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What Brands Can Learn From Anna Wintour (also published in MediaPost: Marketing Daily)

By Candy Washington

Think of the fashion industry. Do leggy models and the latest “it” bag come to mind? Consider the business of fashion, and you see that one of its leading icons uses branding principles to engage consumers, expand her portfolio, grow ROI, and most importantly, remain relevant and differentiated in an ever-changing, copycat industry.

This leading fashion icon is Anna Wintour, the British-born editor in chief of American Vogue who has sternly, yet gracefully, transformed the magazine into the industry standard for fashion publications.
What can your brand learn from Wintour? Here are 9 key insights.

Insight No. 1: Execute a clear vision
Wintour forged Vogue as a visionary-led brand. Her vision -- trendsetting, aspirational, sophisticated -- is consistently executed across all touchpoints.
Brand benefit: Wintour implements her vision while retaining the integrity of Vogue’s legacy. The Vogue brand stands on its own.

Insight No. 2: Innovate authentically
Wintour spearheaded the "high-low" trend. Her first cover featured a model wearing a $10,000 jewel-encrusted T-shirt paired with a $50 pair of jeans.
Brand benefit: Vogue reached the aspirational consumer without alienating the magazine’s affluent consumer base.

Insight No. 3: Have purpose
Wintour gives back to the community, and the magazine represents more than how to dress.
Brand benefit: Wintour tied Vogue's brand purpose to a public platform by raising over $50M for charity through her fundraiser and founding Fashion's Night Out in 2009 to stimulate New York City's economy.

Insight No. 4: Define the curve
Wintour uses her position to evangelize emerging designers, playing an integral role in launching the careers of Marc Jacobs and the late Alexander McQueen.
Brand benefit:"New" and "next" are now sought-after brand attributes in an industry that previously heralded convention and tradition.

Insight No. 5: Engage your employees
Wintour establishes working at Vogue as a lifestyle. Employees understand and execute the Vogue culture perfectly.
Brand benefit: Vogue employees are brand ambassadors. They live the company culture, understand the brand, and represent it well.

Insight No. 6: Be transparent
Documenting the production of the largest September issue in Vogue’s history, Wintour made a strategic move in a transparent world.
Brand benefit: Brands must look introspectively -- accountability leads to trust, trust to loyalty, loyalty to brand ambassadors and word-of-mouth marketers.

Insight No. 7: Mind your allies
Wintour's entourage includes some of the most influential people in the business, including André Leon Talley, Zac Posen, and other insiders.
Brand benefit: Strategic alliances and collaborations are essential to a brand’s survival and growth.

Insight No. 8: Create need by adding value
Calling a halt to the supermodel era, Wintour opted instead to feature celebrities on the cover of Vogue.
Brand benefit: Vogue remains relevant within the entertainment industry.

Insight No. 9: Stay relevant and differentiated
Daring to be different, creating an engaged employee culture, and exerting her vision are all aspects of the branding business that Wintour has seamlessly executed.
Brand benefit: Endurance. After more than two decades under Wintour, Vogue is still the industry standard.

Not just smoke and mirrors, these insights lead to tangible and monetary results. Advertising Age named American Vogue the “2011 Magazine of the Year,” beating out The Economist, Time, and Vanity Fair, and giving Vogue a quantifiable result for its branding savvy.

Vogue increased its January-to-October ad pages by more than 9% and propelled its newsstand component by nearly 13% during the first half of 2011. With 584 pages worth of advertising space, its September issue did not disappoint.

Perhaps Wintour took her cues from Coco Chanel, who said, “Fashion passes, style remains.” Varying marketing tactics may pass, but branding etiquette and strategy never go out of style. 

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