Victoria's Secret may be one of the most famous clothing and footwear brands in the United States, but according to a recent report from yougov.com, the retail company--known for its sexy sartorial style--is having a bit of a brand breakdown in the era of #MeToo. 

Specifically, the report stated that the number of women aged 18-49 buying from the brand is at its lowest since 2013, and that ratings for VC's televised fashion (which ran shortly after the Harvey Weinstein allegations become public) fell by a whopping 30 percent. 

But how much of Victoria's Secret's brand identity crisis can be attributed to a change in mindset vs. increased competition and changing styles among younger customers? 

While it may not be the whole story, the challenges Victoria's Secret is facing beg the question every business should be asking themselves. How do we need to change in the face of the #MeToo movement?  

As both a management consultant and a branding strategist, I think the answer lies at least in part in asking yourself right questions.

Do we have a fair representation of women in upper management? 

According to one study on gender diversity from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, there is a definite positive relationship between having women in corporate leadership roles and company performance.  

And a 2017 Harvard Business Review study says women respond better than men to competitive pressure.  So if women having women on the senior team has such an upside, why aren't there more of them? 

The reality is that if your company hopes to stay head of the competitive curve in the years to come, showing gender equality by having a fair representation of women on your senior team will be essential for attracting, recruiting and retaining top female talent. 

Do we have a process in place to handle sexual harassment complaints?

As obvious as this sounds, most small businesses, start-ups and even mid-cap companies don't have a formal process in place for handling sexual harassment complaints.  

Specific policies and procedures for what occurs after any accusation is made need to be written down and expressly communicated to everyone in your organization. Need some help with where to start? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has guidelines for defining sexual harassment.

Do we need to rethink our marketing messages for the #MeToo era? 

In a word, yes. You need to take a look at the historical way you have thought about, talked about and messaged your brand to women. In particular, I find that clients I consult with are often unaware of how the following may not be keeping up with the world we now live in.

Here are a few examples: 

  • Stereotypical messages. One client I worked with was promoting a product line for both women and men. The catch was that the women's line of products were all in pink --and the men's all in blue. Focus groups showed that the female clients found this clichéd color choice offensive and that it reduced their overall good feeling about the brand. 
  • Too strong a focus on sexy. While there's no doubt a place for promoting "sexy" as part of many a business's brand message, an over-reliance on this, especially in selling products to women today, comes with a big risk.  
  • Rethink racy. Ads featuring young, salacious women in tight clothing may not be your best bet. Instead really consider how the demographic of your female customer sees themselves as a whole person. This of course includes a physical element but does not overly rely on beauty, looks or sexiness in general as their star attribute.  

If you find yourself thinking this is just another movement and it will pass--think again. The events of last year were a tipping point, and as someone once said to me, "You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube."

This latest sea change in gender equality is the biggest we have seen since the Women's Movement of the '60s, and if you're smart, it will have you saying "me too" when it comes to adjusting your marketing messages.

Published on: Apr 27, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.