There are many iconic brands and individuals in the world, two big ones are Lands’ End, the clothing company selling mostly through a catalog experience, and another iconic name is Gloria Steinem, an in-your-face feminist, journalist, and women’s rights activist.
But the president of Lands’ End decided the new catalog meant to celebrate women would be well-served with an interview featuring Gloria Steinem. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20, but looking at that decision from the outside, it’s hard to imagine what Federica Marchionni, CEO, was thinking.
Lands’ End sells largely to women, so that might work, but a quick look at any of their catalogs speaks more on the conservative side. Clothing is more girl-next-door and on the casual or sporty vein. There is nothing overtly sexual about any item of clothing in the catalog, including their swimsuits, which in the current catalog are all pretty-much full coverage items.
Since the interview included a lot of comments from Steinem that were of a somewhat political nature, it might have worked better to edit those out since politics and shopping may not be the best fit. Even with a conservative clothing line, there are bound to be many who would follow Steinem and sing her praises, but if you look at the clothing as a kind of freedom for women statement, you would also have to concede some of the customers are going to be conservative and more likely to picket a Steinem event.
Clearly politics in the middle of a sporting wear catalog will cause more of a firestorm than a rush to the cash register. So the inevitable happened, the catalog came out, and there was an uproar from the conservative side of the customer base. Lands’ End acted immediately in a way they probably thought was good and would settle things down – not so much. They removed the interview, issued an apology on their FB page, and wiped their hands of the matter – or so they thought.
Round two – the outcry from the liberal and feminist sides of the customer base. They flamed up, angry at the apology and wondering why the interview should have been removed.
Here’s the lesson to be learned. Unless your business is politics, don’t bring politics into your branding and selling practices – the same would probably be true of religion. People’s beliefs are sacred to them, and if you offer a highly sought after product or service, you will have some people from both extremes of any issue who love what you bring to the table. It’s best not to antagonize customers by bringing your beliefs into the mix unless you are willing to take the hit.
Whatever prompted that decision, learn from it with your business. Know your customers and why they come to you for your offerings. Make sure you don’t let other considerations take the place of keeping the customers happy. Whatever the CEO’s reason, whether Steinem is a personal hero, or she was looking for validation within the fashion industry, as some have speculated, check your ego at the door. Remember the primary rule of doing business – the customer is King – or in this instance, Queen!