Lands' End Shines a Beacon on its Brand
Lands' End enjoyed a loyal following and a successful marketing strategy, but after 40 years in business, it saw its brand image looking tired and frayed at the edges. In the process of revitalizing its identity, Lands' End introduced a graphic system that brought order to its catalogs and higher visibility to its brand.
Before shopping-by-mail became trendy, there was Lands' End. Founded in 1963 by a championship sailboat racer named Gary Comer to sell yachting equipment by mail, the company had steadily expanded its product offerings to include everything from apparel to home furnishings. By 2001, Lands' End was distributing 269 million catalogs annually, including its flagship clothing catalog and seven specialty books. The Lands' End name had become as familiar as Macy's, even though its products were not available in stores.
What's more, Lands' End enjoyed the fierce loyalty of core customers, having won their trust by offering well-made classic casual wear at fair prices, backed by an iron-clad satisfaction guarantee. A direct merchant that sourced products right from manufacturers, Lands' End spoke knowledgeably and at length to customers in its catalogs, explaining how products were made and why they were special. Customers appreciated the candor.
But the company knew conditions had changed. Baby boomers who had discovered the brand in their youth were now middle-aged, living a different lifestyle but desiring to be stylish. Also, catalog competitors had increased multifold with many national retail stores adding a mail-order component. Then, too, the Lands' End brand itself clearly needed updating to maintain a connection with modernity that would attract new customers.
For a fresh perspective, Lands' End looked outside the industry, hiring Lee Eisenberg, long-time editor of Esquire and special projects manager of Time, as executive vice president in charge of creative marketing.
"Without frightening off loyal Lands' End customers, my charge was to update the brand and make it more style-right," explains Eisenberg. "Lands' End is a brand that made its mark in an innovative way by not worrying about all the things that brands worry about. It communicated pretty much verbally in a straightforward and literate way with highly educated and literate customers. It put things in catalogs that had nothing to do with clothes [e.g., editorial contributions by the likes of Garrison Keillor and Tom Brokaw]. That was the glue that connected the readers to the brand."
At the same time, Eisenberg adds, "As the company grew, a lot of different parts, such as the home furnishings and kids catalogs, grew up separate, and there was never much of an attempt to knit them together through brand graphics." For Eisenberg, the challenge was to make the graphics consistent without making them "bloodless and slick."
For design support, he turned to DJ Stout, who had just left his position as art director of Texas Monthly to become a partner at Pentagram in Austin. Years earlier Eisenberg had tried to hire Stout as art director of Esquire, but Stout, a fifth-generation Texan, stayed at Texas Monthly instead. Now Eisenberg asked him to create cover concepts for the core catalog.
"Lee felt that the catalog covers had to be more magazine-like, more dynamic," Stout says. "He'd call me and say we're featuring this item, say polo shirts, and here's a rough idea, and we want it to be spring-like. I'd comp up 15 to 30 ideas. That went on for about six months."
What became increasingly clear to Stout was that livelier covers were not enough. "I said to Lee, 'You guys are losing customers purely through bad identity,'" Stout recalls. Citing examples, Stout says that the core catalog displayed a tiny logotype on the cover. The specialty catalog for men didn't look like the core book. The kids catalog had an entirely different look and, at times, didn't even say kids on the cover. The home furnishings catalog was titled "Coming Home," a name given to it when the company first acquired the line and wasn't sure that the merchandise was yet up to Lands' End's quality standards. "Even when the products got up to snuff, they didn't bother to change it," says Stout. "It still had that grandma-looking script face."
Stout got approval to develop an identity system but was cautioned not to toss out the elements that made the brand recognizable. "We simplified the logotype, maintained the big L and D, and got rid of the scotch rules," says Stout. The Pentagram designers also chose a clean sans serif typeface, Trade Gothic, for the "Direct Merchants" heading and reversed it out of a color block. The identifiers for specialty catalogs were presented in "pull-down screen" color blocks, with type reversed out in capital letters. For the core catalog, the logotype was enlarged to span across the cover like a magazine masthead. The logotype for the specialty catalogs was kept intentionally smaller, so it could be positioned anywhere on the cover, depending on the requirements of the image. For the same reason, the choice of color for the "pull-down screen" was left to the discretion of the catalog art director.
"DJ preserved much of what was associated with Lands' End," praises Eisenberg. "A testament to his success is that when the new logo was introduced, we did not get one adverse letter or call. And this is an extremely involved group of customers. Nobody said, 'You took away my Lands' End; you sold out.'" The makeover did increase sales, though.
The sense of something being familiar yet more relevant was conveyed in some of the specialty catalogs too. After conducting a design study to show how existing spreads in the Home and Kids catalogs could be reorganized to establish a visual hierarchy and better pacing, Pentagram was asked to redesign the Home catalog. "I've always believed in storytelling," Stout says. "But when you are presenting sheets and towels, blankets and rugs, that's hard to show. There were no human beings, no signs of life." Stout created a subtle visual narrative of a family on vacation, showing legs swinging from a hammock on the cover and a family heading off on vacation as the opener. Family members made occasional appearances, holding stacks of sheets, reading on a rug, napping on a bed, to show products and human interaction.
The successful integration of each change stimulated more discussions on how to build brand awareness, including the possibility of creating an icon that would garner the same instant brand recognition as the Nike swoosh. The company's yachting heritage and name suggested the perfect symbol -- a lighthouse. "It represents guidance and hope. It's very graphic and wants to be seen," says Stout. Using simple stripes, he created a minimalist lighthouse and combined it with a sophisticated logotype rendered in Garamond capital letters. Stout also intensified the existing blue corporate color, making it a deep navy blue and pairing it with a blue-gray secondary color. Bold yet neutral, the colors do not clash when shown with photographs of colorful products.
Lands' End embraced the lighthouse design as its corporate logo and planned to implement it on packaging and product labels, but the program had to be put on hold when Sears purchased the company in 2002. Sears was rightfully concerned that a major change in brand identity at that time might confuse customers and lead them to believe that the products sold in its stores were not authentic Lands' End merchandise.
"We took that seriously," says Laura O'Brien, who became group creative director for Lands' End in March 2004 when Eisenberg left the company. "Therefore, we held back on the lighthouse logo. But one of the interesting things we did was integrate the lighthouse as a seal of approval and place it alongside or in conjunction with our old logo. That was a way of seeding the notion of the lighthouse."
The graphic elements of the new corporate logo proved timely, however. Lands' End's entry into retail sales created the need for everything from hangtags and in-store signage to shopping bags -- all of which had to be designed and ready to roll out in 120 Sears stores within six months. Navy blue and white stripes became a signature of Lands' End packaging.
The company is currently integrating the lighthouse corporate logo across all media. "It's a process of continuous refinement," says O'Brien. "Lee and DJ brought Land's End's identity from the folksy, quirky end of the spectrum into something sophisticated and modern. The discussion going on now is how we can maintain our relevance to our customers and not get too old. And how we can appeal to that retail audience out there who has a whole different attention span and needs to be spoken to in a bolder, simpler way. We are at that pivotal moment where we see a greater need to express quality and value visually."