Brands Are People Too

Posted on Posted in retail strategy

If your retail brand sidled up to you at a party, what would you do? Be entranced and engaged? Or run a mile? Like it or not, brands are people too, and the best brands are like the best party guests – charming, smart, open, interesting, but also considerate and empathetic. (They know when to leave too.)

Great brands are never tedious – you can’t bore people into buying. They don’t scream – as the famous 1960’s Young & Rubicam* ad put it, “yelling isn’t selling”. Nor are they schizophrenic – you know exactly where the brand stands, and what it stands for, consistently.

I’m a big fan of cleverly executed “brand language”; the tone in which a brand talks to its customers, and the words it uses. Done right, the language a brand uses makes an instant connection. And before you know it, you have bought in, both metaphorically and literally. Even in this highly visual age, well-chosen words are worth their weight in gold.

Perhaps it’s my copywriter background, but I’m always on the lookout for brands that use language well. And I’ve seen some “jeez-I-wish-I’d-done-that” examples in the last couple of months alone:

• Bolt Barbers – Los Angeles. “Not Cosmetologists. We’re Bolt Barbers! Dudes…Bolt Barbers is NOT a salon.” Bolt is incredibly refreshing – anti-stylist, anti-establishment – and funny. They talk about “shearing”, not “hair-dressing”. Their menu board includes listings such as: “For The Brave Willing to Go Bald By Choice..$30”. They celebrate the fact that “People Hate Us on Yelp!” (A social media-driven business review site.) And Bolt details the “Salon Basics (that) are Unavailable”, including “Lemon Twist w/Espresso”.

• Strip, Ministry of Waxing – Singapore. While on the subject of hair removal, Singapore-based Strip caught my eye in Shanghai recently. “Marilyn or hairylin?”, a poster outside the store asked, with an image of a Monroe look-alike raising her arms to reveal hirsute armpits. “Strip boasts over 2.5 million bushes beautifully pruned”. Strip is a little bit naughty, but clever and contemporary at the same time.

• Eataly – New York City. Eataly is a 4,000 square metre shrine to Italian gastronomy in the Flatiron District of NYC. Words are everywhere on display; coaxing you, informing you, entertaining you. On the Westfield World Retail Study Tour in May, we learned that Eataly employs a copywriter solely to feed the signage in-store, who studied the tone of the Italian founder. And so you get some beauties like “The restrooms, naturally are near the beer!”

• Lorna Jane – Santa Monica. The Australian-based leisure-wear brand brilliantly communicates the values and positive messages of Brissy girl LJ herself. In the Santa Monica store I saw, besides the “Move, Nourish, Believe” credo, I liked the mantra scrawled in what looked like lipstick on a mirror saying: “Sacrifice what you want now for what you want MOST”, and another on the front door, reading: “Live your BEST LIFE”.

All these brands speak with an authentic voice. They don’t come across as commercial ventures constructed to sell stuff. Instead they want to win you over…to make a conversion rather than a conquest. How does your brand communicate?

7 thoughts on “Brands Are People Too

  1. Great post! I always say that if retailers in particular are not using language effectively, they are missing one of the great and more inexpensive tools in the book. The Whole Foods in London had loads of voice too.

  2. As a linguist and former ad agency gal, I just love this article! Like you, I am always looking for brilliant, attention-getting language which instantly dials up the brand’s personality and soul!

  3. Once again The New Retail Blog has brought forth great ideas in retail.

    Thank you for being there.

    Wayne Terrain

  4. Great article! Made me think about the brands I buy my clothes and shoes from. Do they convey what they say? May be..may be not.
    Next time I go shopping I’ll definitely remember this article.

  5. Like many of the above commenters I love finding brands/shops that make use of really great language. Especially when it’s done so well it gives the brand a personality.

    Added to that I’m also interested in brands that don’t make good use of language. Or even try to make use but completely fail as it’s good to study and ask yourself “why doesn’t that quite work?”


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