Credit by Martin Roll
Mention the brand Uniqlo 10 years ago to anyone outside of Japan and you would get a confused look. Mention Uniqlo to any global citizen today and the associations of quality, affordability and fashionable come to mind immediately.
That is how successful Uniqlo has become in recent years. It has become yet another contender in the global fast fashion retail market. How did it manage to capture a share of this competitive fast fashion retail market so quickly?
The Uniqlo brand strategy
Uniqlo’s brand message encapsulates a clear vision: “Uniqlo is a modern Japanese company that inspires the world to dress casual”. The corporate strategy that has worked for Uniqlo so far is to “totally ignore fashion” instead of chasing fast-fashion trends like its other competitors. The brand philosophy “Made for All” positions its clothing to transcend age, gender, ethnicity and all other ways to define people.
The company distinguishes itself from its price driven competitors by branding its signature innovations with names like HeatTech, LifeWear and AIRism. Uniqlo provides a superlative physical shopping experience by impeccably managing its stores, inculcating a positive employee culture and through in-store technology.
Some of the key brand success factors for Uniqlo include the following:
Delivery system supporting a clear brand promise: Uniqlo has indeed managed to successfully define a clear brand promise for itself to provide high quality, performance-enhanced, universal, basic casual wear at affordable prices. On the other hand, it has also created a strong delivery system to deliver on this brand promise.
By focusing on core products in a limited range of fabrics, Uniqlo is able to consolidate its fabric buys into huge orders that give it greater negotiation power against suppliers which translates into cheaper prices for its customers – serving its brand promise well.
Product development approach and efficient supply chain: While leading competitor Zara has built the world’s largest apparel business based on rapidly responding to fast-changing fashion trends, getting items from factory to store in approximately two weeks, Uniqlo plans production of its wardrobe essentials up to a year in advance. Unlike its competitors who sell a large variety of trendy fashion inspired by the global runway, Uniqlo focuses on producing a few styles of urban practical basics.
The company also runs a highly robust supply chain. Once a garment is in production, about 400 skilled staff members visit production centers to ensure quality and resolve outstanding issues.
Customer concerns are also addressed by the production department which keeps the product teams plugged into what the end consumer thinks, as product and marketing teams work closely together around strategy and execution.
Company culture and visionary leadership: In terms of company culture, the organizational structure is well known to be flat with employees greatly encouraged to provide suggestions. Company financials are completely transparent to employees and sales and charted and posted daily. The brand also places a huge emphasis on its retail store experience and micromanages every customer touch point.
Every activity undertaken by its employees are recorded and analyzed – from apparel folding technique, to the way retail staff returns credit cards to customers with both hands and full eye contact.
High dedication to innovation: The company also hires Japanese textile masters called “Takumi”, who work closely with factories in China and Japan to continually develop new high-tech fabrics for Uniqlo.
One of Uniqlo’s signature innovations is HeatTech. The HeatTech fabric is thin, comfortable which has enabled the brand to create stylish designs which are very different from the standard traditional warmth clothing segment.
Besides HeatTech, Uniqlo has also created AIRism (a soft fabric with quick-drying inner fabric), LifeWear (a blend between casual and sportswear) and UV Cut (material designed to prevent 90% of ultraviolet rays from reaching the wearer) technologies. These new fabrics are all branded and copyrighted.
Uniqlo brand architecture
Uniqlo caters apparel to mainly 3 customer segments: Women, Men and Kids & Babies. The brand is divided into five sub-brands separated by style but housed under the same Uniqlo store, within which Uniqlo showcases its collections: Outerwear, Tops, Bottoms, Inner-wear, Homewear & Accessories
Uniqlo brand communication strategy
Today, it uses a plethora of methods to communicate its brand position and ideals, including its unique in-store environment, celebrity brand ambassadors (called Uniqlo Global Ambassadors), digital marketing, collaborations with designers and brand campaigns.
In-store environment: One of Uniqlo’s main brand communication methods is its in-store environment. Through its wide aisles, bright lights, neatly stacked shelves and beautifully presented displays creating a comfortable and welcoming shopping experience. It also has many digital screens in-store explaining the practical benefits of its fabrics and apparels.
Uniqlo Global Ambassadors: Similar to many global brands, Uniqlo also uses celebrity endorsements to extend the brand’s image and connect with the masses. For Uniqlo, the most important attributes it looks for in its brand ambassadors are great resilience and strong character to overcome adversity.
Digital marketing: Being one of the first brands to successfully launch the digital marketing campaign ‘Uniqlock’ back in 2007, Uniqlo is definitely one of the forerunners to use this brand communication channel. The viral marketing project, designed to build brand awareness internationally, featured a clock with spliced clips of well-choreographed dancing and catchy lounge music all timed to match the ticking.
The web tool, Uniqlock, was designed to include a blog widget so the clock could be embedded into blog sites. By January 2008, more than 27,000 widgets from 76 countries were circulating, and the widgets and website that accompanied the campaign had been viewed 68 million times in 209 different countries. Uniqlock won the brand a multitude of major advertising awards, including a Grand Prix at Cannes Lions Festival.
Collaborations with designers: In line with its brand promise to highlight each individual’s unique individual style, Uniqlo collaborates with designers to create unique styles. By collaborating with global designers, Uniqlo is also able to gain quicker access into markets where it has a weaker brand awareness, like the US and European markets.
Global brand campaigns: Although it has been a while since the Uniqlo brand has gone international, it was only in 2016 that Uniqlo launched its first global brand campaign titled “The Science of LifeWear”.
Going forward, the brand wants to foster closer two-way communication with customers. Uniqlo has committed to use the information collected through its website and mobile app to analyze customer data and provide them with information that best suits their individual needs.