How to Shred a Strong Brand in 10 Minutes Flat

Imagine you have very particular taste when it comes to clothing (or any type of product). Imagine there is a clothing store that you like which sells shirts or pants that really connect with your personal aesthetic. Call it your favorite clothing store. The company prides itself on being an American brand, with all of the individuality and freedom which that implies. They manufacture some of their items in the U.S., and you appreciate that too. All of these characteristics — the clothing, the freedom, the individuality, the graphics, and the corporate values — have created a brand identity in your memory with which you identify when you need some new clothes.

This is how retail works. It’s a huge part of how we identify with the brands we buy, and how we develop brand loyalty. Where do you go when you need groceries? One store probably just popped into your mind.

Now imagine walking into your favorite clothing store, and having the following conversation:

You: “Hi, have you gotten rid of your sale section?”

Salesperson #1: “We haven’t had a sale area for at least a few months [emphasized], but we are having a sale starting next–“

You [calmly]: “Ok, but do you still have a sale section?”

#1: “No.”

You: “Great, thanks. That’s all I need.”

Salesperson #1 scowls and walks away, shaking her head and mumbling to herself.

You ask another salesperson about a particular type of jeans that you’ve bought there before. He’s never heard of them, raises his eyebrows and hands and says, “Sorry, never heard of that.” He turns to the manager who takes you to the jeans you asked about. Say you don’t like the colors they have – brown, black, light khaki, dark khaki, light grey – and you tell the manager, “Thanks anyway for finding them.”

Manager: “I don’t see what’s wrong with these colors?”

You: “I don’t like khaki. Khaki is boring. I’d like to see some colors.”

Manager: “Khaki is a great color. Well, how about these jeans?” she says, pointing you to some pre-faded, pre-scuffed blue jeans.

You: “I’ve never really liked pre-faded jeans, and those scuffs are the same on every single pair. I’m fine with jeans wearing out, but when every single pair has wear marks in exactly the same place, that’s not really me. It looks contrived, and not authentic. I always strive to be authentic.”

Manager: “These are authentic.”

You: “Well, they’re more conformist really. I’m not a conformist.”

Manager: “They’re all scuffed in the same place to keep, you know, the production level efficient.”

You: “I understand. Mass-produced “authentic” style. That’s speaks to conformity, and we don’t live in a conformist society.”

Manager [passionate and angry]: “That’s not what we’re about.”

You: “I’m not saying that’s what you are about. I’m a regular customer here. You don’t have to convince me that this is a good company.”

Manager: “I know. You look familiar. I think these jeans are very unique.”

You: “They would be unique if only one person had them. They would be great in a conformist society. Everyone could look unique in exactly the same way. We live in a free society. We don’t vote for a candidate because everyone else is voting for them. We vote for candidates we believe in. Same thing, smaller scale. I don’t happen to want the exact same wear marks on my jeans as everyone else. No big deal.”

You try the jeans anyway, along with a shirt. The jeans hang on you as though you’ve lost twenty pounds, but you haven’t dropped an ounce. The shirt is too big. Over the door, the manager asks if you need anything. You ask if they have a medium in the shirt. She tosses a different shirt, an unsightly plaid thing, over the door in a medium.

You: “Oh, uh, not that one, thanks though.”

Manager [exacerbated]: “Uh! (with throaty emphasis). You could try it for size, then I can check another store to see if they have it.”

You: “Ok.”

Manager: “Can I grab anything else for you?”

You: “No, I’m good.”

Manager: “How did those work for you?”

You: “If you can find the shirt in a medium, I’d buy it.”

Manager: “Well, IF I can locate the shirt at another location,” she says, making it clear that this is a pain-in-the-arse, “You can go pick it up, or for eight dollars, they can ship it to you.”

‘Gee’, you think, ‘Thanks for offering.’ This same store has shipped shirts free of charge from one store to another before many a time. You decline.

You: “Thanks for your help.” You extend your hand to shake hers, and she declines. You ask for her name, and she reluctantly gives it, looking at you like you are the devil incarnate. Then, awkwardly, she offers to give you the generic store business card. It seemed that she may have realized right there in that moment that this story would be written and posted.

Manager: “These jeans are going to be on sale.”

You: “Oh? When?”

Salesperson #1: “You would know that if you hadn’t interrupted me!” she sneered and frowned. You had interrupted her because she wasn’t answering your question.

The clothes at your favorite store don’t seem to fit today, even though the jeans are the same cut as the ones at home. The clothes may or may not be the same this time around, but they have lost some of their appeal after the staff treated you as though you were a royal pain in their arses. Today, the staff all seems hell-bent on making sure that you know that their opinion of the clothes is more important than yours. What specifically did they do wrong? Everything. They hurt the customer’s brand perception and endangered the long-term relationship.

The Cost of Poor Brand Representation
Corporations spend hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars on creating and promoting compelling brand experiences. Crummy customer service is the sure-fire way to flush all of that time, money and effort right down the tubes. The cost of customer acquisition easily justifies brand identity training for store personnel.

Now, I won’t write this company off because one bad experience does not define this company, but in other cases, I do write off the company after just one bad experience. In this case, the thing that surprised me was that every employee in this store had lost the meaning of their brand, or they simply did not care about it. In either case, brand identity training would enhance their sales by providing staff with a greater understanding of corporate values and better social skills to boot.

Now, to fulfill the promise of the title: How to Shred a Strong Brand in 10 Minutes Flat

  1. 1. Do not adhere to your brand standards. Haven’t got any? Make sure to put some in place so that you can recklessly break them at will.
    2. Alienate your core customers on a regular basis. This one works every time!
    3. Do not instill good social skills in your sales staff. Let ‘em be as gruff as they like, and don’t worry about losing customers because that is the point of shredding your brand!
    4. Do not share your corporate vision with your employees. What they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em. It will hurt your business instead.
    5. Do not educate your employees on the importance of brand values. If they don’t know how to represent you, your customers will not understand your brand, and they will fly out the door faster than you can say, “Wish I had me some brand standards.”

How do you do all of this in ten minutes? Refer to the above story.

Food for thought.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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