May 20, 2011

Your Company’s True Purpose (Hint: It’s Not About You)

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 2:55 am


Over in the Craft MBA/Creative Empire world, fellow bloggers Megan Auman and Tara Gentile have been talking about the “why” of running a business. The discussion was brought on by a book that covers the importance of understanding why your business exists. In a round about way, this “why” question ties into the long-standing concept of having a company mission statement and a unique selling proposition (USP). The “why” question asks a few things:

  • Why should customers love your business and buy your products?
  • Why is your company different than every other company out there?
  • Why does your company need to exist?

As this discussion developed, I heard entrepreneurs saying things like “my company exists because I want to work from home and be with my family” or “I enjoy teaching.” These are totally valid reasons why you should pursue your business, but they aren’t the answer to the questions above. The “why” that needs to be satisfied has to do with customer experience. Why are you different? Why is your brand/product better than your competitors? What do you do for your customers that no one else is doing?

Megan writes “people don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it”. I actually believe “people don’t buy because of what you do, they buy because of what you do for them.” Have you built a product or brand that, just by association, can make a straight-laced suburban dad feel like a bad ass? That’s what Harley Davidson has done. Have you built a brand that makes women feel like creative, organized, resourceful, super star homemakers and hostesses? That’s what Martha Stewart has done.

A guy doesn’t buy a Harley motorcycle because he wants a motorcycle. He buys it because he wants to feel young, edgy and a little bit dangerous. A woman doesn’t read Martha Stewart Living because she wants to know how to make Thanksgiving dinner. She buys it because she wants to feel like she is the best and most impressive hostess under the sun — with the tastiest food and the best looking spread on the dining room table. She wants people to marvel at the origami place card holders and wonder how she can be so creative and pull off a meal so elegant. These brands are not selling transit or recipes and hostess tips, they’re selling a lifestyle.

If you want a good USP, a good mission statement, a good brand — your why needs to address the emotional need your brand fills for your target demographic. Your customers probably don’t care all that much that you started your company because you want to work from home or that the work you do makes you happy. They care if you can make them feel like a great mom, a free thinker, a rebel, a stylish dresser, smarter than the next guy, etc. Marketing to an emotional need or a lifestyle is what helps your products and brand really resonate with your target market — it’s something just about every major successful brand does.

My Why:
Listening to the conversation about companies finding their why, got me thinking about our “why” at Ex-Boyfriend. It’s something I’ve always felt pretty secure in, but never written about before. It was best summed up by a customer who bought several of our products last weekend at Art Star. She said, holding up a bag featuring a driver riding on the back of a shark, “If you don’t know why this is awesome, get out of my office.”

Our company tagline is “clothing that starts conversations”, but more than that, it starts conversations for a specific subset of people. People who get why absurd humor is funny and want to connect with other people who get it. We aim to create products that are simultaneously artistic and clever, so that our audience, by extension, feels artistic and clever for displaying our work on their clothing and accessories and gets to connect with other people who get them. Finding a product that you get, and helps you connect with other people who get you is a powerful thing.  It’s what brings our customers coming back. We’re trying to make our fans part of an inside joke that their kind of people immediately get. It allows people to simultaneously feel a sense of belonging and exclusivity.

I know this is what we’re doing with Ex-Boyfriend because I see it in feedback from our fans and experience it when I wear our products. When I wear our tees strangers do talk to me — my kind of strangers, people who get my kind of humor and people I want to talk to. People who probably read the kinds of books I read, watch the kind of movies I watch, listen to the kind of music I enjoy. When people come up to me at a bar and say “That’s awesome!” and point to my shirt, it’s like a secret handshake was exchanged. Ex-Boyfriend is creating a cultural shorthand for our tribe of people, which is what every brand should aim for with its products, company culture, content, etc.

While our products and branding came from the kind of people we are as founders, it’s really not about just us, it’s about producing a brand and products our target demographic really feels an emotional connection with and sense of belonging with. Sure, we wanted a creative outlet, financial independence, etc. — all those things entrepreneurs value. But that’s not our why and it’s not what our customers are getting when they shop with us. They’re getting a need fulfilled.

What’s your why?


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April 6, 2011

4 Online Retailers Share Their Secrets to Packaging with a Wow Factor

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 6:22 am

Most of us can agree that the online shopping experience starts with the package. If you want to impress customers, a beautiful package or fun little surprises enclosed can go a long way. A lot of the craft community is big on doing elaborate handmade packaging. While these packages are lovely, it is difficult to make this kind of packaging cost effective and scalable when order volume increases. Last week I talked to 4 retailers who’ve found streamlined and cost effective ways to ship a large volume of orders in style. Here’s what they had to say:

Sarah at Wild Gems ships her jewelry in custom bamboo boxes:
“It was very natural to put the jewelry in a nice box.  Jewelry is often given as a gift, and presentation is very important.  Think about how it feels to open up a small fine box to see what’s inside – it’s not just packaging, it’s an experience.

The values of Wild Gems are to use real, lasting, valuable materials – this applies to packaging as well as jewelry.  I looked at wood, metal and bamboo boxes versus paper, cardboard or simple cloth. I wanted bamboo so I looked in Southeast Asia where bamboo is grown and the craft of manufacturing with it well established.  Once I found those manufacturers, I made a deal to buy a minimum of 1000 pieces in order to pay less per box.

The box is important in our marketing in many ways.  The most important, I think, is brand recognition. The box doubles as a display for the pieces so wherever people see Wild Gems (on store shelves, online, and in jewelry shows) they can see many bamboo boxes together and even from far away, they know it’s us.  We also emphasize that the great box makes it so easy to give a great gift.

The investment in a premium box is worthwhile.  I feel that the experience the customer has in receiving and opening a fine box is valuable.  There is also a benefit in shipping – the box is strong and hard and prevents damage to the jewelry.  The percentage of the cost varies, as some pieces are more expensive than others;  I would say on average, it is about 5% of the price the customer pays.  We didn’t raise prices [to cover this cost]. We might have slightly lower margins than our competitors who ship in paper boxes, but that’s okay with me.  My jewelry is precious: I won’t present it in cheap cardboard.”

Marty at Elephant Surf Media ships using stickers and custom tape:
“U-Line is an awesome resource for all things packaging, including the boxes and custom tape.  As far as stickers and promotional stuff, google returns millions of options, it’s just a matter of finding the one that suits you best.

We do not market our packaging as a benefit to customers, mainly because no one buys something just because it arrives in a cool box.  We just want our customers to see how much detail and care we put into everything we do, and getting a cooler than normal package in the mail is just one way we do that.

The additional cost per package is not too big, really.  Besides, saving 50 cents on each package is not worth making our customers think we’re cheap asses with no style.”

Nick from Shirts That Go! ships using custom printed boxes:
“Our company is quite small and only a few years old.  We wanted to put our best foot forward with the packaging so that it had real impact for our customers. We wanted a card box because it is lightweight.  Our end customers are all kids and toddlers and these guys love getting mail.  We decided to put our designs on the packaging for a real wow factor.  We wanted for a gift from ShirtsThatGo to begin at the mailbox.”

To find a manufacturer, We mainly used the search engines.  I had to be really persistent with this.  I contacted at least 20 suppliers and they all told me that it was not feasible for a small company to afford full color packaging.  Most of them quickly pushed me over to other ideas like plain boxes with custom stickers etc.  I did not let up on this idea though and found a great company (USA based) that wanted to work with me and make me a happy customer of theirs.  They have been printing boxes for us for a few years now and they do a great job.

Currently a custom box adds about $2.00.  We include the custom boxes on orders of 3 or more shirts and we offer a way for folks to add the box at checkout on smaller orders.  Custom packaging has been part of our offering since day one so it has always been in our model.”

Megan from 1st Person History ships using simple kraft boxes with brown kraft ribbon and printed labels:
“The packaging for our 1st Person History Kits were not meant to be “innovative”, it was born out of necessity for boot-strapping our little start-up.  However, it turns out our customers love the packaging. We use simple kraft boxes with brown kraft ribbon and printed labels.  Inside the box, our kit is wrapped in kraft colored tissue paper and bound with brown paper ribbon, closed with a sticker with our logo. The box itself is wrapped in ribbon and the label on the box holds it in place. This way we seal the box without having to use any plastic.

Cost for our small scale operation was our number one concern. We began by simply searching for vendors with small minimum orders to see what different products were available. The criteria we used were 1) will everything fit in the box, 2) will the box fit in the USPS Priority shipping boxes, and 3) is it recyclable. Google search and ThomasNet.com were our lifeline to finding a variety of vendors and whittling them down to companies that could  provide us with low cost, low quantity orders.

Once we found the right box, we needed a way to make it look presentable without huge printing costs. With a kraft box, we achieved a very simple, earthly look that did not need a lot of embellishment. We wanted to stay away from plastic, so tissue paper and paper ribbon were what we were left with. It all came together beautifully with a cohesive, elegant look. We stuck with unbleached paper products, using kraft colored products when possible, and accented it all with a dark brown paper ribbon.

We used this package design from the beginning – with our very first order. Other than switching to a sturdier box, not a lot of re-design has taken place. A large number of our customers write to us just to comment on the packaging, and how they appreciate the care we take of the product; it’s reflected in the packaging. The price per unit for packaging is less than 2% of our cost, which we are happy with and see no need to improve on just yet.”

Final takeaways from our savvy entrepreneurs:

1. Be creative about your shipping ideas.

2. Order shipping supplies in bulk for best pricing.

3. Comparison shop, a lot! Dig into search results beyond page 1 to find the best vendors. If you know what your want your shipping materials to be, keep looking until you find a vendor/manufacturer who can give you what you want.

4. Presenting customers with a memorable package is an investment in your brand.


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December 9, 2010

Thoughts on Etsy, Circles, Feedback and Reputation Management

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 7:59 am

A few things have been circling around in my head this week. There’s the flap about DecormyEyes.com, an online eyewear vendor who used negative ratings to boost his SEO rankings. (This story sent Google into a tailspin as they vowed to change their algorithms to block unscrupulous businesses from gaming their search rankings.) There’s also the debate about Etsy’s new “circles” tool which enables consumers to shop on Etsy socially. (Circles lets you see what friends have liked and helps you find stuff to buy based on friends’ finds).

One commenter who shops and sells on Etsy said, “I hesitate to open a stand-alone shop because I feel like Etsy is so pervasive. It gets mentions on the Today Show and Martha Stewart regularly now. Plus, when I can find what I want there, I like shopping there better than individual websites, primarily due to the feedback feature.” This struck a chord with me for a few reasons:

1. Etsy is big and this new feature is just one more way for them to grow. Circles encourages more browsing on their site and hopefully more sales on Etsy. Etsy makes money no matter who sells so this is nothing but a win for them. As a vendor, this is a mixed bag. Yes people can find you, but traffic you worked to deliver to your own shop can also be lost to this tool.

2. Just because Etsy is big doesn’t mean it should have a monopoly and, in fact, it does not. There are thousands of retail sites online. Many of them are successfully selling tons of awesome handmade/indie/vintage wares without any help from Etsy. Etsy is big but they don’t own the internet and you need not throw up your hands in defeat and let them own your brand and your business.

3. We are in the process of doing away with our Etsy shop. We opened our Etsy shop when we first started because we wanted access to Etsy’s large user base. We spent not 1 penny marketing our Etsy shop and not one minute promoting it. Any sales that came from there came from Etsy’s search tool.

In 2 years we sold about 100 items. In the same amount of time we sold several thousand products through our own website. At this point our brand is growing and we don’t want it tied to anything but itself. When customers buy from us, we want them buying from us, not another site that acts as a middleman. We want to control the customer experience. We want an easy way to get them on our mailing list, get them to our blog, get them to our Facebook page, etc. We wanted it to be easy for customers to pick the size and color product they wanted. We also didn’t want to deal with all the manual effort involved with listing on Etsy and entering orders that came from Etsy. (We had to hand key all orders from Etsy into our order management software.)

For all those worried that people want to shop on Etsy instead of an individual designer site, this is proof that people will shop where the trust is. People shop on Etsy because they’re an established brand that has built trust. You too can become an established brand and build trust and you don’t need Etsy to make that happen.

4. Feedback is not only on Etsy. If you’re an ill-behaved merchant, customers will make it known. They can do it on Twitter, blogs, Yelp, etc. Reputation management is not a concern only for Etsy sellers. So with that in mind, be good or your misdeeds will get out.

On the other hand, I think there are some customers who abuse Etsy’s feedback feature and use it to behave badly and get away with it. This is one of the things that helped push my company off of Etsy. We had too many customers behaving as though buying from our shop was a charitable activity rather than a retail transaction. We had customers throw fits when custom made items were not shipped immediately (despite our clear indications about the time frame we needed to make the custom made items). We had customers scream as us for canceling orders they didn’t pay for.

There are crazies everywhere, and we sometimes get some tough customers on our own website, but not at the same rate that we saw on Etsy. People don’t typically think it’s okay to behave this way if they’re dealing with Amazon or Banana Republic, but they think it’s okay on Etsy.

They get this idea in part because they know they can leave their hate mail right on your own shop website if they don’t get their way and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t remove their rant, however unreasonable, and you can’t even respond to it.

The other reason I see people getting the idea that they can misbehave on Etsy is because a lot of Etsy shops act like they’re a charity. I see forum posts like “buy my stuff so I can afford diapers for my baby” and “If I don’t sell soon I will be foreclosed. BUY MY STUFF! 50% OFF EVERYTHING MUST GO!!! MAKE ME AN OFFER!” When people who sell on Etsy go around behaving this way, it gives the impression that it’s a site full of unprofessional starving artists who will take any scrap of business they can get, no matter how abusive the customer that comes with it. This all lowers the entire tone of the site in my opinion. It drives down prices, encourages bad behavior from customers and makes everyone selling on Etsy look bad.

What do you think? Are you excited about Circles as a buyer or seller? Does being on or off Etsy effect your concerns about reputation management? If you sell on Etsy, do you worry about the impact the Etsy brand has on the brand you’re trying to build?


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December 2, 2010

A Strong Brand is Your Best Intellectual Property Defense

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 11:30 am

The other day I was out with a friend and she asked why we don’t watermark our designs at Ex-Boyfriend and asked if we have alerts set up to sniff out copies of our work. My response was something along the lines of “I have better things to do with my time.” While I think our designs are valuable, I think our brand is a more valuable asset and I’d rather spend my time on that.

If you’ve been around Smaller Box for a while, you probably know I have some opinions on copying that are contrary to what’s popular in the design/creative world. I think there are far more accusations hurled than there are cases of legitimate copying. I also think some people waste entirely too much time worrying about copycats when they could be spending that time and energy on their own brand.

Do people sometimes copy? Yes. Does it suck? Yes. Should you do something about it if you find out about it? Yes. Should you take valuable time away from your business to look for copies or study stuff that looks vaguely like your own work to imagine how that other artist ripped you off? NO. And here’s why:

You only have so many hours in the day. Finding and busting small time copycats is not a good use of your time. It probably won’t make your brand more successful. it probably won’t make you more money. They probably can’t do with your work what you can do with it, assuming you’re a good marketer. If you’re not a good marketer (and you haven’t hired one) your prospects of making it as a successful creative professional aren’t great to begin with, and fixating on copies won’t change that.

Establishing your brand is the best defense you can build for your work. If you’ve got strong solid designs and a well-known successful brand attached to them, you won’t need to worry about looking for copycats. You’ll have a fan base large enough to do this for you. You’ll also have a loyal enough fanbase supporting your brand to not worry about the copycats. People will buy from your brand instead of the copycats because they know and like your brand and know the difference between a fake and the real thing.

Don’t believe it? Take a look at a brand like Ed Hardy. They really popularized the graphic tee with tattoo inspired art. Are there very similar looking “me-too” brands doing the same thing? Absolutely, and they’re selling their similar products for a fraction of what Ed Hardy charges. It’s not stopping Ed Hardy from being a multimillion dollar company.

If Joe Schmoe starts a tattoo inspired tee brand tomorrow, his chances of duplicating Ed Hardy’s success aren’t great. The big reason for this is that Joe Schmoe isn’t the Ed Hardy brand and probably doesn’t have the marketing wherewithal to achieve the same results. Your products and designs matter, but not if they don’t have the marketing and branding that’s necessary to make your company a success.

Next time you catch yourself fixating on whether you started the trend of woodland nymph paintings or asymmetrical dresses and now everyone’s doing it, ask yourself what you’re really upset about. Are they the reason you’re not succeeding or is it your lack of brand recognition that’s holding you back?


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December 1, 2010

Your Marketing is Not Your Brand

Filed under: Branding — Tags: — Meredith @ 10:53 am

I spend a lot of time talking about strategies and tactics for marketing, especially online marketing. I talk about SEO, Adwords, Facebook, email marketing, etc. And while all these tools are important parts of marketing and growing your business, you don’t want to lose sight of the forest for the trees. These things are just tools, your number one mission is creating an established brand.

Creating a brand can be a nebulous concept and it gets less and less attention as the internet marketing industry booms. We fixate on how to rank well with Google, how to amass 1,000 fans on Facebook, how to grow your email list. The problem with doing these things as an end rather than a means is that these things are always changing and you don’t control them. Google can change its algorithms and upset your carefully executed expensive SEO. Facebook could shut down your account. Email service providers could implement measures that make email marketing nearly useless. (There’s every chance that Google’s Priority Inbox tool could be a sign of more things to come that make email marketing less attractive.) My point here isn’t about forecasting what the internet giants will do, my point is about going back to basics. My point is about going back to branding.

When you invest in marketing strategies (whether it’s your time or your money) always think about how you can use them to grow your brand, not just attract website traffic today. Imagine what you’d do tomorrow if Google or Facebook or email disappeared. Would you still be in business? If the answer is no, it’s time to think about things you can do to become a fixture in your target market’s consciousness.

This means taking a multi-channel approach to your marketing plan with an eye on both conversions AND brand recognition. It’s about incorporating advertising, PR, word-of-mouth and other creative strategies that both introduce your company to your target market and keep your brand name in front of them.

Does your current marketing plan help grow your brand or does it just focus on getting conversions?


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November 23, 2010

Delight Your Customers & Get in a Little Viral Marketing

Filed under: Branding,viral marketing — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 7:41 am

Over the weekend my partner and I designed a bunch of free downloads for our customers. We created gift tags, mini note cards and gift card sleeves. Here are a few reasons we did this:

1. Viral Marketing

All the items we designed have our company URL on them. This means everyone who downloads and prints our stuff is spreading the word about our company. We designed items that were colorful, cute and memorable, so that when someone receives a gift adorned with our creations, they’ll take notice. Even if our gift tags are used to adorn a gift that’s not from our shop, our company is still part of the experience.

2. Gives Gift Card Sales a Boost

Gift cards are usually a hit with friends and family, but delivery can be lackluster. “Here’s this piece of plastic, go buy yourself something.” We designed cute note cards and gift card sleeves to hold our gift cards. That way ordering a gift card goes from a ho-hum purchase to a gift with a little wow factor. We even linked our downloads on our holiday shipping deadlines page and our gift card page, so customers can easily find these free accoutrements if they’re planning to order a gift card.

3. Delight Our Fans

We think our customers are awesome people and we wanted a way to express our thanks for their support. Creating these downloads was a simple way to give them something fun and unexpected.

Not sure how to get started with making your own free printables? Kind Over Matter has a terrific kit for this!


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June 16, 2010

Making Fans Part of the Brand

Making your customers a part of your brand is a great way to increase engagement, build a fan community and solicit customer feedback. At, Ex-Boyfriend, we’ve tried a few different things to build relationships with our customers.

1. Put Your Pin on Our Map
The Ex-Boyfriend website hosts an interactive map which automatically places a pin in each city the company has shipped orders to. To get their hometown pinned, customers simply need to place an order.

The map offers a fun way to see where the brand’s products are being worn (all 50 states and 5 of the 7 continents) and even lists which cities have had the most orders shipped to them. (Chicago is currently #1.)

(How to: Building a map like this for your own site requires a little technical expertise, but it’s not super difficult. The map employs Google Maps technology, which is free and has an API for webmasters.  Simply create a database table that holds the longitude and latitude coordinates of each city your company has shipped to. Then use Google maps to place pins in each location. As new orders come in, update your table if the new order’s city is not already listed in your table. You can find tutorials on Google Maps here.)

2. Help Us Design Our Next Product
Ex-Boyfriend hosted a contest asking fans to suggest concepts for their next t-shirt design. Fans were also invited to vote on the suggestions submitted by the contestants. The winning contestants’ design concepts were brought to life by the brand’s illustrator and the contestants were given free tees.

The contest offered an opportunity for fans to participate in the brand’s creative process and have their ideas realized by a professional designer.

3. Introduce Yourself
Ex-Boyfriend updates their blog each week day with fun content like videos, cocktail recipes and cute pictures of kittens. Fans are welcome to add their commentary, and just recently, Ex-Boyfriend started sharing  fan photos, fan interviews and fan videos. The brand’s illustrator mails a handwritten thank you to each fan who submits their photos/videos.

Got a handy tip for incorporating fans into your brand? Share it in the comments.


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June 3, 2010

How to Be a Dick and Still Succeed in Business

Filed under: Branding — Tags: — Meredith @ 9:23 am


I was perusing my feed reader the other day and this article really caught my attention. In short, a bakery had the following tagline: “So Good It Makes Fat People Cry.” Predictably, someone complained. The bakery owner called the complaining customer a “fat cunt” and later issued a public apology. Of course all hell broke loose, sort of. Basically, the story blew up all over the web.

While a lot of you might say the company was wrong to have that slogan in the first place, my take on this is that the company’s #1 mistake was getting defensive about it. You can be a dick and still be successful, even admired, but there are some rules to follow.

1. Embrace it
There are brands that are famous for their trouble-making founders; they succeed in part because they’re unapologetic. Look no further than American Apparel. It’s got haters galore, but there are also throngs of people who adore their sleazy ads. While sites like Jezebel and their reader’s bristled at the brand’s “Best Butt” contest, over 1,000 brand loyalists submitted entries and all the haters inadvertently contributed to American Apparel’s fame (or infamy if you prefer) by writing about their controversial publicity stunt.

American Apparel made no apologies to anyone who felt offended by their contest. This sort of thing is what makes them who they are.

2. Be authentic
Being an unapologetic dick takes balls. If that’s not your personality, don’t even bother with trying this tactic to boost your brand’s visibility. On the other hand, if this IS your personality be true to it. There are people who will be drawn to your “who cares what they think” attitude and it can help you stand out in a world full of brands that want to be everyone’s best friend.

3. Be prepared for the blowback and ready to spin it
The good and bad part of being a dick is that eventually people are going to notice and they’re going to talk about it. The good news is that this can mean a ton of press. The bad news is that this can mean a ton of haters and you’ll need to be ready for them. Be prepared for how you’ll handle them and consider how it will affect your brand image.

If you make yourself out to be an opinionated brand that hurts a few feelings and makes no apologies, the last thing you want to do is start making apologies. Stick to your guns and let the chips fall where the may. Apologizing probably won’t win over the people you’ve scandalized, but it will make you less appealing to fans who appreciate your image as is.

Just a Few Successful and Famous Dicks:
Joe Francis, of Girls Gone Wild fame, certainly ruffles nearly every feminist’s feathers but since he’s peddling softcore porn, they’re really not his target market any way. Every time someone complains about his antics, his brand gets more publicity.

Anna Wintour has been called “Darth Vader in a frock” and famously made the Rodarte sisters go on a diet for an upcoming issue of Vogue. She’s known for hating on the plus sizes and generally being an ice queen. She’s still probably the most admired and revered woman in fashion.

Howard Stern’s list of scandals is too long to count, offending everyone from women to the disabled. His shameless antics got him ranked in Forbes’ 2006 list of World’s Most Powerful Celebrities and has earned him hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention millions of fans.

Mike Jeffries of Abercombie and Fitch (a 5 billion dollar company) said on record to a reporter “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.” Abercrombie regularly gets fame and infamy from its habit of only employing perfect-looking people and hocking tees that say “Who Needs a Brain When You Have These?” “Gentlemen Prefer Tig Ol’ Bitties” and “Do I Make You Look Fat?” When called out for it, Jeffries said “Listen, do we go too far sometimes? Absolutely. But we push the envelope, and we try to be funny, and we try to stay authentic and relevant to our target customer. I really don’t care what anyone other than our target customer thinks.


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April 28, 2010

What’s In a Name? Make Your Product Names Googleable

Filed under: Branding,Ecommerce — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 5:23 am

Some of the keywords that that convert well (a.k.a. result in sales) for my ecommerce website are my company brand name and my product names. This traffic converts well because it’s visitors who’ve come to my site and already know what we sell and they’re seeking it out.

In the past I’ve talked about the importance of a good brand name and search engine optimization, but product names are also an important part of branding and SEO. This is because when customers wear your products out in public or display your products in their homes they’re advertising for you. Their friends and passersby see your products and maybe they want them.

Your goal is to make it easy for potential customers to find your products, and that means giving products names that describe them. In the design world I often see companies giving products cutesy names like “The Josephine Pendant” or “The Romance Hobo”. While these product names might have a story behind them, they make it very hard for customers to seek out these products.

Imagine a consumer saw your “Josephine Pendant” on the subway but she searches for “Silver and aquamarine stars pendant” (because that’s what the pendant looks like). Is she going to find your product? Maybe not, you’ve optimized for “Josephine Pendant” and that’s probably what’s in your title tag and file name.

Imagine another customer knows she wants a bright red cotton hobo bag. The “Romance Hobo” might be just that, but this customer doesn’t know anything about “Romance Hobos” she just knows what she wants her new bag to look like.

The point is, you have to optimize product names and product descriptions to match the way customers shop. Customers rarely know about your clever product names so it’s important to use the language they speak.

Here are a few ways you can help customers find your products online:

Choose names that describe your product
Make your product names descriptive. If it’s a black satin mini dress call it a black satin mini dress, don’t call it the “sweetheart” dress. You might want to call it the “Sexy Black Dress” or the “Going Out Dress” but make that decision based on research. Pull up Google’s Keyword Tool and find out if there’s actually search volume for a “Going Out Dress” or a “Sexy Black Dress”.

Write a product description that uses the right keywords
To follow my example above, if you do determine that “Sexy Black Dress” is the name you want to go with, make sure your product description uses words that describe the product’s style, materials, color, etc. Is it an A-line? Is it strapless? Is it belted? Answers to these questions may be self-evident in your product photos, but putting specific descriptors in your copy helps customers looking for your exact product to find you.

Google your own products
Take a look at your inventory and imagine you’ve seen it in a friend’s home or on a stranger on the street. How would you then go about finding those products on the internet? What keywords come to mind? Plug those words into Google and see if your items come up. If they don’t you’ve got some work to do.

Ask your friends to help
It can be hard to be objective about your own products. Ask friends to find your products online using only words that describe the items. Can your friends find your products? Did they find your competitor’s products first?

Ask your friends what words they’d use to seek out your items and take note of what they say. These are the words and phrases you’ll want to work into your title tags, file names and product description copy.


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April 7, 2010

Reinforce Your Brand Aesthetic in These 3 Places

Filed under: Branding — Tags: , , , , — Meredith @ 7:09 am


One important element of branding is visual consistency. Most big companies have brand identity standards that dictate what colors, images and fonts can be used throughout the company website, marketing materials, ads, etc. It’s not a bad idea to implement these types of standards for your brand. Select colors, fonts, a logo and other visual elements that are consistent with the image you hope to achieve for your brand.

Take Smaller Box for example. This site uses a modern, sans-serif font for our copy. Everything is chocolate brown, pale blue and yellow. Our handwritten nav bar font and hand-drawn visual elements in our site design contribute to the modern DIY aesthetic this blog promotes. If we had printed invoices, they might look like this. Here is what a banner ad might look like:

My point with showing you this and pointing out these details is that all of these visual elements help create a brand. You see this all the time with other brands and probably don’t even notice. They’d never paint the walls lime green at Victoria’s Secret. They’d never send you an invoice on hot pink paper if you placed an order at the Tiffany’s website. The way brands use color, fonts, and graphic elements help them achieve a strong brand. You can do this with your brand too. Here are a few places to try it:

1. Product Packaging
When an order leaves your shop and goes into the mail how does it emante your brand. Is the merchandise wrapped in your brand’s signature color tissue paper? Does the invoice sport your brand fonts, colors and logos? Do promotional inserts carry your aesthetic forward?  Do you have custom printed mailers with your logo?

2. Web Design
Your website needs to look like your brand. The background color, the logos, the fonts, the graphics. It all needs to work. Should you use light, airy, ethereal fonts and colors? Should you use a serif font and dark, bold solid colors? You have to think about the image you want your brand to project and design accordingly.

3. Marketing Materials/Print Collateral
Your banner ads, your promotional postcards, your business cards, your print ads all need to have the same look. They should have the same visual elements that represent your brand. These little pieces are a preview of your brand so the image you want to achieve has to start there.

American Apparel is a great example of this in action. All of their ads have a similar look. They use the same fonts. The models are young, urban and gritty. The pictures have a soft focus. The girls don’t usually wear much make up. They’re usually shot on a white background or in a bedroom. The ads all reinforce the brand’s image. You can use this same technique to project your brand’s image.

Not a design wizard yourself? Hiring a graphic designer is a great way to get a professional brand identity package.  A design professional will work with you to put together visual elements (fonts, colors, logo, ads, business cards, etc.) that best represent your brand. You can hire Smaller Box’s designer to create a brand identity package for you, just drop us a line.

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