Kim Kardashian, Marketing Genius?

Kim Kardashian marketing

When you think of Kim Kardashian marketing might not be what comes to mind. But whether you love her or hate her, you’ve got to admit our Kimmy knows marketing.

She has managed to leverage society’s obsession with women’s bodies to gain notoriety and money for herself. Now, she has a new deal between her loungewear brand Skims, and established luxury brand Fendi.

Battle of the Brands

For those unfamiliar, Fendi is an Italian fashion brand owned by the luxury goods powerhouse LVMH. LVMH owns the Louis Vuitton, Moet, Hennessy and Christian Dior brands, and many more.

Fendi’s earnings have been strong over the past few years, buoyed by general consumer enthusiasm for luxury goods. However, Fendi’s brand cachet has taken a hit. Fendi has dropped off the list of 15 most coveted luxury brands for 2021. On the Forbes list of 100 most valuable brands, competing luxury labels are seeing 20 point jumps, while Fendi doesn’t even make the list.

So while shoppers are still snapping up Fendi handbags today, what does the creeping decay of their brand image say about their future in fashion? That’s where Skims comes in. The Kim Kardashian partnership will give Fendi access to a brand new crop of shoppers. The risk is how their current audience perceives that partnership.

Cultivating Demand

Luxury fashion brands typically do a good job of defining their image. They have to, because there is arguably little difference between what they produce and what non-luxury brands produce. Many luxury fashion houses specialize in a particular high quality product, like leather goods. They also create the exquisitely tailored art known as couture fashion. But what funds the craftmanship in those areas, what actually pays the bills, are the so-called “luxury goods” that the house simply stamps with its logo and sells for a substantial markup. A Gucci t-shirt is still just a t-shirt. Marketing makes some people willing to pay $700 for it.

Image of a model wearing a Gucci T-Shirt on the left, and the T-Shirt price on the right

No matter how you feel about logos and $700 t-shirts, small business owners can learn a lot from luxury houses. They are masters of demand generation, using imagery and copy to cultivate their mystique and make their product exclusive. A big part of that is to deliberately disqualify some people through price. They appeal to their audience’s sense of exclusivity and status seeking by not trying to be everything for everyone.

Do One Thing Well

Trying to be everything to everyone leads to negative outcomes. It’s one reason I didn’t get to the CNN level as a TV news reporter. I just didn’t have what it takes to stand out.

Don’t get me wrong, I was a fantastic reporter. I broke a ton of news. I was great on live TV. I was a pretty good producer. I was a kickass assignment editor. I could write for the web, shoot and edit. And perhaps most importantly, I gave max effort. With a few exceptions here and there, I left it all on the mat, every shift.

All of this means I was the Costco of reporters. You could get anything you needed from me, and it was likely going to be pretty good quality and in plentiful supply.

In order to make it to the “big leagues,” you have to be the best of the best at just one thing. The big shows at the big stations want people who do one thing perfectly, not someone who can do everything.

I see small businesses make this same mistake. They say they’re trying to remain “open” by being willing to do anything for any customer.

If you want to be the Chanel of your industry, you have to act like Chanel. You have pour all your energy into your market position, your elite status.

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You cannot at the same time be the Gap, where people know they can get reliable basics at deep discounts. Being good at everything and accessible to everyone is not helpful if you want to be elite.

Kim Kardashian, Marketing Genius

That’s why we see Kim Kardashian marketing herself using Fendi. She’s after “elite brand” status, and is leveraging our desire for elite brand status to get there. By associating herself with the Fendi brand, she has an opportunity to make her largely unremarkable shapewear something aspirational. She goes from being Victoria’s Secret to being La Perla. All because the Fendi partnership gives her something she lacks: credibility.

Fendi Keychain

So what does partnering with Skims do for Fendi? As it stands, the part of their audience not enamoured with the Kardashians is willing to pay $700 for a Fendi keychain precisely because it comes from the venerable house of Fendi. It’s that sense of exclusivity again. If the House of Fendi is now best associated with a reality TV star, it loses substantial exclusivity, and therefore status among people who don’t relate to reality TV stars. This new audience they’re acquiring may not make up for the audience they lose.

Banality means death for luxury fashion brands. Analysts blame “Gucci fatigue” for the 22.7% drop in that brand’s revenue in 2020. We’ve seen the same trend play out for Coach and Michael Kors. By establishing themselves as mall staples, they lost the luxury image they once had. Michael Kors in particular should serve as a cautionary tale for Fendi and all business owners. After the largest IPO in fashion history in 2011, their sales in the short term went up, but in the long term they suffered, as they became overexposed.

This is a real risk for Fendi. Young shoppers are already less enthusiastic about “label” brands than their predecessors. Analysts say Gen Z shoppers look first at price, and second at shared values with the brand. They do also covet the lifestyles they see influencers leading on social media, so it does stand to reason Fendi would want to partner with these influencers, but it’s a fickle audience that prioritizes price, which does not align well with their brand.

Perhaps the collab will be a smashing success, and make so much money it allows Fendi to do a much needed market pivot to attract a new generation. But it seems equally likely that five years from now, the next crop of young people will be bored with whatever Kim Kardashian says is cool, and on to the next hot thing. Meanwhile, Fendi will have alienated luxury loyalists who formed their customer base for decades.

Future-Proofing Your Business

What does this mean for you? It means if you plan to stay in business for 10 years, 20 years or 100 years, you need to constantly be looking down the road to anticipate how your audience could and should shift.

This isn’t easy, in fact none other than brand matriarch Silvia Venturini Fendi says, “In fashion, time is very short. I don’t think it’s possible to have a long view.”

Many of us feel like that. How can we know where our business will go in a decade? That’s why we need to be the ones to direct it, just like Fendi and Skims are trying to do. It’s a two-step process.

The first step is to know our current buyer as well as we know ourselves. This is where Kim Kardashian gets full marks, and Fendi seems to have missed something. Conventional wisdom suggests creating a fictional buyer avatar. I don’t like this method. Real people are better.

When deciding how to write messaging, I follow the advice of my own business coach, business maven Eleanor Beaton. In her Power Presence & Position program, she teaches that your “most valuable buyer” (MVB) is the key to unlocking your prime audience.

I ask my clients to choose their favourite customer to direct their message to. A real, specific person. Then ask yourself:

  • Why is this the right customer for me?
  • What characterizes this person?
  • What are their values?

If it’s possible, ask the customer themselves.

Then, just one more step, which we will discuss in the next installment of Whole Team Habits.

Picture of author, Bridget Brown