In Part 1: Then and Now, I discussed Gap's journey from its successful Swing campaign and leadership in the casual apparel market to its current state and what, I would argue, are less than effective efforts to replicate that success.
So what can Gap do to recapture the feeling it once induced in millions of young people? Here are a few high level suggestions:
First, Gap needs to stop thinking so hard. Despite what marketing firms would like corporations to think--this is not brain surgery. A customer's experience cannot be dissected into individual, discrete components. An experience is made of the sum of its elements--all working together in a system. The ability to capture and speak to this system is what sets companies apart. Apple's iPod Dance campaign is one example. Kaiser Permanente's Thrive is another.
Second, Gap needs to reconnect with its customers. Until now, Gap seems to have invested great efforts in understanding market trends, analyzing what its competitors are doing, and determining which of its products have been the most successful. It has also invested internally in overhauling its IT infrastructure and increasing efficiency of its production through tighter outsourcing practices.
But Gap needs to also invest in consistent and effective study of its customers and the changes impacting their lives. Young people today are different from young people 5 years ago. They become professionals at a much younger age. They tend to be more fashion conscious. They are far more advanced technologically. "Metro sexual" has become a household term, and so have "low rise" and "cashmere." People today blog, they create networks on MySpace, they listen to music on their cell phones and watch videos on their iPods. But one thing remains constant--and it is young people's desire for a sense of identity. No matter what changes around them, young people still want to know what sets them apart and how they belong in a group. They desire to have a sense of their image and purpose.
Yes- music and dancing are a part of young people's lives. But there are greater, more salient elements that the Gap still needs to discover--and the only way to do so, is by getting in touch again with its customers on a deep and meaningful level.
Third, Gap needs to set itself for success. With major churn in the company, management turnover and a number of reorganizations, Gap first needs to finish building a solid organization--inside and out--before it attempts to create a solid image. A company's image and brand identity aren't created in a vacuum--they are directly connected to the company's practices and internal affairs. Trying to create a solid campaign on shaky foundations is akin to slapping paint on cracked walls. Neither stick for very long.
As it structures its operations and infrastructure, Gap needs to organize itself around the customer and around delivering to customer needs. It is then that it'll finally be able to operate more agilely and effectively--and truly deliver outstanding experiences to its customers.
The Gap changed not only how marketing firms think of brand and marketing but also the way in which young people think about their clothes. With the help of its Swing commercial, Gap brought to casual apparel what was once reserved designer wear--the opportunity to self-express and a sense of connection to a larger community. There's no better suited company to generate the next apparel revolution. And no company young people all over America would rather see succeed.