diversity and inclusivity within the fashion industry

Marketing Lessons from Edward Enninful & Co: Strengthening the Brand Value of Vogue UK

Vogue UK’s March 2024 magazine edition has hit the shelves. Titled “Legacy”, I am not letting this moment slip by without commending the brilliant brand makeover that has been happening over recent years under the control of Edward Enninful.

Yes, I hear you (and I agree), the cover featuring 40 megastars was a little underwhelming, but I purchased the magazine anyway because it was Edward Enninful’s last edition he delivered as Editor-in-Chief. It has been so many months since I last bought a fashion magazine, that I forgot that one has to go through quite a lot of fashion ads just to get to the core content of the magazine – should I as a marketing professional not mention this? No, I don’t think so, frankly, it strikes me as profiteering somewhat, and is a little bit shameless too. Oh well… Anyway, it took approximately 30-pages to get to the contents page, and then just-under another 30 pages more to get to the Editor’s Letter. Truthfully, I never cared too much about Magazine Editors, but he was different with a capital D.

I got emotional when reading his Editor’s Letter yesterday. I recall how I would avidly purchase Vogue UK magazines as a teenager. If it meant skipping lunch to get one, I would. I knew what to expect and was in sync with when the new editions would drop. One day, in November 2017, something changed; and then, Adowa Aboah was on the cover for December 2017. I loved it so much because I liked her personality, and of course I also thought she looked gorgeous. I purchased it without putting much thought into it, but when I got home and started going through that issue, I became overwhelmed with emotions. I couldn’t make sense of it back then. I just did not realise how much I needed to see people who looked like me in “the fashion bible”.

From then on, diversity didn’t stop at Vogue UK; different ages, (dis)abilities, sexualities, genders, religions, ethnicities and body types were all beginning to be celebrated. Within one year of maintaining a graceful “don’t give me excuses when I know that it can be done easily” commitment to diversity, the change that I – along with countless others – observed whenever looking at the magazine selections in stores was wonderful.

Fast forwarding to today, the scene looks different and feels genuinely so. There’s so much that can be said about his great contributions to fashion during his editorship at Vogue UK, but I want to focus on rebranding.

Rebranding: Risks, Resistance & Rewards

Initiating change internally in an environment or culture that is notoriously resistant to it is not for the faint hearted. In the case of Vogue, a very well-established brand that is (one of) the best in its field, resistance to any change would not be hugely surprising.

What is going to happen to the existing customer base? What if there are objections from them, and how will that impact on how the brand is perceived by others? What about brand equity? Where is the certainty that differentiation will deliver a positive return in investment? And what is the back-up plan if things don’t work out? These are just a few questions that need to happen behind the scenes. They will clarify what your rebranding approach should be (full or partial) and how it ought to be implemented.

These discussions will reveal attitudes, preferences and biases for both the target market and employees, as well as partners (and advertisers). In Edward’s final Vogue UK Editor Letter, he lightly touches on this. To me, it was not surprising – but very peculiar; a dynamic market (such as fashion) needs to be matched with an open and dynamic attitude to adopt societal changes, not just visual trends.

The backlash Edward faced in the first few months of his editorship could have not been easy to endure. Today, he is undisputedly a key player in the improved rebranding of Vogue UK. He brought meaning in ways that profoundly differentiated the magazine from its competitors. He left long-lasting impressions in the minds of customers and other stakeholders. He changed attitudes and educated many along the way. It was a learning process for him also, and one that he addresses so beautifully in his last Vogue UK issue.

The initial step to rebranding and refining your brand is to understand the market. Research is key, but acting on those findings requires one to having the right people in your team (and a thick skin). Or bringing experts in to help you to navigate the intricacies of developing a brand strategy insightfully, robustly and credibly. One of the problems most businesses face is that they are too close to the wall face and also perhaps because work gets in the way all too often, and branding is put to one slide.

Repositioning: Responsibility & Relevance

Market research is a powerful way to identify (changes in) customer needs and potential opportunities. It might require you to go back to your purpose statements (mission, vision and legacy (if you have one)) as well as your stated views, values and vows to see if any change is required to (further) align and resonate where you stand with what your target audience believes.

With Edward, I felt that when it came to looking at the underlying causes and issues in the fashion market, he took a good look at these, and acknowledged how Vogue had (intentionally or not) contributed towards them. He understood the importance of Vogue; he knew that with power comes responsibility, and he knew that responsibility is nothing without accountability.

Professionally, businesses which understand their roles in shaping their industries, and society at large, are those most likely to stand out and succeed in today’s dysfunctional world. Businesses need to adopt a genuinely human-centric approach to resonate with their customers. In this case, the mission, vision and values that were adopted when Edward stepped in as Editor-in-Chief shaped every decision made at Vogue UK. Diversity became a non-negotiable belief – and rightly so, because why else are we living in this diverse world if it is not to acknowledge and better understand one another? Another word for diversity that I also like is inclusivity – it sort of suggests that we welcome everyone, and we know everyone is unique.

He may have not specifically said that, but he might as well have with how well that notion was consistently communicated through the updated Vogue UK brand.

Resonance: Realisations & Results

When it comes to brand strategy, the functional dimensions (i.e. the tangible results such as metrics and data that reveal the performance of products/services as well as customer satisfaction ratings) is not going to be robust without a credible foundation i.e., brand equity. Metrics and data are limited in how they are able to capture the intangible value and importance of a brand to its customers. Yet nobody can deny that it’s the experience that will lead to customer loyalty (or not). What thoughts, feelings and emotions are your brand evoking in your customers? These are the important connection points.

Another aspect to this is authenticity. What is your brand promise? And what value are you delivering to your customers over above the product or service they purchase? Let’s be real, you may have to test the waters a few times so to get it right, and that is perfectly normal because the best growth often comes with failures, not just successes – it’s a processing we call (not very scientifically) flip-flopping. With Vogue UK, being open about the challenges and sharing vulnerabilities served them greatly in furthering brand relatability. Their approach humanised the brand. Your commitment to aligning the actions of your brand along with its stated values is one that will require you to embrace transparency. The way that this deepens communication – and connectivity – with your target audience can potentially unlock other new opportunities too, naturally and cheaply.

Before Edward’s editorship, of course there were individuals and groups who protested for change. Many I do not know about. But here is what I do know for sure, they were all ripples in the market which set the right environment for Edward to be appointed to the position in the first place; differentiation and relevance were already in the works, even if unintentionally. But he was the one that made them count.

Consistency is another element to rebranding resonance, which links to maintaining coherence in communication across all brand touchpoints. With Vogue UK, the strategies involved were well-thought through. Very intentional. But most of all, purpose and service to a greater picture beyond putting together a magazine issue for sales.

A final few words…

And now that I have ran out of subheading ideas that continue the alliteration using the letter R solus, I have little choice but to wrap things up. From the November 2017 issue to the March 2024 issue, it is my contention that Edward Enninful & Co. did a wonderful job at Vogue UK, delivering a branding masterclass that has had a huge impact on the way many of us see the world, both directly and indirectly. In short (and how the youth of today would say), he “understood the assignment”. This is an interesting point, change is not made by those who make it, they simply tap into the psychological of the target market and allow them to see the changes that they have been waiting for, sometimes (often) without even realising it. Now if that isn’t an exciting reason to start relooking at your brand, I don’t know what is.

Reflecting on how the final issue is skilfully handing over the baton to the next Editor-in-Chief, the hugely talented Chima Nnandi, I look forward to seeing how Vogue UK will develop. And more so, what Edward Enninful has up his sleeves for his next project as Vogue’s Global Creative & Cultural Advisor.

Looking for help with your brand? Contact Stephen@AbacusMarketing.co.uk today to find out more about how we can help you to achieve your goals.