What your brand can learn from Anna Wintour

August 29, 2012
Landor staff

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 vision

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 identity

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 heritage.

Insight No. 3: Be provocative and push boundaries

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 global.1

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 McQueen.

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 Vogue.

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 for perfection.

Brand benefit: Vogue employees are brand ambassadors. They live the company culture they understand the Vogue brand, and they represent it well in everything they do.

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 word-of-mouth marketers.

Insight No. 8: Stay mindful of the company you keep

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 inner circle.

Brand benefit: Strategic alliances and collaborations are key to a brand’s survival and ability to grow.

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 accomplish.

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 differentiated

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 time.

Brand benefit: Endurance. More than two decades after Wintour took charge,Vogue is still the industry standard.

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 2011), fashion.telegraph.co.uk/article/TMG8811407/US-Vogue-is-magazine-of-the-year.html (accessed 2 August 2012).

4 “Coco Chanel,” British Vogue, vogue.co.uk/spy/celebrity-photos/2009/07/17/coco-chanel-quotes-and-photos/gallery#/image/4 (accessed 2 August 2012).


© 2012 Landor Associates. All rights reserved.


AWby Timothy Greenfield

TOP: Anna Wintour’s first Vogue issue from 1988 (left) and the 2012 September issue featuring Lady Gaga (right).

ABOVE: Anna Wintour

All images courtesy of Vogue.com

Industries: Fashion
Choose one:
Share Facebook Twitter Google+LinkedInEmail