Making Your Brand Stand Out

I was asked recently to comment on the Abercrombie & Fitch Quarterly magalog and whether I thought it had become too racy in light of recent allegations. I said that it was continuing to do what many catalogers strive for: making its brand stand out. A&F is but one of several excellent examples today of ways people within the marketing world have built brand equity.

Brand equity, as defined by branding expert David Aaker, is a “set of assets … that adds to … the value provided by a product or service.” He defines the major asset categories as brand-name awareness, brand loyalty, perceived quality and brand associations. Further, Aaker identifies an important element of building brands: “Being consistent over time with respect to a brand’s identity, position, visual imagery and theme or slogan is clearly a key to strong brands.”

With this foundation, turn to the world of print marketers to see the areas in which some are making themselves stand out from the crowd.

Distinct photographic style. Establishing a brand’s visual identity involves the development and consistent implementation of a creative strategy that stays true to the target market. One key part of that strategy is a distinctive photographic style, i.e., styling, lighting, cropping and environment. Trendsetters in this area run from J. Crew to Banana Republic to Martha Stewart.

J. Crew, the pioneer of lifestyle photography, established itself using its own company of models. Shot with natural poses and styling in interesting locations, often with men and women together, it created full-page photographs around which to surround its more straightforward product presentation.

Banana Republic, a far cry today from the safari-inspired shops of the 1970s, has combined relaxed, spontaneous styling with simple backgrounds and uses unconventional cropping to appeal to its younger, more modern customer.

Martha Stewart, in her Martha By Mail catalog, helped show people that direct marketing and editorial style do not have to be mutually exclusive. Consistently using a rich pastel color palette, Martha Stewart created an identifiable photographic style that set a creative standard that generated many look-alikes in the catalog industry.

Casting as branding. Within the area of fashion photography, marketers have realized the effect that recognizable, though not necessarily famous, talent can have upon a brand. From Victoria’s Secret to Talbots to the aforementioned Abercrombie & Fitch, successful catalogers know that it is not just frequent mailings that make them memorable.

Practically the inventor of the term supermodel, Victoria’s Secret has used its highly recognizable faces to build a very inspirational brand. This trademark imagery is evident at all customer touch points, from its stores to its catalogs to the online fashion shows on its Web site to its television advertising.

Talbots, with its highly successful women’s and children’s apparel, has carved out its own market with a group of lesser-known, somewhat older women with whom its customers can identify. One of Talbots’ current models has appeared on more than 25 Talbots catalog covers.

Say what you want about Abercrombie & Fitch, but its use of nameless, perfect human specimens has created a youth-quake.

Copy personality. The tone of voice in your copy can go a long way toward establishing your brand’s personality. From Kenneth Cole’s political messages of a year ago to the outdoor authority established by Patagonia, you learn about much more than product features and benefits when effectively branded copywriting is employed.

In the BlissOut catalog, a whimsical play on words relating to its product categories helps to tell you about the uncontrived attitude of Bliss Spa. A “girlfriend-to-girlfriend” tone of voice adds an element of sophisticated wit to the catalog.

A champion in this area has been Williams-Sonoma, the perfect destination for gourmet cooks and people who just love to cook. The recipes it includes in its catalog are masterfully placed beside the tools required to complete them.

Color or logo mind-share. Some brands have linked their personality so strongly to a color or logo that, almost alone, it defines them. If I say, “robin’s-egg blue,” what comes to mind? Tiffany, of course. Seasons may come and go, the offerings may change, but the consistency of color remains a constant reminder of the Tiffany brand. From its catalogs to its packaging, Tiffany practically owns this color. What other company would have the courage to have its catalog’s back cover simply be its signature color?

Thomas Pink, the fine English men’s and ladies’ shirt maker, has demonstrated another successful use of color. With Thomas Pink, its name says it all. Its distinctive pink box and pink shopping bag, prominently displayed across all brand communications, makes it stand out in a field of navy and gray.

A good branding story about color and logos would not be complete without a mention of Target. A discount store with style, Target has evolved to use its classic red and white bull’s-eye in unconventional ways. From the hood of a car to the print of a skirt, outrageous placement of the Target logo has helped create retail brand awareness arguably second to none.

It is clear that a key ingredient in long-term success for catalogers, and for marketers in general, is an unwavering focus on establishing and building your brand’s identity. You can convey much more about your brand’s personality through innovation in photography, copy or graphics. Those who have the courage and foresight to lead will be in the best position to capture the imagination and purchasing loyalty of consumers.

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