Branding: The Integrated Shopper
Some niches are tough. But during a recession, the overcrowded home decoration space is brutal. Forget waiting for end-of-season sales; companies are discounting new merchandise. It’s at times like these that your investment in brand differentiation pays off … if you did it correctly.
For this third installment of our review of brand integration, we explored the selling channels of Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Crate & Barrel to see how they’re navigating the recession.
Romantic afternoon light streams through the windows. Your gin and tonic is refreshing and cool in your hand. You hear Daisy’s voice, follow it into the room, but she’s just left. You’re seaside on a working vacation, and above all, you’re in America. Sounds like “The Great Gatsby,” but you’re flipping through a Pottery Barn catalog.
Pottery Barn seamlessly blends its merchandise, photo styling and photography to create a consistent feel of 1920s America. Even products of international design harken back to the styles of imports that were popular during this period. Yet, despite the company’s nod to the past, the brand is modern, high-end and comfortable. A slightly rustic finish to Pottery Barn’s furniture gives a welcome update to traditional American design.
The Pottery Barn brand police can’t consistently replicate Sunday afternoon summer light in a store — at least not in the Leawood, Kan., store we reviewed — but the brand translates well during the in-store experience. The layout of the store is comfortable. The placement of the chairs invites you to sit and relax. The color palette replicates the images of the catalog. Your senses are engaged with an eclectic mix of music that’s both erudite and hip. You feel complimented that it chose something out of the ordinary just for you.
Dissonance begins on Pottery Barn’s website, which comes across as a jumble. The elegance of the catalog and store is lost in cyberspace, which is too bad. The hard work of brand development has been done. Translating it into an interactive online experience should be gravy.
At the time of this writing, the site promoted a sweepstakes for a Hawaiian Dream Vacation. Sure Hawaii is our 50th state, but it doesn’t evoke the same sense of America as the eastern coastal states, which is the unmistakable feel of the Pottery Barn catalog.
Click on the sweepstakes’ promotional video and you’re greeted with a blistering riff of surf guitar and an opening shot of a Tarzan-type guy swinging into a lagoon. Hello? If you must succumb to the dubious name-grab technique of giving away a vacation, send the winner to Nantucket, Mass.
It just goes to show that brand is more than consistent use of logos, fonts and colors. Pottery Barn was on a roll until the website. So we give it an A-.
You used to find Restoration Hardware stores tucked in funky urban neighborhoods. They literally offered products for people refurbishing homes and furniture. Founder Steve Gordon’s original idea was tightly focused and wildly successful. The company went public in 1998, however, and has been on a rocky road ever since. In June 2008, it returned to private ownership.
In recent years, the company has struggled with its merchandise concept. Flip from one cover of its catalog to another and you encounter a bewildering mix of retro record album frames, magic kits, a lone peacoat, votive chandeliers and $6,000 elegant dining room sets.
Everything is kind of cool, but in visiting the company’s website and Leawood, Kan., store, and in reviewing its Early Spring 2009 catalog, we were left wondering what’s going on. Two years ago, the company went after the toys and gadgets market, but it now appears to be backing off that a bit. We’re not privy to Restoration Hardware’s marketing data, but we suspect those items lowered its average order value.
The recent introduction of its artisanal furniture line is a bold step to differentiate the company from the mass-produced, play-it-safe feel of Pottery Barn and the stately elegance of its own recent attempts. The line has received positive press, although it’s unclear just how the market has reacted.
Restoration Hardware continues to differentiate itself in bathroom accessories and, ironically, textiles, which is diametrically opposite of its start in hardware.
We do wish the company’s graphic designers would acknowledge that type is to be read. In the opening spread of the Early Spring 2009 catalog, they reverse and center an upper and lower capitalized serif font over a busy picture and run the type across the fold so the sentences don’t align. By our count, six typographic rules were violated.
Though the execution may be imperfect, the elements of brand identity — logo, fonts, color palette and visual imagery — are consistently presented. We give Restoration Hardware’s integrated branding efforts a B-.
Crate & Barrel
When we research these articles, we study a variety of sources, including anonymous employee submissions to job-site blogs that give frustrated workers a place to vent. You expect trash talk.
That said, Crate & Barrel is the only brand in this article that received lots of positive comments. Most complaints were the result of just working retail, and employees were careful to differentiate between the two. That says a lot about the atmosphere.
Another subtle indicator is the exterior of Crate & Barrel stores. The stand-alone store in Leawood, Kan., for example, features prairiesque architecture landscaped with native grasses. It visually commands one of the most lucrative retail intersections in the state. This isn’t an accident. The website of Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, which designed the store, explains, “Every store landscape is different, yet every one creates a second glance that supports Crate & Barrel’s brand identity as the best place for home design.”
“Our brand is very important to us,” says Melissa Childers, corporate recruiter for Crate & Barrel, “so we’re very specific about how things look to our customers and prospective employees.” But Childers isn’t referring to stores or catalogs; she’s discussing online job application software.
Crate & Barrel emphasizes that its brand promises to be the best place to find contemporary home furnishings. But it conveys this with more than mere logo consistency. It begins when customers pull into the landscaped parking lots. In-store sales staffers clearly are brand representatives, which is why Crate & Barrel wants to control its brand identity to perspective employees. Customers’ purchases are packaged in signature black and white cube boxes, which of and by themselves are a fashion statement.
When you search Crate & Barrel’s website or visit one of its retail stores, you immediately see that the product mix — from a $20 mixing bowl to an $800 bookshelf — delivers a consistent contemporary feel that you can envision in the same house.
There’s no confusion. There’s only one clean, contemporary message. Crate & Barrel had us at hello. A+.