by: John Caddell

Friday's "Boss Talk" feature in the Journal presented an interview with Ann Taylor CEO Kay Krill. Most fascinating to me about the article was the disciplined and effective way Krill and her team created distinct brand identities for their two stores, Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft.

They created two distinct personalities for the women who shop at each store, complete with detailed descriptions and words representing their likes and dislikes. Ann is "appropriate" and "refined." Loft is "friendly" and "spirited" and lives in a house filled with "happy colors"--describing them as if they were two real people. The management team used these profiles to make decisions about what type of clothes to feature at each store. Says Krill:

I would not want to see a hoodie sweatshirt in Ann Taylor. But a little hoodie top in Loft would be OK.

This is a good illustration of one of the toughest assignments in marketing. Establishing a distinction between two offerings--in this case, women's fashion retailers--that share a lot of similar components without them overlapping too much is difficult. It requires thinking hard about what the differences are, then acting on those in a disciplined way.

If that hoodie top at Loft became the biggest seller in store history, do you think the Ann Taylor store GM would ask to stock a version? You bet. Would she be allowed to? That's the test.

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