Apple attempts to become fashionable

October 16, 2013

The UK lost one of only three female CEOs on the FTSE 100 on Tuesday, as Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts quit. My concerns about females at the top aside, the interesting thing about Apple’s new hire is the link between Apple and fashion and what it tells us about the evolution of the tech industry.

Ahrendts is a smart choice to become the head of retail and online stores for Apple. Firstly, her marketing skills are second to none. During her tenure at Burberry she has completely transformed the consumer experience at the iconic British brand. The stores are beautiful. The central London branches are styled just as well as the brand’s catwalk stars; they look more like a high-end boutique hotel in Paris or Milan than a high street shop.

The last time I was in the flagship London store there was a life-size virtual catwalk show going on and what looked like a sculpture wall was actually a collection of accessories, all for sale. The music was pumping, the shop assistants were friendly, helpful and of course draped in the brand and, crucially, the place oozed cool. Ahrendts managed to take a British brand that was once considered the staple of the “chav” and make it covetable once again.

She targeted the aspirational middle class, which could be a reflection of her own upbringing – she is from humble roots in Indiana. Burberry’s success in emerging markets is largely down to Ahrendts and her grasp of what the middle classes in fast growing emerging markets actually want.  This is what Apple desperately needs. It has seen Google’s Android take a substantial bite out of Apple’s market share in recent years, giving it a serious challenger in the race to be the smart phone of choice in emerging markets.

The market is rightly concerned Apple’s limited selection of affordable, low-end products that most analysts think will be attractive to the vast bulk of middle class consumers, especially those outside of China. Although Apple has the iPhone 5c, it is still considered expensive relative to the average income in the emerging world. So where does Ahrendts come in? She can’t be expected to lift wages in the emerging world to try and boost demand for Apple goodies.

In her remit as head of stores and online she has some work to do to freshen up both Apple’s high street outlets, which are starting to look more 2005 than 2015, and the website, which is a nightmare that needs some serious jazzing up to make it more interactive.

Perhaps the most radical thing that Ahrendts could do is actually closer to her Burberry roots than some may think. If Apple does not want to dilute its brand by designing cheaper, inferior products then why change it? Instead of trying to come up with a cheaper iPhone, why not start from scratch and try to position Apple as the leader of the next wave of technological innovation – wearable technology?

If there is one thing that Ahrendts knows well it is fashion and styling in clothes and accessories. If Apple can use her strengths to market new, wearable technology and do this better than the competition (she managed to trump the competition during her time at Burberry) then she stands a chance of placing Apple at the forefront of emerging market demand.

Ahrendts’ attraction to Apple is twofold: firstly, her marketing prowess and ability to freshen up Apple’s image, and secondly, her ability to use her deep emerging markets experience to market wearable technology to the emerging world.

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