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How To

How to Reinvent a Brand, by Coach CEO Lew Frankfort

A Coach store in San Francisco

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

A Coach store in San Francisco

Coach (COH) was a $550 million business in 2000 when it went public and a $5 billion one a decade or so later. Now we’re transforming it again into a lifestyle brand for women, with shoes, outerwear, and capsule collections of tops and bottoms. A transformation has to be careful, nurtured. You have to understand what’s distinctive about your brand and build on who you are. Consumers are smart—if you try to be something you’re not, they’ll see you as an impostor. Modify your product first and build interest and loyalty into what is coming. Understand your consumers and what motivates them. It’s generally a fatal mistake to believe you can leave your customers behind and find new ones. The opportunity is to bring them along with you. You should also know your employees and what they’re capable of. To help pull off our current transformation, we brought in three additional creative leaders from Paul Smith, Nike (NKE), and Selfridges. We do an enormous amount of research. Don’t bet the ranch without any consumer insights or experience. We triangulate between research and instincts, or gut feelings. If we do research that doesn’t reinforce our instincts, we go back and do more research. We pause. We might take a different turn. A full transformation generally takes five times what you think it will. Not time, not money, but reach. It has to be comprehensive. And you’re never done. You can’t accept any applause for things that are going well. You have to fear failure. —As told to Susan Berfield

Frankfort is the chairman and chief executive of Coach. 

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