Tommy Markham, senior director for VF’s Dickies brand

Trendsetting or brand consistency?

Tommy Markham, senior director for VF’s Dickies brandTrying to solve real-world marketing challenges is one way students learn at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Tommy Markham, senior director for VF’s Dickies brand, challenged students to resolve the conflict between maintaining brand consistency and adapting to new market trends during the “Global Brand Management and Consumer Challenges” session of the 2018 Global Business Conference hosted by the Global Business Center.

Dickies is known for its workwear apparel in North America and Europe, but the company’s trendy, lifestyle wear is rapidly developing in Asia.

The task at hand for students: determine how to appease consumers’ desire for lifestyle clothing in Asia without isolating workwear-focused customers in other parts of the world.

MBA and Undergraduate Business students pitched their ideas for resolving Dickies’ brand marketing challenges while also learning applicable business lessons from Markham.

Questions over answers

Students learned the importance of asking questions during the marketing development phase. “We probably generated more questions than we answered because we need data,” a student notes.

“When you end up with more questions than answers, you can use data to find the missing information. This process helps you think through problems,” says Tarun Kushwaha, associate professor of marketing at UNC Kenan-Flagler and the session’s faculty host.

When determining which direction to take, think out loud, collaborate with other professionals, conduct research and ask questions. Business professionals often do their best work together, not alone.

“That’s how this works,” says Markham. “When you come up with questions, you become a strategist. You can never be 100 percent confident, but to be confident, you need to do your research.”

Know the audience

To reach customers with different desires, students recommended tracking global trends, adjusting to align with new trends and set trends.

Students recognized the “risk in remaining stagnant,” but will be unable to pick the most effective option if it fails to gauge expected audience reaction. They identified a “problem with depending solely on lifestyle wear in Dickies’ consumer markets” when fashions can go out of style, “so you need to commit and invest resources to handle the changing market. High risk means high reward.”

When making decisions that affect what is offered to customers in different regions, Dickies must first know its audiences. Only then can they determine what items will best appeal to consumers without losing business when trends fade.

Find a niche and market it

As Dickies implements new product changes based on audience-focused research, it should determine its niche in the market, the students recommended.

“Brand consistency is why you have a brand in the first place. It’s what gives people a reason to remain loyal to your company,” say the students.

To maintain brand loyalty, students suggested Dickies pick a product that it already creates, such as khaki pants, and make it their focus. They then recommended marketing this rebranding approach via market segmentation by product and category.

Students also determined that logo consistency is vital when introducing a new market campaign. “Consider McDonald’s,” says one student. “McDonald’s has different menu options in different places, but its logo lets you know where you are and enables you to recognize the brand globally.” By keeping recognizable components of the brand intact, Dickies can market itself in a memorable way.

By Grace Ketron (BA ’19)