Lessons on Brand Execution from a Men’s Clothing Store
An important lesson in a most unexpected place
I almost never wear suits.
I used to… when I had a sales job and then in my agency days, especially when pitching to the C-suite. But for some time now, my work uniform has been quite casual as I think it has been for most professionals. In my home office, I wear jeans, a T-shirt, and flip-flops in the summer… swap out a hoodie and hiking shoes in the winter. I work with my brain, and my brain needs comfort to be most efficient.
Years ago, when my suits had all become out-of-fashion, I suddenly had reason to wear one. I was co-presenting at a national conference with my Fortune-50 client. We’d be presenting to an audience of seasoned brand communicators. This is something I LOVE to do, especially with a brand story as strong as the one we were sharing.
Little did I know that, as I prepared for my presentation, I would also receive a lesson in executing a strong brand experience. One that has stayed with me, even years later.
I get dressed up for work about 5% of the time. The remaining 95% of my time is spent in comfortable clothes.
I loathed the idea of buying a typical off-the-rack business suit: uncomfortable wide-legged pants and a jacket that could double as a pop-up tent. I wanted something comfortable and something that would make me stand straighter and speak with confidence. Still, I saw the purchase as purely transactional — simply trading dollars for a well-tailored garment.
The truth was, I needed to like the way I looked.
Never Underestimate the First Touch
“Don’t let the suit wear you,” my wife Dee will say as she pulls the jacket collar up higher and tugs at the lapels. She understands more about buying a suit than I ever will, which means that on top of being my advisor and my visionary, she’s also my stylist. She accompanied me to our preferred suit store several weeks before the conference.
I opened the door and followed her in. The store greeter met us, “Can I help you find something you’re looking for?”
“No,” I said. “I’ll have a look around and let you know if I need help.”
“He needs a suit with a contemporary fit. Something that doesn’t look like a baggy zoot suit,” Dee responded.
“We can help with that,” the greeter said. “Take a look over there, along the wall. Kenny will be over to help you find what you’re looking for.”
The best retail brands know that the greeter, whether at the door or deeper into the store, will be your first connection with their brand on any given day.
Being helpful — There’s no greater opportunity to demonstrate your brand’s most important priority.
There’s a “store greeter” role in B2B selling cycles. Try this out and you’ll meet one… Download a few lead magnets from Adobe’s Marketo.com and you’ll soon receive a short phone call from a friendly and knowledgeable team member. They’re not trying to sell you anything. They’re just checking in to see if there’s anything specific they can help you find.
The information they gain can be as important as the help they give. By the end of a 30- to 45-second call, your needs have become part of their data set, and they know what your potential buying timeframe will be. If your need is urgent, you’ll be fast-tracked to a sales team member with the right expertise. If not, you’ll simply hang up with a positive brand impression.
Don’t miss out on opportunities to embed your brand persona all along your customer journey. Make sure your employees have bought into your manifesto and values and that they can breathe them into their roles.
It’s All About What the Customer Wants, Needs, and Feels
It took about two minutes for Kenny to show up.
“I’m not here to pick something for you,” he said, making sure to include Dee in the discussion (more on that later). “I want to get a feel for what you like and don’t like. We can work out the details after that.”
Dee had already chosen three suits, I added another. Kenny led the way to the changing room and we discussed which fabrics I liked best. On the way, we passed several tables filled with shoes, ties, shirts, and other accessories. Outside the changing room was a large empty table.
“What a waste of valuable square footage,” I thought.
“Take your time,” Kenny told me. “Try them all on, and come out with the one you like the best.”
It took me only four minutes to try on four suits. In that time, and in those tight quarters, I established a strong opinion about how each fit and stepped out in my favorite.
The empty table was transformed. Kenny and Dee had filled it with ties, shoes, shirts and belts. When I stepped out of the room wearing my favorite suit, I was a mannequin ready for them to accessorize.
“What do you think?” Kenny asked — without expectation or the intention of leading me toward a final decision. He really did just want to hear what thoughts came out of my head.
“I’m convinced this is the one,” I said. “But it will need some adjustment.”
“Aldo will fit you. While he finishes something up, let’s look at some accessories that Dee and I were thinking about for you.”
I didn’t really want to spend more money, and I knew a place where I could find ties at a lower cost. But the color combinations were stunning. And as Dee said, “We’re already here, and we have Kenny’s expert opinion to count on. We may as well make sure everything is going to look great.” She picked up one accessory at a time and we considered them in the mirror.
It’s never an upsell if it makes perfect sense. Kenny was a man with great taste who understood my taste. My personal stylist was in agreement. This wasn’t about one purchase, either. I now knew that this was a place where I could find a suit I wanted and, with the right help, it would be turned into an ensemble that could make me feel confident. I spent more money AND I really loved these people!
Clients Love a Custom-Tailored Solution
Aldo, the store tailor, emerged from the back room. He was a 60-something, well-dressed, European gentleman — a cross between Alan Arkin and Gianni Versace. And just for a few seconds, the scene went into slow motion. He was wearing the most perfect-fitting pants I had ever seen. It was the way they were cut and the weight of the fabric. Really… they were perfect.
Aldo motioned me toward the riser, in front of the mirrors, and nodded with approval at what I was wearing. “We can take care of this,” he said as he made chalk marks and pinned the suit. Looking up from my ankles, he twisted his head for approval on how the pants broke over my shoes. I nodded back already feeling emboldened in my new suit.
We walked out of the store with a bag of exciting accessories that I could wear right away and a receipt for a suit that I could pick up in about five days. All those accessories weren’t part of my original plan but Kenny and Dee had provided a vision of a strong, comprehensive solution. Now I’d just show up on the appointed pick-up day, ask for Kenny, and we’d make sure everything fit perfectly.
Ok… I’m a pushover for service. But this is the vital takeaway: This brand made me the boss. There were no specials being pushed and EVERYONE was there to serve my whims. Even as a brand manager who knows how these things work, I couldn’t help it: They made me feel strong and confident.
An Epiphany: Kenny’s Little Secret
I returned around lunchtime on the appointed date (I couldn’t wait). I was right behind a young couple who looked lost. The wife explained to the greeter that they were attending a wedding and that her husband didn’t have a suit to wear.
“Not a problem,” the greeter said. “Take a look in the middle aisle. Jim will be over in a minute to help you find what you’re looking for.”
I told the greeter I was on a mission to pick up my suit.
“That’s fantastic,” he said. “I’ll get Kenny now.”
Kenny came out of the back within 60 seconds with my suit bag in hand, certainly aware of the time-constraints of a lunchtime pick-up. “Let’s see how it fits.”
As I changed, I overheard Kenny talking to Jim, the other salesman. “Pick out the accessories with HER,” Kenny reminded him. “She’s the decision maker.”
My world came crashing down. Yes, my wife was my trusted advisor, but HE knew that? And apparently this wasn’t unique to Dee and me! The spouse is almost always the decision maker… and they knew it.
When I help clients introduce their brands to the public, I coach them never to refer to their brand as a “brand.” Just call it your name, I tell them, or tell them it’s the new you. I don’t want them to reveal that their brand is actually a marketing facade, just as actors don’t want you to think about the play you’re watching.
Kenny didn’t know, in that brief moment, that the scenery had fallen and that I, the audience, could see everything clearly.
And yet, I applauded the detail and thoughtfulness that went into his craft. He knew what to say, what to do, and whom to interact with during each scene of this performance. I appreciated the expertise that Kenny and Aldo provided. More importantly, I found a great suit and handsome accessories that made me feel more confident for my upcoming presentation. And, in the end, all of their staging had created a differentiated experience for me… and for Dee.
Sometimes clients will recognize that they’re engaged in a sales transaction. And, if you’re delivering what they want, they’ll be fine with that. In the end, all that matters is that the experience delights them and your solution exceeds their expectations.
End the Scene Exquisitely
I walked out and stood on the riser in front of the mirrors. Behind me, I could see the young couple looking at accessories filling the large display table that had just been completely empty.
I looked at my reflection and admired the way the suit fell. And, for a brief moment, I swear time slowed down.
Kenny looked at me in the mirror and said, “Do you like the way you look?”
I had to laugh, “That’s perfect.”
Kenny’s last line was the perfect close to our time together. Why? Because it was the brand’s tagline: You’re gonna like the way you look.
Wrap-up the end of a client journey with a reminder of why your brand was the right choice. Because you do something no one else can do quite like you. Yes, they feel damn good- and you’re the reason they feel that way. And when they need what you provide in the future, they’ll remember that.
An enduring devotee of communication design and strategy, I’ve dedicated my 40-year career to delivering outstanding brand value and client experiences. I created Verge Experience Strategies (VergeX) to help you do the same. VergeX works closely with business owners, CMOs, and entrepreneurs to identify and express their brand’s unique value. We then help them build credibility and engagement to win the loyalty of customers, employees, and communities.
Join me as I continue to explore and muse upon the evolution of human communication.