all Insights

The Unrealistic Luxury of Conscious Consumerism

The idea of conscious consumerism is inherently elitist. It’s a first world club for city dwellers who make enough money to be worried about where their $300 tee-shirt is sourced from.

Yes, sometimes worrying is a luxury.

For a much larger portion of the world, worrying is devoted to making sure there is enough food on the table, enough money for rent, heat and clean water. They are not actively supportive of the terrible labor conditions or havoc wreaked upon the environment in order to manufacture a cheap pair of sneakers. But sending their child to school without shoes doesn’t feel like an option either.

In a world where “consciousness” is commoditized and “sustainability” is a buzzword, how can we make sure the world doesn’t disintegrate before our great-grandkids take their first steps?

The answer lies in businesses themselves. Instead of an elitist club of “conscious consumers” we need an overall enlightenment of the world, particularly in the companies that keep it turning. The truth is no one wants to be responsible for killing the planet, but similarly it shouldn’t be so absurdly difficult to avoid it.

If that thrift store dress you need to scour the racks for is the same price as the mass-produced romper from Forever 21, can we really blame anyone for choosing the latter?

Many consumers have woken up. They want the things they buy to be less traumatic to produce, but they need help.

Efforts such as Everlane and Toms Shoes prove it can be done successfully. Data from the National Resource Defense Council detailing the cost of cutting water, energy and chemical use, demonstrate it can even save companies’ money.

Obviously businesses can’t adopt new practices overnight. So if you are one of the lucky members of the enlightened who know too much to justify spending money on cheap mass production, it is also your duty to spread the word.

Refrain from judgments and share the wealth of knowledge.

Encourage people to buy local, shop at farmers markets or Community Supported Agriculture, and make a sport of finding those hidden gems at the thrift shop. Help them realize that while the dress at the independent boutique might cost more upfront, it will last for ages, compared to a few washes. In the end it’s better for them and the planet.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
all Insights

Dear McDonalds: Ads are Band-Aids and Your Injuries Require Open-Heart Surgery

Let’s turn our attention to Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s new CEO. He’s been in the position for less than two months, so we will give him the benefit of the doubt and say he is not a bad guy (or at least not yet). There is still time to change the direction of the company.

It is easy to say sales at McDonald’s are on the decline because consumers have changed tastes. That’s obvious. People are increasingly demanding transparency, healthy options and better labor standards. McDonald’s is struggling to keep up.

But that is far from the whole happy meal. They are in trouble because they cannot define their own brand or what their company stands for, aside from increasingly futile attempts to make a profit as a junk food in a health nut craze.

The past six months has shown a flurry of haphazard contradiction. They have both trimmed many items from their menu to speed up their service and added “Create Your Taste”menus to a host of locations. It may yield a more delicious, guacamole smothered burger, but at the price of waiting 7 minutes in the restaurant and hefting out $8.50 – a far cry from the quick drive-thru and dollar menu that once made them a staple.

Determined not to let the lovin’ die, they’ve recently staged a host of publicity stunts around “I’m lovin’ it”. But advertising will not solve their problems if they cannot define their own brand.

How can we love you if we don’t know who you are?

“When Ray Kroc helped found McDonalds in the 1950s, his business philosophy was that of a three-legged stool. One leg was the franchisees, the second suppliers and the third employees.”

Looking at the company objectively, we can see McDonald’s gives back to local communities. They do this through the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which helps children with medical support. It even offers tuition and education assistance to some of its workers. Their Corporate Responsibility Statement spouts on about how they are aiming for sustainably produced beef, coffee, palm oil and fish as well as fiber-based packaging by 2020.

Yet the associations most Americans equate with McDonalds are employees who are paid wages so low they cannot afford basic living costs and must result to welfare. We also hear tales of employees who are told to use condiments as burn ointment and returned unopened Christmas gifts for extra cash.

Their franchisees are not very pleased with them either, amid forced restaurant upgrades and mandatory advertising fees.

While McDonalds recently conceded to a $1 an hour pay raise, it only affects company-owned restaurant workers, which accounts for just 10% of their employees. Franchisees are arguing this will force them to raise wages as well, but without assistance from the corporation.

When Ray Kroc helped found McDonalds in the 1950s, his business philosophy was that of a three-legged stool. One leg was the franchisees, the second suppliers and the third employees. It seems they have lost their footing.

Companies like McDonald’s don’t know who they want to be or what they stand for. And the American public doesn’t either.

McDonald’s image and sales have slumped so badly they are closing 700 stores around in the world this year. In the US even Wendy’s and Burger King are passing them by. But Mickey D’s is the original – how is it being surpassed by its copycats?

It’s a conundrum we’ve seen too many times a company creates its own category, then sits back in horror as new companies move in and set up shop on their turf, some even making more money at it.

Give us a call, Easterbrook. Let us help you prove you are a good guy by quelling your company’s attempts to hurl money at dated advertising. Ads are Band-Aids and your injuries require open-heart surgery.

Focus that money on realigning and redefining your brand values. Stand the stool up again, and make your ethos value over profit as opposed to your current model of profit over value.

We may refuse to wear your Big Mac thermals, but we know we can help you fix your broken brand.

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
all Insights

Want an Unforgettable Brand? Build a Strong Narrative

“Storytellers have as profound a purpose as any who are charged to guide and transform human lives.”—Nancy Mellon, author

Nothing engages human beings like a good narrative. Nothing has formed distinct cultures and bound them together since ancient times like storytelling. Narrative has great power. It’s engaging if it’s relevant to an audience. When a story makes a deep impression, it becomes memorable. A strong narrative moves people because it elicits emotion. When they adopt it, it becomes part of the fabric of who they are.

The kind of narrative I’m referring to isn’t about developing an interesting plot for a novel. I’m talking about brand building. A brand narrative begins by sharing the story behind the brand—the unique vision and aspirations of its founder(s) that employees, stakeholders and consumers can relate to and with which they can identify. It’s a powerful foundation for any brand but it must be shared and expanded upon to create a devoted following.

A story alone doesn’t cut it. No brand that enjoys a cult following has succeeded without have a powerful story that is not only shared but delivered across every channel, every customer touch point and every experience, or it doesn’t ring true. We talk about authenticity and honesty all of the time for good reason. A story is only as meaningful to brand fans as every experience that they have when they engage with the brand.

Coming back to touch points: I’m referring to in-store or on-site interactions with retailers or service providers; websites, social and traditional media as well as mobile; customer service call centers—every channel has to be a conduit for the delivery of the story to surprise, delight and WOW consumers. Narrative-building brands do not invade consumers’ privacy or their spaces; they compel their audience to interact with them because they offer so much richness and meaning.

Here’s the other thing. A meaningful story is only a starting point for a narrative that continues. It doesn’t get stagnant. It grows as new chapters are written; the beauty of the story is that brand fans’ own stories become part of the narrative. Information is shared to enrich the lives of the brand’s adherents, creating core value and that value is prized because it is not found in any other brand. And that, my friends, is how brand fans form a cult. The brand belongs to them and they belong to the brand. The cult becomes part of a microcosm; a special social stratum of believers who can’t conceive of living without their brand because it has become a lifestyle choice.

True cult brands are focused on helping their followers to improve their lives. Their stories are never focused on selling products and services; they’re focused on delivering insights and information that deliver value, as I said. That value might encompass ways in which to add convenience and efficiencies for time-strapped consumers. It might showcase new technologies that meet the needs of the brand’s fans. Or it might share ideas leading to better health and nutritional choices. And it should anticipate what their cult will want even before they do.

As the brand experience deepens, the relationship between the fan and the brand does, too. Brand culture has to really merge with its fan base in order to leverage the full power of the narrative. Understanding the preferences and deep-seated human needs and emotions of its fans, helps brand builders to keep their brands relevant as they advance their narratives.

To prove my point, think of the brands with huge cult followings and recall their stories: Whole Foods, Zara, Lululemon, Apple, REI, Zappos, Van’s, Harley Davidson, Starbuck’s, Trader Joe’s—to name a few. Note how these brands have heritage signifying that they’ve remained true to their stories for some time. Proof that their narratives are constantly being written to remain relevant to their current followers as they consistently attract and engage new followers.

Finally, the brands with the most compelling narratives go one better. They strive to make a difference by being responsible corporate citizens. They practice sustainability and/or they fully integrate into their communities by giving away a share of their profits to worthwhile organizations that help people. They step up when their communities need help. They feed and nurture in tangible and not-so-tangible ways. Brand fans feel good about supporting them because they add so much meaning to their personal lives and do so much to enhance the communities in which they live. No matter how big these brands become, they still feel personal and exemplify a grassroots spirit.

In order to develop a brand strategy focused on leveraging the power of narrative, the following considerations must be met:

– Start with the unique story that brought the brand into being.
– What is the vision, the purpose of the brand? How does that bring meaning to a specific group of consumers?
– How can the story focus on its consumer target with its content: informing, inspiring and elevating their lives?
– How can the story’s new chapters add its fans’ own stories for richness, relevance and to become increasingly personal?
– How can the brand story remain relevant by tapping into its cult’s most ardent desires, needs and anticipate those desires and needs to continue to create “belonging” for them?
– How can the growing brand remain rooted in its narrative and its values, so that it feels personal and “small” no matter how large the company becomes?
– How can the brand do well by doing good? How can it become intertwined in the community?

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
all Insights

Why Purpose Matters

The average lifespan for a male in the United States is now about 80 years; things are even better if you are female and/or you live in Japan, but much worse if you live in Botswana or Angola. I tell you this because long before people die, they run out of steam.

Every now and then you meet a 75-year-old with a zest for life and a passion for others, but more often you meet folks tired by the drudgery of jobs that bored them, spouses that didn’t understand them, and kids who took them for granted.

Sorry — my intention is not to depress you. Instead, I simply want to draw a contrast between the average state of affairs and what most of us crave most of all: to have a purpose that matters.

Take a 75-year-old with weak knees and creaking joints, surround him or her with grateful and smiling faces, and you have a person who is thrilled to be alive.

Take a 23-year-old who last year others viewed as spoiled, entitled, and useless in the workplace. Add a purpose, and – voila! – you have a dynamo who works 24/7 with joy in her heart.

Here’s the rub: purpose has to have true meaning to the people involved. It can’t just be “let’s crush our sales goal” or “let’s make the boss look really good.” Your agenda, disguised as purpose, is still your agenda. It won’t fool anyone.

In the context I intend it, purpose implies a social good. It has to be larger than you or I. It has to rise above the income statement of your business. It must evoke fundamental human needs, such as longing and belonging. Think about building a series of schools, eradicating a deadly disease, or turning a burnt-out neighborhood into a true community.

Purpose can transform a generic brand into an AMAZING brand. It can motivate, inspire and invigorate your team. It can attract people from all around the world to stand behind your efforts.

Whole Foods carries the Method line of cleaning products, and praises its “vibrant formulas, irresistible fragrances and famously sleek and beautiful packaging.” Recently the company decided to recycle plastic collected from the beaches of Hawaii, and use it in its packaging.

“We realize that only a small amount of plastic will be taken out of the ocean to make these bottles,” explained Method co-founder Adam Lowry. “But we can have a big impact if we change people’s minds about their role in protecting our oceans.”

Most people don’t realize that there is now so much plastic debris in our oceans that the beaches of Hawaii are littered with the stuff. In this context, raising awareness is a meaningful purpose, since it drives home the sobering reality that even thousands of miles at sea, our trash is turning pristine nature into pitiful piles of litter.

Add purpose, and the same couple that wouldn’t be caught dead sleeping in anything less than a four star hotel will have the best week of their lives in sleeping bags on a crude wooden floor. If you don’t believe me, ask your friends about the events in their lives that have mattered most to them. Don’t settle for their first answers; dig deeper, and watch their eyes carefully. Human beings crave meaning.

Meaning matters. In fact, it is a potent brand strategy. If you recognize this, you can banish customer apathy. You can inject passion and energy into every corner of your firm’s relationships with not only its customers but also its employees.

And that is why purpose matters.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
all Insights

What’s Needed: A Retail Refresh or Total Rebrand?

So many retailers are at a standstill. They often blame it on a sluggish economy. But is that the problem? Consumers are spending. Maybe they’re more judicious about it, but they are buying. If they’re buying less in some retail stores than they used to, there’s a problem. And it usually boils down to a number of maladies: a brand set adrift, a loss of relevance, less than delightful customer experiences, experiences that don’t match up to the hype created by marketing campaigns or a little to a lot of each.

When this happens, retailers sometimes opt to do nothing thinking they can ride out the situation. Others decide to rebrand. Both of these choices are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Doing nothing is never a good idea. Any retail brand that is in a holding pattern or losing ground needs help; problems don’t go away by themselves and remedial action is necessary.

There are assets associated with retail brands, especially those with heritage, that have value and they shouldn’t be discarded. By doing consumer research to assess equitable assets, retailers can be returned to reinforced core brand values if they’ve gone adrift, and made more responsive to customers’ needs and current trends. Discarding assets that customers value is a terrible idea. Rather, it’s important to leverage them as the starting point to rebuild. This is what a brand refresh or revitalization is all about.

It’s never wise to throw the baby out with the bath water, unless the retail brand has so little value left that it has to undergo a total rebrand or it will go out of business. We all know of retailers that have lost focus of their brands along with relevance. Some have tried to revitalize or rebrand with excellent results while others have had dismal to catastrophic results. Ann Taylor succeeded. Sears has not.

A total rebrand may be unnecessary and might do more harm than good. Revitalization might just be the answer.

There are assets associated with retail brands, especially those with heritage, that have value and they shouldn’t be discarded. By doing consumer research to assess equitable assets, retailers can be returned to reinforced core brand values if they’ve gone adrift, and made more responsive to customers’ needs and current trends. Discarding assets that customers value is a terrible idea. Rather, it’s important to leverage them as the starting point to rebuild. This is what a brand refresh or revitalization is all about.

It’s never wise to throw the baby out with the bath water, unless the retail brand has so little value left that it has to undergo a total rebrand or it will go out of business. We all know of retailers that have lost focus of their brands along with relevance. Some have tried to revitalize or rebrand with excellent results while others have had dismal to catastrophic results. Ann Taylor succeeded. Sears has not.

Refreshes & Rebrands: Who’s Done it Well & Who Hasn’t

First, let’s acknowledge that some retailers remain rooted and true to their brands. They’re in tune with their customers, delivering strong brand experiences, anticipating customer trends and staying ahead of the competition so they remain viable. They’re constantly tweaking their brands in a smooth and consistent manner so that major overhauls are unnecessary. These retailers think constantly about helping consumers live their lives better. Their values speak to their customers’ values. New product offerings and services keep pace with the customer; they’re relevant. More than anything, they consistently deliver on their brand promises. As a result, their customers are more than loyal; they’re brand zealots. They can’t imagine a world without their favorite retailer. Their success speaks for itself. Think Nordstrom, IKEA, Whole Foods and H&M.

A Brand Wreck and a Brand Refresh

Talbots

Other retailers, once dominant among their constituents, have lost their way. Talbots, the Massachusetts-based retailer has made more than its share of mistakes in recent years in its attempts to revitalize its brand. Firmly branded as a retailer for women over the age of 35 for decades, Talbots decided to expand its retail footprint to include apparel stores for men and children, as well as apparel for these demographics in its catalogs. After trying to make it happen for a few years, the retailer closed these divisions out.

Talbot’s had always been perceived as a retailer providing updated classic apparel to mature women. The retailer then decided it should revitalize its brand by trying to cater to a younger clientele. The move made no sense. Younger women couldn’t envision themselves shopping at Talbot’s and have plenty of age-appropriate options. Yet, younger clothing styles appeared, mixed in with apparel for its mainstay customer, alienating the mature women who had always turned to Talbot’s. To make matters worse, cheaply-made, ill-fitting apparel replaced high quality, timeless clothing styles that fit mature women correctly. Instead of making itself relevant to the next generation of 35+ year olds, the retailer went after an audience it couldn’t hope to win over. Bloggers have discussed uneven customer experiences within Talbots retail stores; some have been strong and others quite disappointing. Add to that, the retailer’s website continues to present problems with frequency when customers try to make online purchases. With major disconnects and issues at every customer touch point, Talbot’s may not be around much longer.

REI

On the other hand, when Seattle-based co-op REI needed help, it was understood that the retailer had extremely loyal members and the brand had equitable assets. At 70+ years old, REI was failing to attract younger customers, which an outdoor retailer must do. REI called on retail brand design experts to research its problems and address them in a comprehensive, 360 degree manner. REI’s brand was revitalized with a new brand identity and positioning, visual branding system and customer acquisition strategy. The logo was updated along with store planning, exterior trade dress, packaging, apparel and gear marking systems and the brand standards manual. Nothing was left untouched. Most importantly, with C-suite cooperation, internal branding initiatives including employee training and an Employee Rewards program were instituted. Customer-facing initiatives included a new member loyalty program, improved catalog program, REI gift card program and bank card marketing strategy. Nothing was skin deep about this brand revitalization. End result? A marked growth in new customers, sales and locations; record profits; all without alienating its established customer base.

Rebranding Miss and Hit

Radio Shack

Radio Shack is a perfect example of a retailer that clearly misdiagnosed its problems and responded to them with the wrong solution. Unfortunately, the retailer had not kept pace with the customer. It looked old and tired losing business to competitors that offered trendy tech products and a better experience. So the decision was made in 2009 to rebrand. Unfortunately, it wasn’t well thought out or executed. Nor did it seem to be well researched. End result: the retailer changed its name from “Radio Shack” to simply “The Shack”, which sounds like a teen hangout for Rave parties. As bad as that was, the name change was clearly a marketing gimmick since the brand identity and store names remained the same! Merchandise assortments remained largely the same except for an expanded cadre of cell phones that could be purchased at Wal-Mart. That didn’t do anything to change the retailer’s image into something hip and cool, either, even though “The Shack” was meant to convey those values. The core in-store shopping experience didn’t change for the customer; it didn’t match the hype.

This whole exercise was skin deep doing nothing to revamp Radio Shack to entice new customers; it did alienate existing ones. Simply put: there was nothing authentic or believable about this rebranding effort, so it failed abysmally. The whole thing was a farce and consumers knew it. They also knew that if they wanted innovative tech products, a memorable experience and an aligned brand, the Apple Store was the place to go.

Instead of promising a total rebrand, which it clearly did not execute, Radio Shack would have been wise to bring in experts to assess whether a refresh or total rebrand was in order and then to make certain every aspect of the brand was touched and brought into alignment. By updating its core offerings with some exciting proprietary choices to reflect its customers’ current needs and by delivering on its brand promise with great customer experiences, Radio Shack might have started to turn things around.

Target

A total rebranding effort was undertaken in the late 1990’s by Target with very different results. The retailer had been branded as a discounter, competing directly with Wal-mart and K-Mart on price. The Target C suite recognized they simply couldn’t beat Wal-mart at that game; it was time to reposition, rebrand and own unique positioning. The turn-around was dramatic. “Cheap chic” resonated with fashion-conscious consumers. “Tarzhay” became a haunt for middle class and affluent consumers who touted the fact they could purchase Michael Graves designed teakettles and Isaac Mizrahi fashions at bargain pricing.

Stores environments became reflective of the new Target attitude. Advertising employed Andy Warhol-like pop culture photography and splashes of color and yes, the Campbell soup can was feted in ads. Shops within store with “only available at Target” apparel from noted fashion designers supports the retail image. Unique licensing deals and limited time offerings are relevant to trends and impress consumers that Target is far from staid; this is a retailer that’s on the move with plenty of newsworthy, changing merchandise.

Retailers that have found success have made the consumer the core of their strategy. They’ve gone after unique, ownable positioning and remained true to their core brands. They’ve worked to deliver on the brand promise every day. But many of them have done it with help. For successful turnarounds outside resources should be tapped; people who objectively conduct brand and consumer research without bias; who can present a sound, comprehensive strategy and tactics. It’s a major undertaking and no aspect of the brand can be left untouched. Experts work collaboratively with the C-suite to make it happen.

Without a 360 degree redesign, a refresh or rebrand is doomed to failure. It will not only fail to be effective; it will expedite the demise of the retail brand since consumers will be presented with a marketing proposition that isn’t authentic, makes no sense and does more harm than good. Executed poorly, a refresh or rebranding causes confusion among existing customers and fails to woo new ones. Marketing gimmicks are superficial and retailers who think they can turn things around in this manner are simply deluding themselves. Just remember the golden rule: “anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

Full disclosure: REI was a client of ours and we were happy to collaborate with them on the brand refresh mentioned in this article.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David
all Insights

Use Design as Theater to Create User-Centered Packaging Experience

It is no longer enough to be merely purchased and consumed, products have to relate to customers in a way that creates brand loyalty and longevity as an expression of the consumers’ life.

If “all the world’s a stage,” then brand managers need to think like playwrights, CEOs need to become producers and brands need to become actors. In their 1999 book, The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage, B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore implored us to recognize that products and services must become “theater” for consumers in order to make a meaningful, emotional connection and to avoid commoditization.

“Businesses are no longer selling goods and services-they are staging experiences.”

Consumer product marketers may think retailers or service providers have an easier job in creating “theater” within a fixed venue. Certainly, retailers may have more opportunities to convey the brand message through multiple touchpoints. Yet, this also requires greater coordination in accurately delivering the brand message across all channels. Everything from the signs on the door, to the front line associate, to the product itself, to the shopping bag, to the displays, must consistently embody the brand message. With consumer goods, the primary touchpoint is the product itself. So, it’s the package and the product that must deliver the “performance.” The product must project itself into the lives of the consumer in a meaningful way. So, how can a product and package become theater?

The Method method

The foundation of theater is the human-to-human experience and connection. Package design must convey the human experience and “perform it” authentically. Package and product designers should, therefore, think like Method actors embodying the brand identity and personality within the design.

When the great acting theorist Konstantin Stanislavski developed the notion of a “believable truth” for actors (and his Method), he was asserting that theater was only going to be meaningful if it went beyond external representation and into emotional connection. The objective was to create truthful and deeply felt performances that were equally believable and meaningful to the audience. The same holds true for branding.

The believable truth is that which the customer sees, experiences, and remembers. The brand, therefore, needs to connect with the customers’ own feelings, memories, and experiences in order to be recognized as genuine and meaningful. In order to accomplish this, a designer must utilize and internalize these memories, feelings, and experiences to create the brand “performance.” This performance, or presentation, is how the customer will ultimately experience the product or service.

The journey for the Method actor starts with researching and assembling all external facts about the character before he can then use his own feelings, memories, and experiences to create a complete and believable individual. In branding, a designer must assemble all external and internal facts about both the product and the customer in order to find the common bond that will create the experience and make the emotional connection. Then, using intuitiveness and expertise, create it. For an actor, the character traits are internalized to project the true nature of the character. If these traits are not incorporated into the performance, the actor can only present a one dimensional character-offering nothing to which the audience may connect.

For the brand designer, the character traits, or “pillars,” are those unique core values that must be internalized and embedded into every aspect of the design process in order to project the genuine personality of the brand. If these are not present in the design elements, then a one-dimensional presentation is the result-one that has no emotional, cultural, or intrinsic value to the consumer. It is merely a product, not an experience. Embedding the core values into the overall design enables the product to project those genuine, unique values to the consumer. The result is a meaningful connection and brand loyalty.

As an example, outdoor retailer REI realized that their store brand products were perceived as having less value than the various name brand products they carried. After an in-depth character analysis (therapeutic brand evaluation) the specific traits that the company embodied were defined; among these traits were rugged, gritty, and authentic associations. Once identified, the product and packaging were transformed to match these qualities. The entire interior visual branding system and environmental graphics combined all elements into a cohesive message speaking to their customers’ outdoor enthusiast culture. It’s about how the customers see themselves-and they see themselves in the REI brand.

Personality profiling

While demographics, sales, and customer data can provide an overview of customers and how the brand is integrated into their lives, those will only provide an external perspective of the brand’s character. Understanding the underlying psychological realism that constitutes the emotional connection between the brand and consumer is crucial to understanding how best to communicate or portray the brand message. One of the best ways to understand this is through the use of personality profiling.

Personas have been used in a number of ways since Carl Jung defined the term in the early- to mid-1900s. In the realm of branding, the use of personas has evolved into a way to develop unique brand identities and create emotional connections. At its core, the persona is what is presented to the outside world around us in order to relate with others. This is exactly what the actor does on stage or on film. It becomes that which is identifiable with other people.

To maintain the psychological realism required the make the emotional connection, the persona must have both negative and positive characteristics. In developing personas, it’s key to look at both sides in order to develop a unique, holistic and genuine personality. For instance, being self-centered may be considered a negative trait, but it may be exactly that with which a core customer might unconsciously identify.

Creating personas involves both qualitative and quantitative research in order to have a complete and reliable model on which to base the personality categories. The qualitative information can best be gained through direct observation, in a cultural anthropological research model, in order to gather the traits, characteristics, goals, behaviors, needs, wants, desires, etc. of core customers. The customers can then be divided into several persona types-each with their own unique characteristics. These defined types can then be tested through quantitative research analysis tools, such as customer sales data, to confirm that the category assumptions are correct. It’s important to have both. As we all know, human beings don’t always say what they mean or want, nor do what they say!

Creating the entire experience

Categorizing persona types can be used for any consumer product, retail operation, or financial service. By creating a holistic and realistic “character,” the brand designer can then create an experience that best presents those traits to the consumer.

An actor connects with the audience based on a truthful expression of the character through personality traits brought out through his own feelings, memories, and experiences. Where an actor has the use of his body, face, and voice to bring this to life, the brand designer has color, texture, shape, size, font, message, etc., to accomplish the same thing. The brand designer must become the brand. By internalizing the core characteristics of the brand with the persona of the consumer, the product will become that character. And the customer will see themselves as they want to be in that product. Hence, the ultimate consumer-brand connection is created.

A differentiated, believable brand experience is developed from a realistic psychological foundation utilizing the unique personality traits of both the customers and the brand. The meaningful experience that will ultimately connect the brand to the customer is created through designing the unique-yet genuine-brand character and creating the experience around it. Just as the actor portrays a character that creates a meaningful theatrical experience, the brand becomes a meaningful experience by projecting the believable truth.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Connect with David