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Branding: Part II

Several Weeks ago, I attended my first Branding Workshop, exploring what a brand is and how making conscious ‘brand decisions’ can help grow a business. I wrote a bit about my experience and take-home message here.

Last week, I attended my second Branding Workshop, this time run by Tom Morse-Brown of MorseBrownCreative. Tom’s approach was much more of an interactive one that engaged the attendees in exercises to pick out the feelings that brands were trying to convey with website and store design.

It was a much smaller workshop and naturally, being a recovering lecturer, I made every attempt to take over discussion and had to fight against my impulse to stand up and start pacing the room. Fortunately for me, Tom is a very patient man.

What he did leave us with was a homework assignment – to go and explore the feeling, the atmosphere, and the aesthetics of the next retail experience we encountered. He asked that we sum our experience up in one word or phrase inspired by the space, so, naturally, I wrote him a long email …

An excellent opportunity for examining how a company brands itself occurred to me yesterday. I had to buy some large bins for camping supplies and some other small items to help organize the electronics cords in my house, so I went to ‘The Container Store’ a new retailer which has just opened in the Town Center Shopping area (Leawood, KS). Visiting this store is truly an experience – and it got me thinking about the idea of brand and what connections they were trying to make.

First the basics: this is essentially a large warehouse store selling containers – hardly sexy.

First Impressions: When you walk into the store you are immediately surrounded by music (louder than you might expect background noise to be, and popular, upbeat songs). The store is highly organized and it shows from the first step- which is just what they want you to think you are buying. It practically shouts, ‘bring organization home with you!’

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 2.27.26 PMSecond look: There are also more employees than you would expect for a store selling glorified tupperware – probably necessary to keep it so neat, but it also feels like a service experience. Finally, the store is divided into sections radiating from the center registers such that each section has its own focus (e.g. kitchenwares, closet, office space, etc) all unified by the theme of getting the right system in place and all your stuff will practically be organized for you. The bulk of the items are very practical and unsurprising, but each section also has a number of cute items that make it feel like your space can be organized – and – have character.

She's up all night to the sun               I'm up all night to get some                    She's up all night for good fun                 I'm up all night to get Organized

She’s up all night to the sun
I’m up all night to get some
She’s up all night for good fun
I’m up all night to get Organized

Finally, what you feel from being in this store: You are imbued with a sense of possibility. ‘You can organize your stuff! And you don’t even need to throw anything away!’ Not only that, but it can be fun and quirky-cool.

Frankly, I was amazed by this place. I wasn’t bored. The store felt alive with customers and employees. And I probably bought things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s crazy, but I actually want to go back.

But, you said sum it up in one phrase: ‘Organization can be fun and we can help you do it!’


Why is it that all the highly organized guys get the cutest girls?

If only I had my life to live again! My next degree will have to be in Marketing.

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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Post Brand Positioning Seminar

I attended a great Brand Positioning seminar today held at the Enterprise Center of Johnson County. Today’s speaker was Grant Gooding of Proof Positioning. Let’s drop a cliche here: It was an engaging and informative talk delivered by an excellent speaker.

I knew I was out of my neck of the woods when I overheard a discussion behind me where one person lamented, “It’s not that the money is going away … I guess it’s just converting into equity.”

Most people I know don’t talk that way. Or perhaps I just spend my money on the wrong things.

Probably the most interesting point made was distinguishing between business decisions and brand decisions. Much of the rest of the talk was distilled here into the idea that we make a lot of decisions every day about our companies. Some of these are clearly Business Decisions – those intended to maximize margins in the short term. Some are clearly Brand Decisions – those that are intended to build the brand regardless of short term margins. (note: I’m paraphrasing these definitions here. I don’t want to give short shrift to Grant.)

95797955-1-207x300As examples, he focused on two companies: Starbucks and Tylenol.

With respect to Tylenol, the cyanide poisonings of 1982. I remember this well. These poisonings came about a month before Halloween and pretty much put an end to the holiday that year. By the way, guess how many people have even been poisoned by Halloween Candy?

Why bring up Tylenol’s troubled past? Because of the way that, then Johnson and Johnson CEO, James Burke, handled the crisis. From Time Magazine‘s article on the occasion of his death, “Under Burke’s leadership, the company spent $100 million to recall 31 million bottles of Tylenol and re-launched the product two months later in tamper-proof packaging.” Burke’s actions, which looked to be devastating to the company at the time, won him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.

How about that? A brand decision so good that President Clinton awards you the Presidential Medal of Freedom? Slam dunk.

A second example, which is totally appropriate to bring up now, because I’m sitting in one, is Starbucks. To paraphrase again, What did the decision to put a drive thru on a Starbucks have on their brand? What defines the Starbucks brand? The coffee – or the experience? Perhaps putting Starbucks cups in the hands of half the population is great for advertising, but what does it do to the experience?

It doesn’t look like there is much room for the ‘Starbucks Experience’ in this building:


Would you like an authentic coffeehouse experience with that, sir?


Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


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