A friend of mine received this Coach bag for her birthday. She praised the great shape, the dual textures, the leather quality, even the weight: “A bag by another brand would be heavy and annoying to carry around.”At $258, the bag is a decent value in line or below midrange competitors Kate Spade, Michael Kors, and Tory Burch. “I’m probably going to take off the Coach label, though.”

Coach Bleeker

Ouch. Coach, it seems, has negative brand value.

Its finances aren’t exactly positive either. Coach posted less than stellar earnings this week after a 9% drop in North America sales. Interestingly, Coach is growing in double digits in China.

Coach Rebranding

Coach is aware that its label is more associated with teens and outlet malls than high fashion. Coach began a rebranding this year, hiring top tier models Karlie Kloss and Liu Wen, and designing new handbags mainly without its printed ‘CC’ label.

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The ads are designed to lift Coach’s brand equity. And yet, according to the stock market, the rebranding isn’t producing sales.

The problem isn’t the new products. I went on the Coach website and, WOW. The bags, the shoes – I’d rather carry many of Coach’s products than those by Coach’s competitors Kate Spade and Tory Birch. But the comment by my friend stings. The products might be great, but the Coach label is still weak.

How can Coach come back? Branding, of course. 

First, a look at the competitors, and how they’re embodying their brand. Photos are screenshots from their online blogs.

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Kate Spade breathed life into its brand with a whimsical, fun lifestyle brand strategy.

Destination Michael Kors

Michael Kors is about living a glamorous, jet setter life.

The Tory Blog

Tory Burch centers on the personal style and sensibility of Tory herself.

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On the Coach site, they don’t have a blog but rather a reel of videos themed #CoachNewYorkStories – videos about interesting New Yorkers (and closeups of Coach’s slick new products).

In my opinion, the campaign is cool. If you spend time to watch the ads, Coach comes across as a desirable label to be wearing.

However, the campaign is kind of…boring. The ads are nice, but they read like a case study of typical ad campaigns:

High class models are used across luxury brands, branding via love of New York has and will continue to be done (even recently by another brand in Coach’s space – Cole Haan), and promoting via the ‘story’ hashtag is a common social brand strategy (#VWstories, #cuervostory are just a couple).

Net: These ads are generic, they do not tell me what Coach stands for, and frankly aren’t strong enough to help Coach come back.  

In my opinion, Coach needs to differentiate from competition by making a splash and differentiating its value.

How Coach can come back –

1) Stand out via store upgrades

Coach’s CEO Victor Luis says that Coach has been hurt by lower visits to stores.

I paid a trip to Coach’s flagship in Columbus Circle today, and I was unimpressed. The employees were fantastic. But the store was not only boring, it was out of shape. Chipped paint and trash on the floor didn’t give me the impression that I was shopping for a luxury bag.

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Even if the store was clean, Coach doesn’t stand out whatsoever.

My Idea: Coach could make a splash with an upgrade to its stores. Digital screens, RIFD chips, 3-D printing – I’m no tech expert, but Coach could use modern technology to implement something cool that would make Coach seem innovative and draw some attention to its stores. At minimum, the announcement would get PR that would stand out more than Coach’s #NewYorkStories campaign.

Kate Spade has made stores interesting using digital screens, and interactive storefronts. I’m not telling Coach to copy Kate Spade – quite the opposite. Coach needs something to make itself not look like the base design for any luxury store.

2) Stand out via value (and unique advertising)

High leather quality is something I’ve always associated with Coach. It’s also something I don’t associate with Coach’s competitors. Kate Spade might have cool stores, but their bags don’t exactly last.

Coach could stand out from its competitors by emphasizing the quality in its leather.

First, it will also give its customers a reason to be proud to carry Coach.

Second, it could inspire an ad campaign that doesn’t fall flat.

A skim of Coach’s Wikipedia reveals that Coach’s 1950s managers were inspired by the leather used to make baseball gloves, and how wear and use made the gloves become softer and more supple.

My idea: Coach should have print ads with a simple photo of a baseball glove, emblazoned with the Coach logo, and below that feature the story about how its leather products, inspired by baseball gloves, become softer and more supple over time (instead of wearing and tearing).

Why?

  • Baseball isn’t something I associate with luxury bags, so it will stand out from boring model + purse ads.
  • It defines Coach’s value, and tells a story about Coach’s legacy.

These are just a couple ideas. The point of this post is that Coach’s rebranding (stores, new ads) does not stand out. Check out Coach’s Mission Statement on its website. Remove the word ‘Coach’ and it’s pretty tough to tell what brand is being promoted. Coach needs to figure out what it stands for, and build a unique identity. The products are great. Stores and ads that stand out will help them sell.

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