C. Wonder Brand & Concept:

C. Wonder is a relatively new fashion retailer founded by Christopher Burch, also co-founder of Tory Burch LLC, in 2011.  The “C” of C. Wonder stands for customer, representing the brand’s dedication to providing an outstanding service experience for its target consumer.  This brand was launched in particular manner to create a “retail experience that transports women into a world of luxury and surprises.” C. Wonder is hopeful that any late twenties to middle-aged working woman will find everything she needs and desires at this store; from a cocktail party dress and a pair of earrings to go with it, to bed sheets and even a bejeweled collar for her new puppy, C. Wonder aspires to offer timeless and practical elements of everyday life with a modern and fresh twist.  Everything about C.Wonder is reflective of an all-encompassing lifestyle brand and a brand that can offer everything a workingwoman would want and deserve.  The brand embodies the idea of wonder and hopes to integrate its products and services into a woman’s everyday life by prioritizing how she feels, how she can be helped, how can she be made comfortable and most importantly, how she can be made to feel like “our girl,” which is the brand’s main focus.

Image(Store entrance, Google Images)

From its inception, C. Wonder has prioritized becoming a multi-dimensional lifestyle brand for working women from the age of 28 to 45.  The brand was conceived with the notion of collaborating inexpensive yet luxurious products with a beautiful store setting in hopes to build a brand community of empowered and independent women.  C. Wonder has invested a lot of time and expenses to redefine “the meaning of value retailing with a luxury approach…” and offering innovative approaches to its “unique online and in-store retail experiences” (Think PR).

C.Wonder seems to devote their brand name and image to the idea of personalization.  The core of the company’s infrastructure is developing and maintaining consumer-brand interaction.  The company has always kept in mind that consumers are increasingly not only wanting, but also expecting individualized interactions and messages with brands themselves. With this in mind, the C.Wonder brand has been taken under Responsys Inc.’s wing, a company dedicated to creating and successfully executing marketing campaigns for the biggest brands across all media platforms: email, social, mobile, display and web.  Knowing that nearly half of consumers will be less responsive to “mass-marketed” messages and more than half of consumers are likely to purchase from brands that send out personalized messages is critical enough for C. Wonder to rely on innovative media strategies rather than traditional ones (Responsys, WSJ).  With the help of Responsys, C.Wonder is able to “build consumer profiles with rich data, design experiences that unfold over each customer’s lifetime and then deliver personalized messages and offers” (Responsys, WSJ). Instead of solely relying on public relations, C. Wonder is making use of integrated marketing communications, which combine public relations with direct marketing and sales promotion across mobile, print, web and social media.

C. Wonder Takes On Social Media/Publications:

Katherine Bahamande, ECP Global Ecommerce and Operations at C.Wonder, has said that the mobile media platform is changing the way consumers shop and purchase with their brand and “is a vital part of the multichannel strategy” (Reaching, MHI).  While C.Wonder has always had a Mobile First Mentality, Chris Burch said himself that mobile will be the brand’s main focus in 2014.  This approach is to meet the ever-growing activity and demand from busy working women using mobile devices to make purchases during their coffee runs, lunch breaks or even mid-day breaks.  Prioritizing mobile attracts the brand’s target audience that may not necessarily have spare time to visit the store and can instead rely on their smartphones to shop, look up ratings and make purchases. Social media is being used to actively attend to consumer needs and inquiries as well as using this information to integrate customer dialogue into the brand, furthermore creating a retail or e-retail experience that is more intimate and individualized.  Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are all social media outlets that help C. Wonder create “customer acquisition, brand building, and general dialogue around their brand and products” (Reaching, MHI).  These media formats are used to create a “buzz” around the brand and to attract potential consumers to exploring what Wonder has to offer.  Mobile is pretty much a game changer and is transforming our shopping experiences.

C. Wonder has been big on utilizing social media platforms to announce different campaigns and attract attention from the public.  The brand has a big online presence on media channels including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where shoppers can personally address interests, requests and concerns with the brand.  These different forums allow consumers to actively engage with the brand so that they are ensured an experience of wonder.

The C.Wonder Twitter profile has well over 10 thousand followers, Instagram with 35 thousand and Facebook with 155 thousand followers.  These numbers represent at least a part of C.Wonder’s brand community and consumer base that are actively participating and engaging with the brand.  Active commenters on different media outlets can be referred to as cultural intermediaries who, according to Nestor Garcia Canclini in Identities as a Multimedia Spectaclepossess a lot of knowledge about the products/services of the brand and are sharing it to the public. These intermediaries act as the messenger in between the producer and consumer.  With the help of these people, mass media is used as a tool to encourage or discourage consumption of a certain product or service.

From looking at the brand’s Facebook page, it seems as though consumers are constantly leaving comments about their amazing or, oppositely, horrible experiences with the brand.  Some shoppers directly post their experiences with subpar customer service and feelings of being disappointed at the poor quality of clothing.  A snarky example of this kind of customer engagement I found is a C. Wonder Facebook post of a Grace Kelly quote and a shopper’s comment directly quoting the same line, saying “’Don’t be like the rest of them, darling…’and stand behind your product. Such a shame, I love C.Wonder but won’t be spending my holiday shopping dollars with a company that doesn’t back defective products.” (When I tried going back to this post, I found out that the site manage must’ve taken the entire post down for whatever reason.  Probably taking on the role of damage control…)

By contrast, there are customers who have enjoyed their shopping experiences and purchases who leave positive and encouraging feedback that the brand and other potential customers can benefit from. On C. Wonder’s Yelp page for the Soho location, many customers seem to comment on the amazing personalized customer service they had received. According to one pleased shopper, the sales representative was not only helpful with just finding sizes and directing her to the section she desired, but also went “above and beyond to find a large, adorable box, take all of the tags off, and arrange them creatively, complete with packaging tissue, ribbon, and an embossed sticker to seal the package…at no extra cost (Yelp).” Also, this particular shopper referred to her sales rep by her name, Esther, which shows that the usual employee-consumer association at any other shop is turned into a employee-consumer relationship where the customer can feel comfortable and at home, which is exactly what C. Wonder hopes to attribute to their brand name and image.  Judging from the responses to customer feedback , C.Wonder generally does a great job at responding and compensating for customer’s dissatisfactory experiences.

Image(Screen Shot, Yelp)

When C.Wonder has special offers or events that they are hosting, consumers actively participate and in turn create a buzz around the brand.  For example, the brand hosted  “The Get Prepped Instagram Challenge” this last September where its followers were asked to submit their preppiest outfit for a chance to win $500 dollars to the store.  Comments show excited followers who were already “planning” their outfits.  These kinds of activities allow customers to create a relationship with the brand.  C. Wonder’s preppy outfits, jewelry, iPad cases, for example, create a community of women who share the same sense of style but not necessarily the same occupations.  Women who shop at C.Wonder come from different backgrounds and different interests; the brand can serve as a common thread between these diverse group of women and allows them to create relationships with not only the employees but also with one another.  With the different kinds of events the brand hosts at their flagship stores (as seen in pictures on Instagram and Facebook), women seem to come, let loose, and enjoy their time as their minds slowly stray away from the corporate world for a minute.

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(Instagram post)

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(Screen Shot, Instagram)

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(Facebook)

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(Facebook)

C. Wonder has also hired PR agencies that promoted the brand through massive media coverage including product placement as well as store grand opening and features in popularly consumed publications such as Instyle, House Beautiful, The NY Times, O, the Oprah magazine, People StyleWatch, and the Wall Street Journal.  The magazines that featured these articles on C. Wonder are definitely strategized and make sense for reaching target consumers.  The target consumer for publications like the Oprah magazine and House Beautiful is working, middle-aged women with some disposable income and matches the age group and social qualifications that C. Wonder is catered towards.  I think that it is important to realize that publications such as Teen Vogue, Elle Girl or Seventeen are not the ones featuring articles on C. Wonder.  This brand has a very specific target consumer base and thus all the marketing strategies that are all modified to fit into the context and make sense to the potential consumer.

With the various methods in which C. Wonder addresses its consumers, there is a higher chance of receiving customer feedback.  As mentioned in Lury’s Consumer Culture and expanded on in Adam Arvidsson’s Brands: A Critical Perspective, consumer practices add value to the brand.  So consumers engaged in C. Wonder’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram pages, are all contributing to the company’s brand equity.  Arvidsson adds that, “brands build on the immaterial labor of consumers: their ability to create an ethical surplus (a social bond, a shared experience, a common identity) through productive communication” (235).  He also argues that a brand’s assets are “produced by consumers themselves” (239).  The more loyal and passionate C. Wonder consumers are essentially un-paid ambassadors of the brand without them even knowing it.

C. Wonder Community: “Wonder Women”

Before we go into C. Wonder’s brand community, I’ll first explore the concept of Alison Hearn’s “self-branding” in Meat, Mask, Burden, and how consumers use the C. Wonder brand to create their “selves” and in turn form a community around it.  Hearn points out that the process of “self-branding” erodes the distinction between notions of the self and capitalist processes of production and consumption; the two become blurred.  Self-branding is vital for a successful career in a ruthless corporate function and one must be carefully branded in a way that makes him or her attractive and useful.  According to Hearn, we see the “self” as a commodity and a brand subject to transaction and exchange.  In this way, we are able to generate value for ourselves.  The consumers of C. Wonder are usually fully integrated in this raw and corporate world and just like others, feel a need to “sell” themselves by focusing on a professional appearance.

Workingwomen who are independent with a sense of style and a taste of luxury are the primary consumers that are forming attachments to the brand. These women want to present themselves as smart, professional and fashionable ladies of the office that shouldn’t be overlooked.  They have a “shared consciousness” which is one of the markers of a community, according to the essay Brand Community written by Albert Muniz and Thomas O’Guinn.  Their sense of style and likeness towards a luxury yet affordable brand creates an“imagined community” where members share similar attitudes, rituals and traditions.  Loyal members continue to purchase products from C. Wonder as a ritual that reinforces and sustains brand culture. Pinterest is a great example of a media outlet where consumers post their outfit details courtesy of C. Wonder. Consumers share how they coordinate and wear C. Wonder pieces and in that way, become cultural intermediaries, as defined above. The C. Wonder Pinterest board is an excellent source to help visualize the C. Wonder woman style and to see the community the women create around the brand.

Image(Pinterest)

With such a specific target consumer base, I find it very likely that C. Wonder would not appeal to shoppers outside this exclusive category.  In my opinion, I think it would be harder for teenage girls and even women in their early twenties to find a relationship with this brand because the store environment, types of clothing, range of products from apparel to home décor, reflects woman with a job, house to decorate, dog and maybe even a child. This is a brand that creates an environment full of products clearly appealing to a certain age and gender group; and this is why I feel that C. Wonder has potential to create such a grand brand loyalty and community.

C. Wonder Is Your Next Vacation Spot:

What makes the C. Wonder community so attractive to working women?  We all know that taking a vacation half way around the world from your job is far more than just ideal.  However, not all circumstances allow for this kind of breather, and when you’re in need, sometimes even just a quick shopping break will do.  As Michel De Certeau explains in Practice of Everyday Life, there is always a “secondary production hidden in the process of its [object’s] utilization,” (xiii) basically meaning that we are producing a secondary meaning such as identities, communities, culture, lifestyle, habitus, etc., in the act of consumption. Our consumer and personal identities merge together as the products we consume inevitably reflect who we are and make up our embodied cultural capital.  In the case of C. Wonder, women want to be able to come to a place where they can momentarily disassociate themselves from the stress at work and made to feel as if they have really come on a wonderful vacation.  And as Michael Storper puts it in Lived Effects of the Contemporary Economy, consumer identities are made as a method of coping.  Just as some may argue that shopping is less expensive than a therapist, Storper emphasizes the importance consumers place on emotional fulfillment rather than a functional fulfillment.  Consumption has become more of a ritual than something done out of necessity as people started to create identities through the ways and things they consumed.  Storper also highlights that consumption is never pushed onto people and, in fact, sustains itself by becoming an intimate part of our lifestyles.

C. Wonder consumers are attracted to the idea of escaping reality for some time to shop and feel pampered.  Consumers are reminded that a LBD (little black dress) occasion awaits and the idea that maybe their professional outfits could use a break  C. Wonder acts like a revolutionary lifestyle brand that solely dedicates everything to a working woman who, at the end of her long day, desires to live and breathe feminine chic.

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(Time for a break!, Facebook) 

Works Cited:

Arvidsson, Adam. Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture. London: Routledge, 2006.

Clark, Priscilla P. “Book Review:The Practice of Everyday Life Michel De Certeau, Steven Rendall.” The Journal of Modern History 58.3 (1986): 705. Print.

García, Canclini Néstor, and George Yúdice. Consumers and Citizens. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2001. Print.

Hearn, Alison. “Meat, mask, burden: probing the contours of the branded self,” Journal of Consumer Culture, 8 (2), pp. 197-217. 2008.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1996.

Muñiz, Albert and Thomas C. O’Guinn, “Brand Communities,” Journal of Consumer Research, 27 (March), pp. 412–32. 2000.

Storper, M. “Lived Effects of the Contemporary Economy: Globalization, Inequality, and Consumer Society.” Public Culture 12.2 (2000): 375-409. Print.

Web Links:

http://www.cwonder.com/

http://www.toryburch.com/

http://www.cwonder.com/aboutus

http://www.thinkpublicrelations.com/casestudy_2.html

http://www.responsys.com/

http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20131003-908679.html

http://www.mediahorizons.com/blog/item/211-reaching-the-integrated-shopper

https://twitter.com/cwonderstore

https://www.facebook.com/CWonderStore

http://instagram.com/cwonderstore/

http://www.yelp.com/biz/c-wonder-new-york-3

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