March 31, 2003, 12:00 AM

116 years of style--and now with a new web style

The newly re-launched HartSchaffnerMarx.com, which replaces an earlier brochureware effort that went up in 2000, features expanded content designed to raise brand awareness among a younger demographic.

It’s rare that a brand survives to span three centuries. High-end classic men’s apparel manufacturer Hart Schaffner Marx Inc. has done that, and today, a new fashion trend has brought it a new opportunity: the professional workplace dress code is swinging back toward traditional attire. But with opportunity comes challenge: how could Hart Schaffner Marx reach a younger audience less used to wearing suits, and less familiar with its old and established name than with contemporary designers like Armani and Abboud?

That target demographic is more likely than their fathers to be on the web, so that’s where the company went. The newly re-launched HartSchaffnerMarx.com, which replaces an earlier brochureware effort that went up in 2000, features expanded content designed to raise brand awareness. The site is not e-commerce enabled as Hart Schaffner Marx doesn’t have its own stores but sells through retail outlets such as Nordstrom. The strategy is to build an affinity for the brand among its web audience, direct them to a local store, and create a customer e-mail database for future online and cross-channel marketing efforts.

To drive shoppers to the site, the company featured the URL in newspaper ads and it’s boosted search optimization efforts with paid keywords on Google, Overture, LookSmart and others. Site visitors find stylish photo images and content on topics such as what defines quality in a suit. An interactive feature, Ask Edward, responds to wardrobe and style questions online. The company expects to update the site seasonally and in connection with events such as the introduction of new products.

But because the brand relies on its network of upscale retailers, it competes head-on with other brands. So part of the site strategy is for the educational content about style and suit construction to fulfill part of the salesman’s role.

“We want to provide content that’s a value add so people will bookmark the site and start using it as a resource,” says Steven Thompson, creative director at Agency.com, the interactive marketing and technology company that worked with the company on strategy, design and search optimization for the new site.

With points of sale at multiple retailers, quantifying the site’s impact on store sales isn’t easy. So for now the company relies on the metric of the number of visitors who use the store locator. Before re-launch, those numbers already were high relative to other categories, about 20%. The company will be closely tracking changes to that number, with a goal clearly in sight. “We want to build an affinity with the brand so when a person walks into a retailer, they will ask for Hart Schaffer Marx,” Thompson says.

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