By Tony Baisley, Director of Communication
I’ve been thinking recently about what makes a brand successful. Is it snappy tag lines? Flashy ad campaigns? Or, simply a great product? Obviously, without the goods (or services), initial interest will eventually wane. Volvo did not become synonymous with safety, nor Nordstrom with customer service, without consistently outperforming their competitors. But the success of a brand is not solely measured in revenue generated. Brands can be near and dear to people’s hearts for myriad reasons. So, a few weeks ago I decided to take our two-person Communication department on an after-hours field trip.
Martin Patrick 3 is a men’s clothing and lifestyle boutique in Minneapolis’ North Loop. Being the denizens of good taste and all manner of beautiful things, they are also a personal favorite of mine. Because they are smart retailers and share a similar appreciation for quality brands, they recently hosted a “Behind the Brands” event featuring some of their own favorites. Although as different as night to day from the professional disability services we provide, I wanted to ask the brains behind these companies what they believed differentiated their brands from the pack.
First we talked to Eddie Wu, owner, of Cook St. Paul. This former ”Denver’s Best Bartender” decided he wanted a different path, so he moved back to town and opened his own restaurant on the east side of St. Paul. Mr. Wu introduced Cooks on the premises of a former restaurant that had served the community for more than 30 years. In other words, he had his work cut out for him. But slowly – and surely – he won over his new neighborhood with a goal to offer a range of traditional American Diner Classics at the highest level of quality. He shared stories of little old ladies stopping in for Gingerbread Pancakes because word on the street (literally) said they were amazing! And his brand is growing – he was recognized as one of the best new restaurants in the Twin Cities 2014.
Looking like a rockstar in that way only Californians can pull off, the namesake of Matias Denim quietly talked about his passion for meticulously hand-tailored “evolved denim” as his products were displayed around him. He acknowledged the difficulty competing against bigger brands, who regularly gobble up vast quantities of the raw materials needed for his jeans. He also spoke candidly of an opportunity he could have taken to sell his product in China – a very big stage indeed. He rejected it. He wanted to continue to offer unique and original apparel, not a pair of jeans billions could wear. This independent artisan had a clear sense of his brand, and I was grateful to hear the wisdom and originality of his plan.
Maintaining a healthy curiosity about the world, events like these invigorate and inspire me to think about opportunities for my own organization. Hammer is blessed with a healthy internal culture. I think many would agree that we have a strong, positive brand within our industry and throughout the state (maybe even the U.S.). But, a brand doesn’t maintain its strength on its own. As a nonprofit organization, we cannot always pay professionals the salary they are worth, in my opinion. Hence, there is more turnover in this field than any of us would like admit. Just ask the developmentally disabled we support who count on these individuals for professional care and support. A byproduct of the work we do is developing relationships with those we serve. Therefore, it can be heartbreaking when someone leaves for a better paying job (or to a different industry altogether) because they need to better support themselves or their families. This is reality. Hopefully intangibles like job satisfaction, sense of empowerment, and belonging to the ”Hammer family” figure into the equation somehow. It certainly does for me. Yes, Hammer has the goods but we mustn’t get complacent if we want to continue to compete for the best talent in an industry that handles the most precious of products: human capital.