Humble fashion? Cole Haan taps consumer opinion

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For Spring 2005, Cole Haan will boldly go where few fashion marketers dare to tread: where consumers tell them to go.

In an effort to determine how best to grow the 2-year-old G Series brand, Cole Haan embarked earlier this year on a large-scale consumer-research project. Such an effort is anything but de rigeur for the trend-dictating fashion industry.

"In general, fashion marketing is a much more instinctive process driven by designers," said Danielle Krettek, strategic planner for Wieden & Kennedy, New York. Wieden, Nike's agency of record, conducted the research for Cole Haan, a Nike unit.

Making marketing more of an invitation rather than a dictum is fitting for G Series, which Cole Haan VP-Marketing Bill Zeitz said appeals to adventurous, eclectic style leaders. The roughly $20 million brand was created as a hybrid between fashion and function

An "ethnographic" research process took the marketer into the homes and out to the shopping haunts of 40 cultural influencers. Minister of Culture, a New York-based research company, worked with Wieden on the research and put together a 30-minute video documentary depicting the G-Series target. The qualitative research was substantiated with a more quantitative survey to determine common themes.

That research showed that consumers are skeptical of any shoes' ability to cross the divide between fashion and comfort.

one to one

The results suggested that to change that perception, Cole Haan should connect one-to-one with trendsetters through things meaningful to them. Cole Haan has begun seeding the products with performers including Beyonce and Usher and is looking to expand its events and relationships with musical artists surrounding G Series' expansion into handbags for spring 2005.

While Mr. Zeitz said the company will continue to use print advertising to build awareness and momentum for G Series, "we will have to be very selective, capturing the essence of the concept...but letting [consumers] experience the brand on their own terms." Lloyd & Co., New York, is Cole Haan's agency of record.

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