Victoria's Secret Closing 250 Stores

Ed Razek, CMO of L Brands’ Victoria’s Secret, is stepping down after 36 years with the company. Razek’s resignation comes amid controversy on many fronts, including the brand’s sexualized treatment of women, Razek’s comments about plus-sized and transgender women, and a close relationship between Leslie Wexner, L Brands founder and CEO, and disgraced financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

Victoria’s Secret also faces troubles at the cash register. Market share slipped from 32% in 2013 to 24% last year. The company recently announced that it’s closing 53 stores in North America this year alone. While the brand has retained its #1 position in the category, competitors that place a greater emphasis on comfort, fit and a more inclusive body image have been making significant inroads.

It’s hard to think of a more apt cautionary tale for the energized, socially engaged environment in which brands operate today. CMOs, CEOs and boards would do well to pay close attention to the missteps and missed opportunities that have placed an enormously valuable brand in dire straits. While some of the lessons may seem basic and obvious, they clearly escaped L Brands governance and likely many others as well.

Read the market. Perhaps the most fundamental and damning failure was a chronic tone deafness on the part of Victoria’s Secret leadership. Despite multiple signals that the times were changing, the brand maintained a steady course of hypersexualizing women. “They really could have started reading the tea leaves in terms of women’s role in society around the time of the Dove Real Beauty campaign in 2004,” according to Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. “They could have said, ‘We can do something like that with a freshened approach and still be a hot lingerie brand appealing to a new generation.’”

I’m sure there are reams of market research reports of all kinds lining the shelves of Victoria’s Secret HQ. As an example, Morning Consult tracks over 3,500 brands with daily surveys of millions of consumers, providing a treasure trove of near-real-time data on attitudes and perceptions. Cofounder and Chief Research Officer Kyle Dropp shared this recent read on Victoria’s Secret—which actually doesn’t at a glance scream red alert.

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