Cross-category learning: what might Angela Ahrendts bring to Apple?

This week, Angela Ahrendts announced that she will be stepping down as CEO of Burberry to join Apple as Senior Vice President for retail and online stores - news that has rocked the fashion, technology and business arenas. Heralded as one of the few key figures accountable for the hugely successful turnaround of Burberry, where sales have tripled and the share price quadrupled over a period of seven years, Ahrendts’ departure has already seen a knock-on effect in the stock market. But beyond her proven business acumen, what is it that Apple hopes to gain from their new recruit?

Five years ago, I would argue that the technology giant had the ability to surprise us with new products, genuine innovation, a playful retail experience and advertising that truly spoke to us. Who knew that we needed another screen in our lives and that the iPad would slot so neatly in amongst our laptop and smartphone? Switch back to the present day and Apple’s competitors have caught up, and some overtaken them in innovation, leaving Apple’s marketing approach and brand experience feeling a little stayed.

In Angela Ahrendts’ old arena, fashion and technology have become increasingly intertwined and Burberry has capitalised on this, dramatically enhancing its own experience and becoming a true pioneer in digital. The brand has successfully built an impressive social media following alongside more stand-out activities such as Tweetwalk (giving online viewers backstage sneak peeks), the in-store mirroring and manifestation of, and in-store 3D screening of catwalk shows; all of which has triggered multiple awards and cross-industry recognition. In amongst this, Burberry hasn’t forgotten the power of a surprising and refreshing in-store experience - a genuine interaction with the architecture and engaged staff, rather than a retail environment that is purely product-orientated. Yes, digital technology has been seamlessly integrated, but the environment itself also feels unexpected and challenging. As Apple and its competitors begin to step on the perfectly polished toes of the fashion industry, with the upcoming release of wearable technology, the environment in which these products are held, touched, shared, revisited and eventually sold will become increasingly important to the purchase experience.

Over the next couple of years it will be interesting to see how (and if?) the Apple retail experience will evolve as a result of Angela’s appointment, and indeed whether other brands will follow suit. Will she enhance the current experience and make walking into an Apple store or visiting an even more personal, hands-on, integrated interaction? Or perhaps there is a need for a more disruptive strategy - doing away with minimalism and a product-on-a-pedestal approach, and instead placing consumers at the gateway of technology with an environment that is busy, energetic, constantly changing and challenging.

Either way, it’s time to live up to ‘Think Different’.

Written by Lauren Smith, Strategist


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