The 30-Day Brand Revolution

Brand identity expert David Brier confesses "Nobody knows the truffles I've seen" and exposes a behind-the-scenes look at branding and what it took to convert one brand's performance in thirty days.

I love a good challenge. I have particular fun branding gourmet products. I had the good fortune to work on a gourmet brand some years ago that turned their business around resulting in new customers, new buzz surrounding their product line and coverage in major national magazines just to name a few of the outcomes.

What exactly did we do to help this client achieve this? Few know the behind-the-scenes story in full. But I thought it time to share this terrific story and the lesson learned that anyone in branding can use to get comparable, if not better, results for your brand.

But First: What Branding Means to Me
Just to be clear, when I say "branding," I mean the design, look, feel and tone of a product, service or company that gets relayed to the consumer. Done properly, killer branding helps anything answer YES to these types of questions:

  • Does it make me desire (and yearn for) it?
  • Does it make me wish it's on my holiday wish list?
  • Does it sound so amazing that I cannot wait to see it/touch it/buy it?

That's what I mean by branding. Anything less is "an expense" and not a sound business investment.

And now the story.

Melts In Your Hand
A few years ago, a chocolatier came to me wondering if I could do anything for his gourmet truffle chocolate company. He, by the way, made the most amazing handmade truffles I'd ever tasted (and I have devoured some of the finest from both coasts). To me, these truffles were indecent as I lost all discipline and control of my ability to say "that's enough; no thanks; I can't eat anymore..." resulting in my scarfing endless volumes of these delicious mouthwatering delicacies.

Only problem he had was that sales had leveled off. He believed (as any passionate gourmet artisan might), "If I make it, they will come" which is a great Hollywood script. But marketing and branding are not "telepathic"—meaning people won't just be hypnotically drawn to your product because it's pure and virtuous.

So, I looked at (okay... ate, sampled, devoured) his product (again, amazing) and looked at his branding (not amazing). Essentially, his branding was pretty awful and was several fingers short of a high five. There was no way anybody could deduce there was anything amazing in his rather ordinary boxes. So you, the consumer had to somehow overcome (or ignore) the horrendous injustice his packaging did for his product to discover the bliss within. Okay. Being from NYC, I always love a challenge and this one was gift-wrapped for me.

The Secret Sauce
I have a method of approaching a problem like this where a superior product struggles with inferior branding (think of a gorgeous-to-look-at person with really bad, discolored teeth—just about the same OMG factor. Until the teeth are fixed, it's hard to notice the physical beauty of that person).

The method I use involves me doing a analysis of certain trends, certain "cliches" (those "what-is-everybody-doing-in-this-category?" factors), common pitches and other buyer habits. I also look at the factors of design, aesthetics and presentation. Buyers of this type of product make a snap decision in about 1 to 2 seconds so presentation is vitally important. I also look at the fact that American consumers will consider any food that appears European to be instantly better, tastier and worth more. But the overall approach is finding commonalities and with that information, creating a new space within which to create a new category (or a fresh twist in an already existing category).

What I Did (and Didn't) Do
After doing all that, I redesigned the box and the logo and developed some cool "foodie copy" lines like, "May cause chocolate envy. Share responsibly."

Now, before I tell you the outcome, know this:

  • There were NO new flavors.
  • There was NO new pricing.
  • There were NO new store hours.
  • NO promotions went out.
  • There was NOT a new sales person.
  • There was NO new in-store display.

None of the above factors changed except for this:

The new box was now stacked on the back counter displaying the new colors, new design, etc.

The One Month Brand Revolution
From the same amount of customers that make up the usual traffic in his store in a single month, the sales of his truffles saw a 300% increase in sales. Three times the amount of truffles sold in that first month, which happened to be in the middle of summer when chocolate sales are in a lull. That was June. The following month exceeded June. And August sales exceeded not only July but also February (remember February with Valentine's Day???).

So, he learned a lesson of the power of branding (as did I) in how powerful branding can be, when you do it right and ignore an industry's cliches.

Lesson learned: "Cookie cutters are for baking, not branding."

Because we did NOT take a cookie cutter approach and "merely choose a better font, do the usual XYZ and treat his product like a commodity." If treated like a commodity, the outcome of your brand will look like a commodity, adding to the glut of average, mediocre branding that's overloading shoppers at every turn.

The takeaways are these:

  • Work how you can make your brand rise above the noise and kick some major butt.
  • What can you do now to make your brand outmaneuver customer expectations and competitor trends?

Answer those questions and your brand will talk less and sell more. Spend less less time fidgeting and more time revolutionizing. And spend less time internalizing and more time epxanding its sphere of influence.

(As a matter of note, I art directed the three truffles photographed shown above with photographer Bill Wikrent who did a fabulous job capturing the chocolate universe each truffle managed to embody. Didn't want you to think we just chose some stock art to accompany this Fast Company blog post.)

Recipient of over 320 national and international design and branding recognitions and awards, David Brier is an award-winning brand identity designer, author, and branding expert. His firm's work has won the admiration of peers and organizations but has, more importantly, helped clients jump-start their brands in new and innovative ways, even (and especially) when they've failed in previous brand makeovers. Most recently, David's celebrated work for Botanical Bakery was selected for the 2010 Communication Arts Design Annual and will be featured in "The Big Book of Packaging."

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