Brands that I like: Expanded edition, part one

A couple of weeks ago I published a list of brands that I like with the promise that I would expand on what I think makes them work.

So over the next two weeks (unless some major brand calamity claims my blog space) I will spend a little time with each of these in an attempt to give you some insight about their what, why and hows.

There were 10 on the list. Today I am looking at the first five from the list: Carman’s, Aesop, Mr and Mrs Smith, Atlassian, and Haul.

So taking it from the top.

Carman’s

Because when you combine hard work with standing behind your products great things can happen.

The recipe seems to be: A $1,000 leap of faith; a heaping of passion for “real food with real ingredients”; 20 years of hard work; and staying true to not only the ethos that got you started but the delis and cafes who supported the early days of the business.

In an article, “Muesli Queen” and Carmans founder Carolyn Creswell said:

“People look at Carmans now and think it’s been this overnight success, but it’s been 20 years, and a challenging 20 years… For the first 10 years I was literally trying to sell enough product to survive.”

National and international distribution to major retailers followed and today Carmans is an unqualified success story and brand to admire.

Aesop

Because superlative isn’t just talk – it’s embedded from philosophy to delivery.

In an article, Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis talked about his company and its fanatical attention to detail. A look at the company website quickly reveals the guiding purpose behind that detail is Aesop’s unwavering intention to “create a range of superlative products for skin, hair and body”.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think the use of the word “superlative” was accidental. They could have easily used “great” or any number of other generic terms.

But they chose superlative, a word that means of the highest kind, quality, or order; surpassing all else or others; supreme! That is no shrinking violet of a purpose.

And it is a purpose that appears to be a recipe for success. Despite the struggles of many retailers, Aesop’s like-for-like growth in Australia was up 30% and in March this year it was reported that Aesop had engaged Goldman Sachs to find a buyer.

As Dennis says: ”If you deliver something that is considered and original, and you do so with integrity, there’s always going to be a market.” It remains to be seen if selling the company will have an impact on their ability to keep that promise.

Mr and Mrs Smith

Because when great experiences are your product you have to have a robust approach to ensuring they are.

Mr and Mrs Smith was founded in 2003 and is a luxury and boutique hotel travel publisher and agent. Mr and Mrs Smith (founders James Lohan and Tamara Heber-Percy) wanted to find places where couples (or singles) could experience something unique.

After starting with a few hotels in their local London area the organisation today has tentacles across the globe, including offices here in Australia headed by Simon Westcott. Westcott describes the Mr and Mrs Smith recipe for success:

“A core service proposition – curating a handpicked collection of boutique and luxury hotels and helping people book them – is delivered with passion, intelligence and humour (both online and offline); in ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’ we were lucky enough to alight on a brand name that encapsulates this promise in a distinctive and cheeky way. Move over Brad and Angelina.”

And at Mr and Mrs Smith, a good time is serious business. They go to almost extraordinary lengths to ensure the places are worthy of the Mr and Mrs Smith stamp of approval and that they deliver what they promise.

In addition to their own globetrotting team, they also use carefully selected “tastemakers” from around the world to unearth genuinely interesting, stylish and gorgeous places to stay, with every property listed, vetted and approved in person by the Mr and Mrs Smith team.

Even booking your stay via Mr and Mrs Smith delivers a little something extra when you visit. Just another of the somewhat obsessive attention to detail that is, after all, the mark of any great experience.

Atlassian

Because “Don’t #@!% the customer” is the best, ballsiest value statement ever.

Atlassian appears to be a rare beast – a technology company with heart and soul. While successfully delivering services to their customers, they have also built a reputation as a great place to work. Two things that should always go hand-in-hand, but sadly often don’t.

Just a quick look at the company page on their website gives you a snapshot into a technology company firmly in touch with their humanity. And judging by awards from San Francisco Business Times and BRW for being a great place to work, it’s not just hype.

And when an organisation goes the extra mile to make sure that not only the language they use but the way they present it (bobble head exec team anyone) gets the point across, you start to have a brand that is much more than skin deep.

Haul

Because their products are “rubbish” and they are proud to say so.

Describing themselves as “merchants and madmen” is something that fits right in with founder Scott Kilmartin’s take on his business and brand:

“Not taking it all too seriously is a big part of things… We are a design business using green materials.”

Scott starting out making stuff on weekends and at nights as a sideline, selling them at markets in Hobart under the name “Urban Boomerang”. Moving to Melbourne, the products took on a more industrial, arty edge and needed a new name that better reflected the direction of the business and set the stage for the future – and Haul was born.

Today that entrepreneurial spirit and tongue-in-cheek humour is still a hallmark of the business and brand. And while design still leads, the green part of the purpose rides shotgun much like Scott’s trusty mascot, Gus the Boxer.

“Our products are rubbish” might sound like a funny promise to make but in Haul’s case it’s no joke. By making many of its products out of used billboard vinyl, Haul estimates is saves about 35 tonnes of the 850+ tonnes used each year from heading to the nearest landfill. Other materials used include print blankets and number plates.

Nothing rubbish about that!

So to recap – what lessons can we take from these five on what it takes to build a great brand (SME or otherwise)?

  • Stay focused and work hard
  • Reflect your purpose in every aspect of your business
  • Pay attention to the details and align them to create a great experience
  • Don’t forget it starts and ends with your people
  • Make something that matters to you

I’ll take on the others from the list next week.

In the meantime, let me know some of your favourites in comments below or tweet me @michelhogan. I’m always looking for great examples of brands that are kicking ass and taking names by staying true to who they are and what they believe.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent Brand advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.

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