Lilly Pulitzer and Target – Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

Lilly Pulitzer and Target – Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

Prepsters lament! On the heels of Isaac Mizrahi, Mulberry, and Missoni, Lilly Pulitzer and Target have recently announced a limited-edition collection to be released in Spring 2015. This announcement has created a massive divide in Lilly fans throughout North America – many are excited to snag Lilly’s fun, tropical prints at a significant discount, while others fear this move will erode the brand equity and image of this classic, preppy brand.

Lilly Pulitzer had previously been sold through licensed dealers in areas you’d expect (Palm Beach, Newport, Nantucket) and recently opened up direct to consumers through the website. The namesake of the brand was a bored socialite, heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, who became an overnight sensation when she began making and wearing brightly-colored fabric, fashioned out of kitchen curtains.

Celebrities and socialites rejoiced and embraced the new look and from the 1960s to the early 1980s, Lilly was everywhere and anyone who was anyone was wearing it! Happy Rockefeller, Jackie Onassis (a former Ms. Porter’s classmate), and CZ Guest were early socialite adopters of the look, to name a few.

When the Queen of Prep died in 2013, her clothing was lauded “a mark of membership for old-money families at play” and her look was back again! From college students to housewives, Lilly was (and is) back in style again.

So what’s going on? The brand doesn’t appear to be having any issues with sales or awareness among its key audience. Why the rash decision to partner with one of the biggest box stores in the country?

Some speculate the publicity generated from this partnership alone will create a nice wave for the brand to ride until summer when demand will peak, as it does each year. Keep the Lilly name and aesthetic in front of the customers so they’re foaming at the mouth for new nautical tunics and pastel madras shorts?

Others firmly assert that now that Ms. Pulitzer is dead (and rolling in her grave, no doubt), the greedy sales and marketing team has become obsessed with inorganic revenue growth and will run the company into the ground – ruining this legacy brand forever.

But how about this? What if, the marketing department has realized that there are potential customers who have not yet hit their sweet spot? There are young women (and men) out there who cannot yet justify spending $200 on a cotton shift but are big fans of the “Lilly look.” Why not whet their appetites with a limited-edition collection and nurture them through lower-priced products until a fraction of them graduate to the next level and have the disposable income to buy resort wear?

At Winsper, we talk to our clients a lot about the difference between customers and good customers. We try to be very clear that customers just entering a category are going to be at a very different price point than your long-time customers, your advocates. Not all customers are created equal and not all people who buy from you are going to continue to buy from you or spend more with you. But you often don’t know who the “good customer” is until they’ve made their first purchase, or first couple of purchases. And in the meantime, it’s no harm, no foul to sell a one-off to someone who isn’t going to graduate to the ideal level of fandom.

Here’s my take on it and for the record, I should share that my mother has been dressing me in Lilly Pulitzer since I could walk (and recently threw a temper tantrum that my bridesmaids would not be wearing Lilly dresses):

IF Target is spending the lion’s share of marketing dollars on promoting this collaboration and Lilly’s customer acquisition cost is not going to go through the roof…

IF Lilly is coming up with a limited-edition line for Target and none of the prints and patterns previously sold at full price (on the Lilly website or Lilly stores) will be available at Target or vice versa…

IF Lilly Corporate Marketing is realistic about the likely low conversion rate of Target buyers to regular Lilly buyers…


Who’s coming with me to Target on April 19th?!

What are your thoughts? Will this collaboration have negative ramifications on Lilly’s brand equity? Will the iconic brand really lose the customers who are allegedly so peeved about this? Did your mother make you wear Lilly too and you want to join my support group?

Share your comments below. We want to hear what you think.

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Gillian Lynch