What Great Brands Do Right to Set Themselves Apart
The word “brand” means different things to different people. It can mean something that has become synonymous with a product or category (Kleenex), something that defines an industry (Coke) or something that creates an emotion (Hallmark). A true brand, however, is that which defines a company’s promise. It is a culture, a personality, and a value of consistency (like a McDonald’s or Starbucks). And here’s the thing: when done right, it is all of the above.
Almost every company thinks they have their own brand. They are wrong. A name is not a brand. A brand is the total collective assembly of every body of work, plus every service provided, plus every customer interaction. It is something to protect, something to invest in, and something that should not be able to be replicated, or replaced by a company with similar pricing.
Many businesses take their brands for granted, especially if they are removed from its/their origins. They live off of the equity, over-diversify/leverage the name and resist continued nourishment to reap short-term gains. Granted, there are a few brands that have lived into old age: Timex, Levi’s, and Maidenform come to mind. But their integrity has dwindled; they have seemingly lost their element of aspiration and story-telling.
So what brands are doing it all right? Who do we look toward for new inspiration and renewed appreciation for the branding concept? Three leaders immediately come to mind.
1. Warby Parker
Whether you wear glasses or not, you will want to after visiting a WP store or interacting with this hybrid digital/retail brand. It has turned the industry upside down by allowing customers to shop online, have up to five frames delivered to their homes to try on and trial, and then purchase their selection directly – all with less than 10-day custom fulfillment.
WP heralds the reinvention of eyewear. It combines classic fashion with value pricing in a non-intimidating, non-medical environment. For less than $150 you can get frames, lenses and even high- density features or other added value upgrades. Other perks? WP names their frames and introduces seasonal fashion items and colors, all while maintaining a light-hearted approach to fast-fashion eyewear. They even partnered in 2013 with the Superman: Man of Steel movie, creating their Clark-Kent inspired “Chamberlain” and “Percey” frames, also featured in the film. Smart product placement, for sure (where were you, Pearl Vision and LensCrafters?).
2. Trader Joe’s
How can anyone become passionate about a grocery store, you say? Obviously, you have never been to a Trader Joe’s. Founded in the 1950’s, it has become a market leader in organic and fresh food groceries in this country. Known for great customer service, employees who wear Hawaiian shirts (to represent the “trader” aspect of finding the best values around the globe), and value-direct products including their $1.99 Charles Shaw wine (nicknamed “Two Buck Chuck”), Trader Joe’s is a sought-after neighborhood destination. It combines weekly food shopping with exotic exploration. Nowhere will you find coupon inserts; instead, it proffers a charming, faux-old-fashioned, illustrated circular (the “Fearless Flyer”) in store that you can use while you stroll around or take home to read its flavorsome descriptions of products for your next shopping list.
You will also not encounter long, endless aisles of brands and preservative-filled foods, but rather quaint wood shelving, stocked with tongue-in-cheek, proprietary goods like “Trader Giotti’s Balsamic Vinegar.” Want flowers? They have them. Want fresh organic produce? They have that, too. Cards, cakes, coffee, wine/beer…it’s all there. Sorry, Whole Foods — you missed the (trade) boat on this concept.
3. Cate Blanchett
What? How can a person be a brand? But people are actually the epitome of branding. They are the heart and soul of the meaning of brands. Designers figured this out long ago: think of Gloria Vanderbilt, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tom Ford, etc. And industry leaders are brands onto themselves: Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Bill Gates all embody that.
But why Cate Blanchett? Because she is quite possibly the best actor of our modern age, post-Meryl Streep, and pre- (a mature) Jennifer Lawrence. Cate (we are on a first name basis) is the best example of brand promise. Her work is a guarantee of authenticity, realism and raw, subtle emotion. Whether she is playing Queen Elizabeth (young or old) or a 1950’s housewife who falls in love with a much younger shop girl, Cate embodies every role from stage to screen.
She also co-manages the Australian Theater Company, is dedicated to finding renewable/sustainable solutions to protect the environment, is a mom of four, a two-time Oscar-winner, and can somehow pull off, onscreen, being Bob Dylan, a fairy, a recovering drug addict, journalist or wartime damsel with the same believability. In short, her approach to acting is what every brand should aspire to: delivering consistent quality across an entire body of work.
The Concept of Personal Brand, Explained
Human resource professionals and career coaches often speak about personal brands. Are you a good listener; a strong partner; a collaborator; a decision maker; the data gal; or the creative one? What is your brand statement? Do you want to be innovative like Warby Parker? Or whimsical like Trader Joes? Or perhaps ultra-authentic like Cate Blanchett? In short, how do you want others to view you? Is that how you portray yourself every day — are those the qualities you truly embrace and exhibit?
Whatever persona you choose to brand yourself with, here’s one thing to remember: it needs to be real and truly represent who you are, and what you can offer others consistently. And it needs to do all that regardless of the medium, location or position/role you have. So, go ahead, just do it….be the real thing…remember to think different…and don’t leave home without it (all slogan puns intended)!9