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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Executive Summary

This report analyses COS and the brand's market position as a fashion retailer. This overview presents the COS approach to fashion marketing to create a point of difference between their brand and their competitors.

The introduction includes a review of the fashion retail market and comparative competitors in the current market up to Spring 2018.

The Brand & Marketing Report will review COS across several parts including an overview of the brand, an analysis of its market, its target market & market position, an assessment of the band's strengths, weakness, opportunities & threats (SWOT) and any political, environmental, social and technological (PEST) aspects that the brand includes. The report then assesses the brand identity and, to conclude, will propose recommendations for how the brand can continue to hold its market position.

By analysing products, price point, promotional campaigns and places it has retail outlets, the report provides a summary of the COS brand and its marketing.

Table of Contents

Chapter Page

Executive Summary 3

Table of Contents 4

1. Introduction 5

2. Brand Overview 6

3. Market Analysis 7

4. Target Market & Market Position 8

5. SWOT (Strengths Weakness Opportunities Threats) 9

6. PEST (Political, Economic, Social and Technological) 10

7. Brand Identity 11

8. Recommendations & Conclusions 14

9. Bibliography 15

1. Introduction

“The best indication of a brand's successful infiltration is when you can't imagine the high-street landscape without it, or remember where you used to buy anything before it existed. [Since] arriving in the UK, Swedish label COS is becoming as much part of the fabric of our town centres as its stablemate, H&M.”

(Walker, 2012)

The market of Fashion Retail is highly competitive. From a town centre high street to a multi-storey shopping mall many retailers sit side-by-side and compete for their share of the market. The market ranges from fast fashion to luxury designer brands and every conceivable option in between.

This brand & marketing report looks at the clothing brand and retailer COS, who create modern design inspired clothing with a strong brand ethic and cultural connection to other creative industries. Their mid-market positioning is set aside from fast fashion and actively places itself as an alternative. Its customers aspire to have well designed fashion at affordable prices. COS sets out to fulfil this consumer demand through strong design, use of good quality fabrics and materials and a consistent presentation of its brand.

2. Brand Overview

COS is owned by the Swedish H&M (Hennes & Mauritz AB) group of fashion chains. It launched in 2007 with a collection show at London's Royal Academy, along with the opening of its flagship store on Regent Street. The company is based in London and the brand is now available in select locations across Europe, Asia, North America, the Middle East and Australia.

The name ‘COS' stands for Collection Of Style, which describes its stylish everyday wardrobe pieces that are both smart and easy to wear. Its products can be described as classics and reinvented essentials for women, men and children. The brand was established to provide an alternative to high street fashion that has a designer aesthetic at its core. It was conceived to offer a more cost effective range of fashion and accessories whilst attaining the style of high end and luxury brands such as Prada, Acne Studios and 
Mui Mui.

The design of COS items often play with volume and proportion. They have a strong design ethos rather than following fashion trends. Items can have a tailored fitted look alongside more casual oversized pieces as well as classic cuts that define a simple elegance for everyday wear.

The brand creates styles that last beyond the season which is a move away from fast fashion style of retail which relies on trends and reactions to market demands. COS create timeless classics that are consciously current that don't date or look tired. Pieces that are creatively designed, made to last and easy to pair with either more casual or more formal items and accessories.

Key COS items include fitted white shirts, straight cut chinos and the black dresses. Fabric colours are often neutral or tonal, knitwear is both fine weaves and chunky knits, shoes and accessories are usually minimal, single coloured and with little embellishment. These pieces fit with a modern lifestyle and their tailored style allows for them to be worn gracefully.

Brand Architecture

To assess the COS brand position, it is necessary to acknowledge its parent company H&M. As a collection of fashion brands within one group they will have been allocated key market areas to attract a distinguishable customer type. The following Brand Architecture diagram illustrates the position of COS within the group, alongside the other subsidiaries.

Fig 1. Brand Architecture of H&M group. (Duan, 2018)

3. Market Analysis

Feb, 2018

Fig 2. COS in the world, (Duan, 2018)

Data from: about.hm.com/en/brands/cos.html

COS have a strong high street presence across 37 different countries, amounting to 231 stores around the world. Their position is at a mid-market level, perceptively above the other brands within the H&M group. This is due to the strong brand message that goes into the design of their products.

It has recently celebrated its tenth anniversary and does well in online sales with 20 markets available to fulfil digital transactions.

To understand COS's position in the fashion retail market, H&M must be considered, as it has carefully curated its range of brands to not be direct competitors with each other. COS's competitors are brands that also do not aspire to fulfil a place in fast fashion retail. Brands that have the modern design approach with affordable pricing are Muji and select designer ranges within Uniqlo. Both of these are Japanese brands with an International presence. COS have a Scandinavian heritage so as a brand it has a point-of-difference from its nearest competitors and can perform strongly in overseas territories.

COS's brand language is highly visual, with minimal use of text, no slogan or tag line and forms a universal language through use of stylised photography. Much of the brand's marketing is contained to its stores, with very few external promotional campaigns. It associates itself with other creative industries through events, art installations, design exhibitions and promoting emerging art and design talents through its own magazine and online through social media.

The figure below, (Fig 3.), presents an overview of COS's social media reach.

April, 2018

Fig 3. COS Social Media reach, (Duan, 2018)

Data from: instagram.com/cosstores, pinterest.com/cosstores, facebook.com/cos,  linkedin.com/company/cos

4. Target Market & Market Position

When it comes to the COS customer, brand loyalty is an important factor. COS presents itself to consumers who want to buy into a certain aesthetic. This makes them feel they are part of a lifestyle rather than simply being a customer in a store. The aesthetic of ‘Modern Minimalism' has enjoyed a resurgence in fashion by the likes of Céline and Saint Laurent. COS stores and clothing are unassuming and understated and have a quiet confidence to them. COS design is centred around its range of ‘modern classics', so the age range of their target market is very broad. They have a wide collection of womenswear and menswear, with a children's wear collection and accessories lines. COS designs and manufactures clothing that are made to be worn beyond the season. The collections combine lasting quality with timeless design using clean silhouettes, innovative techniques and functional details inspired by art, technology and architecture.

“The starting point for COS's collections is typically industrial design or architecture, but it could be anything stemming from the creative fields, such as film or music.” (Budds, 2016)

Fig 4. COS Market Position with Competitors (Duan, 2018)

5. SWOT

The existing COS customer would be aware of the brand's ‘modern design at an affordable price' brand ethic. This aspirational quality, that the brand personifies through its products of minimal style, could result in the brand being reliant on a core consumer group. Without increasing market awareness that group could adopt an emerging brand of similar market level. The potential of substitute products from other retailers is currently at a low level, as there are very few retailers offering COS style at COS price point. As part of the H&M group, COS would have access to a large supply chain, which supports its initiative and its perceived value.

There could be a perception that the brand is too niche and its understated style lacks personality. The modern style of its products may not align with a consumers vision of current trends. It has already been assessed that the brand is focussed on its own design agenda and whilst it can remain consciously current, consumers outside the brand could perceive it as lacking product differentiation that would otherwise attract them to it.

To illustrate these concerns, the following SWOT chart provides a focus on COS's potential to innovate on what they already do well and outline potential hazards the brand could face in future.

Fig 5. COS SWOT evaluation of brand and marketing (Duan, 2018)

6. PEST

As part of a large group, COS looks to attain its mid-market position. Many factors however could affect consumer confidence in the brand if they feel it lacks innovation. The following PEST chart sets out the framework of the key factors that could affect COS's market position and its perceived brand values.

Fig 6. COS PEST table (Duan, 2018)

7. Brand Identity 4 P's 1. Product, 2. Price, 3. Promotion, 4. Place

Product

When designing the clothes, tailoring takes inspiration from avant-garde labels; Helmut Lang, Jil Sander and Marni and utilitarian aspects of vintage Prada. COS's first ever collection was all black, white and grey. It has introduced, in subsequent seasons, vibrant neon and pastel hues.

Each season's new releases are designed and styled to complement the previous season's. Overall, this forms a coherent, and characteristic, sense of style across collections, genders and ages and is consistent throughout COS's accessory collections. A COS customer would feel just as good wearing head-to-toe COS as they would mixing their COS pieces with other brands.

Womenswear design, Karin Gustaffson stated, in interview with Harriet Walker for The Indpendent, “We pay a lot of attention to the quality of our garments and always look into ways to innovate fabrication to feel modern and interesting.”

The products use quality fabrics and modern manufacturing. Key items are made of jersey, traditional quality wools, neoprene, metal mesh and some technofabrics. These give an added sense of quality and consideration to pieces which would otherwise feel mass-produced. This is a purposeful move away from the fast fashion cycle of high street fashion chains.

Left - right: Fig 7. COS SS18 (COS, 2018), Fig 8. COS SS17 (COS, 2017), Fig 9. COS AW17 (COS, 2017).

Price

Pieces are designed to be affordable but are positioned above fast fashion budget brands. COS have a relatively small price elasticity and keeps their price points within an ‘affordable' category. This could be in part because of the H&M group already positioning their subsidiaries within cheaper budgets. Within the H&M group, COS is at the higher end with & Other Stories attaining similar price points on some of its pieces. Whilst not relying on releasing cheap ranges they also do not release expensive ‘designer' collections. This could be to ensure their customer understands that COS will deliver a quality product at a good price and to continue to position those products to their target customer type. This is the perceived value of COS's products.

Promotion

To understand the COS approach to promoting their product lines requires dissemination of differentiating product information to their customer. COS have a strong promotional agenda to well position the brand to maximise its return on investment in design and manufacturing. It draws influence for its design from high end brands and its reliable quality and pricing allows COS to hold a positive market position with few competing brands attaining the same consistency.

As part of its promotional activity, COS publishes its own free magazine. These are released in line with new collections and are available from their stores. Consumer communications utilises social media effectively, reducing the need for advertising campaigns. It is somewhat reliant on brand reputation, rather than investment in published advertising.

COS supports its retail outlets with online retail through their own website cosstores.com. Their online store stocks COS womenswear, menswear and childrenswear collections. Alongside features from their magazine, its latest looks and a blog section titled ‘things' COS aligns itself with other design industries and forms a creative cultural connection. The website has been designed that everything is simple to use with a minimal aesthetic that maintains its brand values, puts products at the forefront and is easy to navigate.

Fig 10. COS website

Place

COS stores are in major cities across Europe, Asia, North America, the Middle East and Australia. Their stores reflect their brand values of quality and function with good design. The store environments are uncomplicated atmospheres that their customer feel comfortable in.

The brand is committed to supporting the world of art and design through collaboration with COS partnering with established and emerging artists, studios and galleries all over the world. Through these means, COS creates a series of unique brand projects alongside its seasonal fashion collections.

“What does it say about London-based clothing brand COS that it is targeting architects and designers? Its price points are relatively accessible when compared to many other boutique or more explicitly luxury-oriented brands. At the same time, within the mass-market fast-fashion sector, COS has a different approach than other stores like Uniqlo or H&M, which can tell us something about the brand and its ethos.” (Shaw, 2018)

Its target market is a consumer who aspires to similar cultural connections, appreciates good design but demands affordability alongside good quality.

Fig 11. Clockwise from top left: COS Projects including COS x Mr Porter collection, COS x Phillip K. Smitth III at Salone del Mobile, Milan 2018, COS x Sou Fujimoto at Salone del Mobile, Milan 2016, COS x Studio Swine, Design Miami, 2017

8. Recommendations & Conclusions

COS can be perceived as a reliable brand that produces quality items for the discerning design savvy fashion consumer.

Marketing within the business of fashion retail is problematic for COS because of their affinity with H&M. COS have a clear market position, but consumer awareness could be reduced by H&Ms other subsidiaries. Even though the parent brand has carefully presented each brand with its own unique identity, there could be a potential limitation applied to COS's ability to adapt and change to consumer demands.

The most positive aspect is its strong ‘design ethic', to present itself as modern, uncomplicated, sleek and minimal and to design and manufacture clothing with the same ethic. This has been clearly considered to elevate COS above the potentially difficult fast fashion market of other H&M brands. The marketers behind the brand positioning align COS with other creative industries and form joint collaborations. These support emerging designers and artists and in return supports COS's brand identity.

By positioning COS in this position and to aim at a consumer who would appreciate creative design integrity, the brand stands out from its nearest competitors and other high street fashion retailers, whilst remaining consciously current.

COS is a strong leader in mid-market fashion with a brand identity more apparent than Muji and considered to be of a higher status than Uniqlo, therefore it achieves its aspiration of being a brand of affordable quality with strong design integrity.

9. Bibliography

Walker, H. (2012). Cos: Thoroughly modern minimalism. [online] The Independent.

Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/cos-thoroughly-modern-minimalism-7834566.html [Accessed 21 Apr. 2018].

Budds, D. (2016). The Secret To COS's Inspired Minimalism. [online] Co.Design.

Available at: https://www.fastcodesign.com/3059138/the-secret-to-coss-inspired-minimalism [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

Shaw, M. (2018). Why is fashion brand COS engaging the design world?. [online] Archpaper.com. Available at: https://archpaper.com/2018/03/cos-engaging-design-world/ [Accessed 20 Apr. 2018].

List of illustrations

Fig 1. H&M group of brands. (Duan, 2018) (http://about.hm.com/en/brands/cos.html)

Fig 2. COS in the world (Duan, 2018) (http://about.hm.com/en/brands/cos.html)

Fig 3. COS Social Media reach (Duan, 2018)

Fig 4. COS Market Position with Competitors (Duan, 2018)

Fig 5. COS SWOT (Duan, 2018)

Fig 6. COS PEST (Duan, 2018)

Fig 7. COS SS18 (COS, 2018) https://www.cosstores.com/gb/Studio/Campaign

Fig 8. COS SS17 (COS, 2017) https://www.cosstores.com/gb/Studio/Campaign

Fig 9. COS AW17 (COS, 2017) https://www.cosstores.com/gb/Studio/Campaign

Fig 10. COS website https://www.cosstores.com

Fig 11. COS Projects including COS x Mr Porter collection, COS x Phillip K. Smitth III at Salone del Mobile, Milan 2018, COS x Sou Fujimoto at Salone del Mobile, Milan 2016, COS x Studio Swine, Design Miami, 2017

https://www.cosstores.com/gb/Studio/Projects/Salone_Del_Mobile

https://www.cosstores.com/gb/Studio/Collection

https://www.cosstores.com/gb/Studio/Projects/COS_Sou_Fujimoto

https://www.cosstores.com/gb/Studio/Projects/Design_Miami_2017

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