,” CBS News (17 May 2009), cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-6521340.html
(accessed 2 August 2012).
3 “US Vogue is magazine of the year,” The Telegraph (6 October
(accessed 2 August 2012).
4 “Coco Chanel,” British Vogue,
(accessed 2 August 2012).
© 2012 Landor Associates. All rights reserved.