Brand . . . What a Feeling!

Brand. It’s defined as the idea or image of a specific product or service with which consumers connect by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image. Brand-ING includes a mission statement, benefits and features of your product/service and the qualities you want people to associate with your company.

Now that’s interesting. Brands want to evoke a feeling in their consumers. They want consumers to see their brand as a person that behaves a certain way that is familiar to them, and respected. Brands “take their passion” and “make it happen,” in the words of Irene Cara (Flashdance reference, circa. 1983).

Sounds easy to do right? But what happens when you share that control with an outsider, trusting that they will “get” your mission and continue to evoke that “feeling” that you have been working hard to create? Urban Outfitters, Inc. and Williams Sonoma, Inc. recently experienced what happens when the core gets outsourced to someone who doesn’t share the brand’s mission. As marketers, we were shocked by the news, but thrilled by how both brands responded.

Cody Foster & Co started as a family-owned business, selling holiday ornaments in a small-town in Nebraska. Before they knew it, they were wholesaling to retailers around the world. Enter West Elm (owned by Williams Sonoma, Inc.) and Anthropologie (owned by Urban Outfitters, Inc.) These brands pride themselves on finding and selling high-quality handcrafted goods in their stores. On October 14, a tweet from an outraged artist immediately put a microscope on Cody Foster blaming them for “stealing her artwork” without permission and compensation.

Consumers loyal to either brand would probably be outraged after reading such a tweet! How could the brands not know how their “vendors” were being treated, especially given the fact that businesses are stressing the importance of treating “vendors” well as an extension of a company’s business. “You should treat them like partners,” many say. Surely, they MUST have known, right?

Unfortunately, I think we have to chalk this one up to both brands simply trusting that Cody & Foster were delivering on their mission, their promise, to deliver artisanal, handcrafted goods to consumers.

Two days after the tweet, West Elm released a polite press release stating they were “upset they had purchased a selection of ornaments from Cody Foster.” To reaffirm their “commitment to authenticity, handcraft and collaboration with artists,” they have “pulled all Cody Foster product from their stores and website” and will no longer be doing business with Cody Foster, Inc.

Was the West Elm brand tarnished because of what Cody Foster did? Possibly so, but given the speed and tone of their response, and other actions to maintain their brand identity, West Elm just may have increased their loyalty and fan-base.

So what do I think of West Elm and Anthropologie? James Brown captured my feeling perfectly! “I feel good” about West Elm and Anthropologie. “I knew that I would.”

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