It seems that everyone has a plethora of branding stories no matter whether you are relating to business issues or even personal issues. Any experiences with companies, stores, websites, or your own “personal brand” (as we are often called by some talking heads) make up branding moments. Nevertheless, there are thousands upon thousands of stories people have. It would be fun and instructive to hear yours.

My observations on the branding movement are diverse. I happen to think that in a retail brand, you have three legs of a stool that you must develop – the merchandising (product selection, assortment, visuals, store layout, store design); the marketing (messaging to the consumer either inside the store or externally, a strong brand image and the ability to capture a place in a customer’s mind); and most importantly to me, the customer experience (the sensory experience of the store – sight, touch, smell, sound, vibe – along with the quality of the staff interaction/store interaction or website speed and entertainment factor).

In the case of a store, the most important branding moment is between a customer and a sales associate/staff member on the floor of the store at any time of day or night in any store around the world. To me that is what makes or breaks your “brand” in the bricks and mortar world.

In cyberspace, it is the speed and accuracy with which the website responds to the customer along with any entertainment and visual stimulation that can be added along the way that does not interfere with the efficacy of the transaction or intent.

This is easier said than done. I remember at Gap, branding the “Blue Box” (the Gap logo) became a global initiative. So much so, that the head of marketing at the time (the very eloquent Michael McCadden) flew around the world to deliver a well rehearsed and highly informative and entertaining Power Point presentation on branding in general and branding Gap in particular to every store manager globally. I thought that was impressive and I have not heard of anything like that done since. It sure made a powerful statement and certainly had everyone singing from the same song sheet.

A few other musings on branding…

Why is Tim Horton’s always lined up across Canada- is it really their coffee? No, it has more to do with the fact it is a Canadian icon/brand and that it is a quintissential “experience” for Canadians.

J. Crew with Mickey Drexler at the helm has gone from zero confidence in the brand to about as cocky as one can get. Any brand that can feature cashmere sweaters for $118 at full price on the front tables of each of their stores in the middle of July during the height of clearance season certainly has a ton of brand confidence.

Someone once told me it takes years to build a brand but about 10 seconds to destroy one. Look at what has happened to Land’s End. Their catalogue was the ultimate in focused, branded merchandising, appealing to a large but very specific group of consumers. Since Sears has bought the place and tried to integrate it into its retail surroundings, it has been a disaster. Why? Because it is clear that Sears has no appreciation for or understanding of what it takes to maintain and nurture a brand. The last Land’s End section I walked into (a few weeks back) was an insipid display of basics, with very little signage or messaging, one large “Land’s End” sign and ‘lifestyle’ posters that were half covered up by the ceiling overhang as they were leaned against the back wall. It is sad and embarrassing. More on Sears at a later date.

For now, I would say that if you are lucky, a brand (retail, personal or otherwise) will occupy a specific piece of real estate in people’s minds that they will commonly refer to and think of fondly. Once that happens, that is the best “Brand Story” anyone could hope for.

TheRetailTherapist 🙂