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Strong Brand Identity, Merchandising Go Hand in Hand

CAMBRIDGE, MA — Having a strong, unified brand is an important step toward creating a successful merchandising program, according to Janice Izzi, director of merchandising for The Vermont Country Store, and Andrea Syverson, president of IER Partners. They were among those who addressed the New England Mail Order Association’s Spring 2005 Conference yesterday.

During a two-hour session titled “How to Nurture Your Garden of Brand, Product and People for Bloomin’ Results,” they asked audience members to separate into teams and write descriptive words for well-known brands. The teams then read their lists to see how quickly other audience members could guess the brand. In some cases it took just one word. For example, the word “tissues” was immediately paired with the brand Kleenex. “Gambling” quickly evoked the response “Las Vegas.”

The exercise was meant to illustrate how strong some brands are and how clear and concise all companies should strive to make their brand.

All companies should know who they are, what they are, what they do, how they do it, why they do it and whom they do it for, Izzi said.

“You cannot begin to select product until you know this,” she said.

Syverson then used several catalog covers and interior spreads to illustrate how some companies successfully communicate their brand message on the page.

L.L. Bean is “the pro of branding,” Syverson said, citing a winter 2004 catalog cover from the company. The cover featured a red winter jacket and the tagline “Reliable warmth from the people who know winter.” A circle in the lower right corner pointed out that there are more than 100 jackets and parkas inside.

Given that this catalog probably arrived in the mail at the same time that people also received catalogs featuring similar products from other companies, the cover quickly established L.L. Bean’s “expertise as the company to go to for outerwear,” Syverson said.

Another example from Syverson was Talbots, which used younger-than-expected models to convey the message that its clothes are updated classics and not conservative. A recent issue of the Sundance catalog illustrates the brand’s message of rugged individuality and artisan craftsmanship by putting an elderly jewelry maker on the cover.

Once a strong brand identity has been developed and anchor merchandise departments that support the brand have been established, a catalog can experiment with new products and categories, Izzi said.

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