Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mind the gap, Gap.

This week, there was a flurry of conversation around the Gap. If you missed the news, the company developed a new logo, and then after some major backlash from the public, invited consumers to submit alternative logo concepts via Facebook. Marka Hansen, the President of Gap North America, wrote a piece that appeared in Thursday's Huffington Post.

I'm all for evolution, but this entire process just seems backwards to me. Though the Gap likely has an enormous budget, time and money are both still valuable currencies. Why would a company ask for public feedback AFTER spending many hours/dollars to create a new logo? If having that "public approval" was so important, why not engage focus groups during the development process?  Instead, by going social with their request, the Gap has stirred up angry customers who loved the old logo (many dubbing it "iconic"), as well as graphic designers, who are furious that the Gap would ask designers to create work with no promise of compensation. It's a PR nightmare. And on that note...interestingly, a few people have suggested that the Gap is getting exactly what they want: media attention for a lagging brand that seems to have lost its core identity.

However, it's important that we all take a step back and remember that a brand is so much more than a logo. Speaking from my own experience as a consumer, I've been a pretty loyal Gap customer since I was a teenager (call it 20 years). Today, however, I run hot and cold with the Gap. Once in a while, I want to buy three of everything in the store, but increasingly more often, I feel as though the Gap is in a perpetual state of confusion, and I walk out empty-handed. In my eyes, Old Navy is the young/trendy side of the brand, and Banana is the upscale side. Gap, the original member of the brand family, should be somewhere in the middle, with mid-priced classics. The Gap "brand" used to match that classic sense, but in lieu of offering the well-made staples that were once their hallmarks, today shelves are stocked with a mish-mash of trends: my husband often laments that it's hard to find a pair of khaki pants or jeans that aren't shredded or overly distressed, and though I consider myself pretty fashion-forward, I realize that it's not appropriate for a 34-year old woman to be wearing a micro-mini. Honestly, it's sometimes hard to tell who the Gap is appealing to these days.

For those who are Gen Xers like myself, you'll likely remember that Gap, Inc. successfully evolved a brand back in the 90's: Banana Republic was once safari-inspired, though you'd never get that sense walking into one of their stores today. Given the longevity of the Gap brand, this phase in the company's evolution is sadly falling short of expectations. Instead of reinventing one small (albeit well-loved) aspect of the brand, and then asking the public to reinvent it again, why not focus on figuring out who really shops at the Gap, and stock shelves with product to consistently appeal to that market? Perhaps they've already done that, but given the ever-changing look and fit of each season's collections (as opposed to the other more-consistent Gap, Inc. brands), I am hard-pressed to believe it.

To put it bluntly, there is a gap in the Gap's thinking. In my opinion, they've lost track of who they are in the course of their "brand evolution," and are relying on the public to help them fix an aspect of the brand that isn't broken. I hope that the recent media attention helps them refocus and get back on track. Bonne chance, Gap.