Zara, the flagship brand of Inditex the Spanish multinational retail company, has transformed the fashion industry. Some might say Zara has been instrumental in creating “fast fashion,” encouraging the overconsumption of clothing which threatens nature and biodiversity; is built on exploited labour; and produces horrific amounts of clothing waste(The Guardian July 2021). Others say that Zara has delivered affordable fashion to consumers that hitherto had sub-optimal fashion options, hence a fashion equalizer of sorts. (Fortune October 2022)
We reviewed Bovitz’s proprietary PeopleFirst brand tracking research to look at people’s attitudes and assessment of Zara.
Zara most definitely fulfills a number of functional attributes as one would predict, but surprisingly, it fulfills other attributes that are redefining the success equation for retail brands.
Functionally, Zara gets high marks for what one would expect: “Is worth the money;” “offers good quality” and “great deals;” is “convenient and consistent;” “has excellent customer service;” “is always coming up with new things;” and is “well-designed.” These are expected and necessary features of a retail brand.
With respect to Corporate Citizenship, Zara seems to defy the harsh criticisms of its sustainability efforts. (HBR January 2022) Zara receives scores that are trending upwards for “genuinely caring about things other than profits;” “always strives to improve;” “listens to its customers;” “is inclusive of all types of people;” “operates with integrity;” “treats me with respect;” and “actively supports causes I believe in.”
So notwithstanding the sustainability skepticism, there must be a degree of awareness that Zara is addressing a number of fast fashion-related criticisms: for example, through its Join Life initiative, Zara is committed to the reduction of toxic materials and clothing waste; to increasing it use of sustainable materials; to improving employment and production conditions; and to encouraging its customers to actually consume less. (Impakter Index)
But there is a third layer where Zara earns noteworthy scores, that are also trending upwards. Respondents note that Zara “cares about my happiness;” “fulfills a need for me better than other brands that offer something similar;” “understands my needs;” “improves my quality of life;” and “brings a smile to my face.”
There are definitely ways that these features are connected to function and corporate citizenship, but they constitute a distinct feature of brands. A feature we are calling Delight.
Current wisdom is that the brands that combine profit with purpose capture broader and more enduring commendation, loyalty and purchase. Purpose-driven brands are heralded as having more productive and committed employees, and concomitantly improved profitability. We like to think that this is true, notwithstanding the debate about the verifiability of the profit-purpose equation, particularly given the challenges in accurate measurement, and the almost constant unearthing of deceptive practices.
Bovitz has been tracking People First attitudes and purchase behavior for a number of years. We saw the emergence of purpose-related characteristics over a decade ago; and as these features became more important to people, the equation of what earned brand respect and profit shifted. Function + Purpose emerged as the key success equation. The brands that delivered superior function and behaved as trusted corporate citizens earned a reputational equity that enhanced profitability.
What we see emerging is a third element in the success equation. In addition to high function and socially relevant purpose, success now requires delivering on happiness and joy.
Success is now about being disciplined, diligent and delightful. And when we observe this new combination, our proposition is that the successful brands are the ones who are Meaningful.
We welcome your experiences of Zara and other brands and how they are, or are not, Meaningful.