Recently our marketing manager referred me to the website of a small boutique clothing brand named Johnny Cupcakes (check it out, I think the website is great). You can check out the website for yourself, but the owner of the company does an amazing job of sticking to the cupcake theme. As I was telling my marketing manager, the entire concept is actually pretty ridiculous and it seems implausible that someone could create a clothing brand that sells premium priced t-shirts and hoodies to adults based around the theme of cupcakes. However, the owner Johnny does such a perfect job at branding a stupid idea on the surface, and transformed it into a viable clothing line that in the end makes sense.
The lesson that I learned was that in business no matter how silly the idea is, if you create a good product, and surround that product with a consistent theme that permeates every aspect of the business, you have a good chance to succeed. For Johnny Cupcakes the product is good quality apparel with great designs, and it is focused around the theme of a cupcake. Johnny is consistent with the cupcakes theme in that the store is laid out as a bakery, the apparel is displayed in a way that food would be displayed in a store, they call their stores bakeries, the employees dress represents a bakery theme, they call their sales “bake sales”, and they give out free cupcakes at events.
After seeing the Johnny Cupcakes website, I realized on a deeper level the problem that I have been having with the design of the website and our overall branding. Our marketing guy, who also doubles as a designer has created some cool packaging, logos and designs for the website, but none of it matched. We had no consistent theme.
I spent two days in the office thinking about this problem, but I got nowhere. So I told my marketing manager that I wanted to take a walk with him to the local shopping mall to see how other brands projected their branding onto their consumers. We checked out Gucci’s store, Hugo Boss, G Star, Levis, Calvin Klein, DKNY, and other popular apparel brands.
We spent about 3 hours doing this exercise, but aside from getting a nice break outside of the office and having some good conversations with my marketing manager, I still didn’t feel any closer to understanding our branding problem.
The next day I was at Starbucks (a company which I admire greatly), and again I saw an execution of the same principles that made Johnny Cupcakes a success. Instead of taking an outrageous idea such as integrating the idea of a cupcake with apparel, Starbucks took a boring product, coffee and turned it into one of the largest brands. Starbucks creates a great cup of coffee, but the coffee is augmented by a strong sense of culture and emotion. When I think Starbucks I think of a place for people to gather and socialize in a mellow, comfortable and relaxing setting. Furthermore, I think of a company that extracts recipes, and ingredients from all over the world, but does it in a socially responsible manner. From the colors used in Starbucks, to the music playing in the background, to the way the Barristas interact with each other and the customer, to the fact that people are encouraged to stay in the store hours after they have finished their beverages, everything reinforces this greater sense of community.
So, I came to the conclusion that we needed to think of our brand as a real place. If someone gave us several million dollars to create a physical store how would it look?