The Polo Ralph Lauren (RL) Corporation is a leader in the design, marketing and distribution of premium lifestyle products in a variety of categories. For 35 years, Polo's reputation and distinctive image have been consistently developed across an expanding number of products, brands and international markets. The Polo brand constitutes one of the world's most widely recognised families of consumer brands.
RL’s main market focus is a differentiated marketing strategy – with business segments in the apparel, home, accessories and fragrance products. With their goods classified as ‘luxury’ items, the main focus of RL’s marketing strategy is to supply the consumer with a high quality product with an excellent brand name. Their target market are usually people with decent incomes who and do not mind paying a little extra for superior quality and brand.
This essay will focus on the marketing strategy of one of the company’s main business segments – the Polo Ralph Lauren menswear brand, which constituted for nearly half of its net wholesale sales in the previous year. It will discuss and analyse RL’s marketing mix, consumer behaviour, segmentation, product differentiation as well as some suggestions for the future.
As mentioned above, the positioning of products produced by RL are usually at the upper end of the market. Consumers in this target market generally want a high quality product with a recognisable brand. Thus, by doing this, RL can focus on production quality and enhancing their brand image, knowing that the extra costs involved with these factors can be absorbed without too much fuss by the consumer. For example, the typical Polo shirt will cost a significant amount more than a similar shirt sold from a cheaper retailer such as Target, which in essence is the same product but without the brand name or product quality of the RL brand. The importance of the brand and how the company can use it to its advantage will be discussed later in this essay.
In order to get maximum market exposure and market share; a company must understand consumer behaviour. Particularly in the apparel industry where competition is high, a knowledge and understanding of target markets, consumer decision making, consumer perceptions as well as other factors that ultimately determine whether or not the consumer purchases your product is critical to a company’s success. This essay’s main focus in consumer behaviour will be mainly on the power of brand loyalty and recognition.
The Polo Ralph Lauren brand is recognisable all around the world as one of the leading brands in the menswear market. It has been established over many years through high production quality and good brand promotion. The power of its brand has contributed enormously to its continuing success. It is a fact that is widely recognised in organisations as well as by marketing and financial industry analysts and helps make the case for why brand is as much of a business asset as employees, equipment or capital - and should be nurtured with the same diligence (Davis, 1994, p.1). The brand should be supported, as an asset that is essential to an organisation's long-term, underlying business strategy. RL has done exactly this – when one thinks of the polo brand, they think of a particularly high quality, sophisticated and mature product and this consumer product perception is critical to the company’s marketing strategy. However, how exactly does a strong brand help the corporation?
We can see that with the Polo brand, both of these important factors are reflected in the actual marketing strategy of the corporation. With its highly recognisable brand, it can put a price on this brand and thus creating higher profit margins. Similarly, because of its high product quality, the product consistently meets expectations of its target market and thus also generates immense brand loyalty. The power of the brand also links to the next topic of analysis: price.
How a corporation prices its product is dependent among many factors. First and most obvious is the calculation of the actual costs of production and distribution. Then there are less tangible factors such as profit margin, brand value as well as consumer personalities and attitudes.
The importance of brand value in product pricing cannot be underestimated. Brand value includes a series of assets that can be grouped into many multidimensional constructs, which interact in a complex way: brand loyalty, name recognition, perceived quality and brand identity (Aaker, 1994 cited Calderson et al., 1997, p.293). This value can then be incorporated into the pricing of the end product.
A consumer’s perceived value of a product is equal to the perceived value divided by the perceived price. The perceived price is the sum of ‘costs’ they incur to obtain the product. This not only includes the monetary cost of the product but also cognitive costs as well. Similarly, the value of the product is not only what it is worth at the time of purchase, but also the total benefits of the product over its lifetime. Thus, brand value will help increase the perceived value of the product, as the consumer would perceive the product to be of a good quality and would be more likely the purchase a product with a high level of brand recognition than a competing product with little or no brand recognition.
Again, the Polo brand takes advantage of this aspect of consumer behaviour, using its brand to set a higher profit margin, knowing that its target market of relatively financially well-off consumers are willing to pay a little extra for the perceived value of their brand. The brand seems to adopt a stability pricing objective that most luxury goods seem to adopt, setting a price similar to that of its competitors and using the power of their brand to try and appeal to potential consumers rather than initiating price wars. This way, competitive activity is focused on product development, distribution factors and promotional programs instead of price penetration.
As a luxury brand, RL must be very careful in where to position its products. Although a company may want to expose their products to as much of the potential market as possible, this may not be the best marketing strategy as different channels of distribution may generate different consumer perceptions of the product. This is especially true in the apparel industry where the place where the good is sold can have a large impact on perceived quality of the product. For example, a shirt sold at Target would definitely have different perceived quality to a shirt sold at Myer, or an exclusive Ralph Lauren retail store. Thus, because of this aspect of consumer perception, the Polo brand is usually distributed at more ‘classy’ retail such as Myer rather than the general department store such as K-Mart or Target.
Additionally, this channel of distribution is chosen again due to the brand. By selling the product at cheaper stores, it will damage the perceived quality of the brand and product in the minds of consumers. Furthermore, the target market of the Polo brand is generally aimed at people of a higher income bracket to those who do their shopping at Target – thus if their products were to be sold there, it would not be aiming at the right market.
Segmentation & Product Differentiation
This process of dividing a large market into smaller target markets (or market segmentation) is a very important part of a corporation’s marketing strategy as it can save a large amount of costs by identifying the target market that is most profitable to them and concentrate. Although the Ralph Lauren brand incorporates many different sub-brands and products, the segment we are looking at is the Polo menswear brand, which uses a concentrated marketing strategy.
Product differentiation refers to a firm's actions intended to differentiate its product offerings and is a generic strategy for achieving competitive advantage. Product quality is one of the most important factors used by firms to differentiate their products from competitors' offerings (Phillips et al. 1983 cited Varadarajan and Jayachandran, 1999, p128). When a business offers a higher quality product, it could have either or both of the following objectives in mind:
If a business tries to be too concentrated in its marketing strategy, it can effectively eliminate itself from being able to gain a large market share. Thus, a company should follow a value strategy where it offers a high quality product priced at similar amounts to that of its competitors. The relationship between quality and price may be contingent on other dimensions of competitive strategy (eg., choice of target markets, positioning) (Varadarajan and Jayachandran, 1999, p128). We can see that the Polo brand does try to differentiate itself from its competitors by creating higher quality products to its competitors to sustain a higher price as well as obtain larger market share. However, it does not go over the top in its pricing, the price set is usually still very reasonable given its target market and thus it still has the potential to gain large market share.
As discussed earlier, the Polo brand does not use price penetration to gain an edge over its competitors, instead it uses various promotional campaigns to promote the product brand and use this to obtain competitive advantage. The amount of promotional distribution is somewhat dependent on the product life cycle. In the latter stages of the product life cycle (maturity) compared to the earlier stages of the product life cycle (introduction and growth), brand managers allocate less of the marketing communications budget to advertising relative to sales promotion. (Low and Mohr, 2000, p.393).
As the Polo brand is in the maturity stage of the product life cycle, the hypothesis predicts that less of the promotional budget is applied to ad campaigns and more to sales promotion. This theory is nearly entirely accurate. Most of the ad campaigns run by Ralph Lauren nowadays are for its newer products (such as fragrances) rather than its established products such as apparel. With an exceptionally well-known brand, there is little need to remind the consumers of it – money is better spend promoting brands in the early stages of the PLC and focus on sales promotion for the solidified brands in the market such as the Polo brand.
Suggestions for Future
As mentioned on their website – www.polo.com, Polo Ralph Lauren has many growth initiatives. Including:
These expansion strategies by the company show that it is aware of the product life cycle and the need to compliment its mature, flagship brands with new and emerging brands as well as reinforcing the older brands and expanding to new market segments throughout the world.
In this essay, we examined and analysed the marketing strategy of a major apparel brand – Polo Ralph Lauren. After looking at its marketing mix, we can see that in an industry such as the apparel industry, brand name is extremely important to a product’s success. This is even more so when the product targets consumers with higher income levels who in general are more sensitive to a brand’s quality and recognition and less sensitive to higher prices.
In conclusion, it seems that Ralph Lauren’s marketing strategy is a very sound and proficient one and it has obtained a very solid and recognisable brand name over the years to be one of the leaders in its field. With new products and brands emerging as well as plans for expansion into new emerging international markets, there is no reason to see why this brand name should not continue to prosper in the future.