The Brand is in the Details

Details are important, but have you discovered how important they are to your brand identity?

Previously I worked for a start-up whose founder thought that he knew the target audience and what their perception was of our brand.  Being in charge of marketing, it occurred to me that the founder and entire team needed a wake-up call to realize that their idea of what the brand stood for was all based on drinking the company Kool-aid–not reality.

While cleaning out my home cabinets one day, I was discarding a stack of shopping bags that I had been saving.  But how should I dispose of them responsibly?  The light bulb went on, and I called a company meeting–based on retail shopping bags.  Everyone in the company was invited: marketers, accountants, operations people-everyone had a stake in our success. 

After a preamble about the customer’s perception of our brand being the only “right” answer to the question of what our brand stood for, I took out my wadded bags and scattered them randomly up and down the conference table.

I asked staffers to work as a group and based solely on the quality of the bags, to put them in descending order of bag quality.  Some bags were paper, some plastic, some cloth, some with handles, some recyclable, some compostable, some recognizable, some not. 

After a short period of confusion about whether the group was sorting quality based on bags or brands, it was clear to everyone in the room that there was no difference.  The Ralph Lauren, Fortnum & Mason (U.K. gourmet food store) and old Marshall Fields (Chicago dept. store) bags were at the top; the grocery store, thin-mil plastic bags at the bottom.  REI and Whole Foods bags telegraphed to all of us that these companies believed in sustainability with their recycled, and tasteful, paper bags.  Our stores’ bags were in the middle.  While the design and colors were very sophisticated, the logo was outdated and the compostable-properties of the bag material allowed the bags to start cracking into small pieces long before they got to a compost bin.

Even the “I don’t know anything about marketing” attendees were clear that logos, colors, materials, amenities like handles or straps, and other qualities about the bags related directly to the perceptions about the brands represented.  Cheap bag = cheap brand.  Premium brand = premium brand perception by the group.

As you start aligning all the elements of your brand to be consistent with your mission and messaging, ask yourself if you could pass my “bag test.”   

You probably focus attention to your website, packaging and advertising, but what about all the other elements that reinforce your brand personality?  Did you get free business cards online or did someone design them with your key marketing messages and maybe a coupon on the backside?  Did you save money with point-of-sale materials for your product demos and print something on your computer with clip art?  Do your specialty items break (like some hotel pens that only have enough ink for 2 weeks) or your company t-shirts shrink because they’re made of the cheapest cotton?

Like a retail shopping bag, everything affiliated with your brand will have an impact on consumer perception.  Plan wisely and remember:  The Devil Brand is in the Details.

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    1. Anne Henderson
      Posted February 8, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      I think about that bag exercise often – such an eye opener to look at your brand message through different mediums.

    2. Posted February 8, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Anne, Fun times with the “bag test!” Yes, it was an eye opener for all of us to see how our brand measured up against competition and best practices. And, I finally cleaned out my bag drawer!

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