Thursday, December 23, 2010

American Eagle Outfitters - Mission Statement

Here's another example of a mission statement being either too long or absent: American Eagle Outfitters.

American Eagle has a clearly defined set of "corporate values" which guides the actions of employees at all levels of the AE organization:

The vitality of our company resides in our people. We collaborate, we engage, we achieve.

We hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards. In the face of difficulties and challenges, we don't compromise.

Our passion infuses our actions and purpose. It transforms stores into places of energy and customer delight

We operate in a dynamic and competitive industry. We continually refine the unique processes that drive our business, and we use insightful research and analysis to balance our instinct and to guide our decisions. Our associates embody entrepreneurial spirit, develop creative solutions, and initiate change.

We work together - listening to one another, reaching consensus and supporting group decisions. We celebrate achievements. Because we respect and trust one another and commit ourselves to our company goals, our teamwork succeeds.

Additionally American Eagle has a service goal that guides employees in their everyday retailing tasks:

"We respond to the needs of our customer and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done."

I'm underwhelmed.  You guys knew I would be, right?  Admittedly, this isn't a mission statement, but a set of values.  And that is the problem—there is no definable mission statement, and hence no one big idea, passion, or goal to drive the business.

So what we have to work with are these corporate values.  Let's bypass people, integrity, and teamwork, because those belong in every company's corporate values, and focus instead on passion and innovation, because they are where this company could set itself apart.

Passion - what is American Eagle passionate about?  If I had to define it, I'd say that this should read something like "We are passionate about providing on-trend, highly desirable clothes, accessories and personal care items at affordable prices to teens, millennials, and kids."   This brand proposition could then become their mission statement, because it's this passion that becomes the mission that drives their business.

Innovation - this I see as the implementation of the mission statement I've just defined.  Consider this statement: Our associates embody entrepreneurial spirit, develop creative solutions, and initiate change.  Great!  Why do they do this?  To provide on-trend, highly desirable products to their audience.  See how that works?

The whole point I'm trying to make here is that everything needs to flow from one, big, easily graspable idea that everyone who works there can get passionate about and commit to.  American Eagle Outfitters isn't doing so hot compared to other brands that have a more defined brand and strategy, like Urban Outfitters.  In 2009, UO had a 5.6% increase in revenue, as compared to AE's 0.5%, and same store sales growth was up 7.8% for UO vs. -4%.  That's problematic.

I don't know how quantifiable having a strong mission statement vs. not having one is, in terms of success, but if it works for wars and elections, it probably has a strong correlation in commerce.  What drives us are the causes we can get behind, the battle cries we remember, the mantras that become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that they're nearly pre-cognitive.  This isn't that.  It should be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Tale of Two Beers

Two very different types of beer packaging for the same kind of beer customer: who will take the win?

First up: Rialto Premium Lager

Very designed, vintage appeal, strong Mayan iconography.  This design is by Stranger & Stranger, a design firm that specializes in packaging for wine, beer, and spirits.  They say "San Salvador is known for its Mayan Temples and sun worship."

Well, it's pretty.  If I were a Corona drinker looking for something fancy, I'd probably pick this up.  So far, reviews haven't been great, but at least you'd have something fun to bring to a party.

Next up: Black Label Beer and Red Label Beer from Bavarian Brewing

Also well-designed, and has strong vintage appeal.  It also seems a lot more masculine at first blush—much more rough and tumble. I can't locate where I found this one, but it seems like a straightforward design with mass appeal. I could see my grandpa drinking this; I could also see a dude in a plaid shirt with beat-up Nike dunks drinking it.

When I first sat down to write this, what I was going to say is that these beers are both designed for a younger, affluent, design-conscious male consumer. I was going to declare Bavarian Brewing's beers the winner, based on how I think both designs will be received. But now, I don't know.

The artistic, illustrative nature of the Rialto packaging could really appeal to a female audience, so while this might not be a win for the dudes, it could be for the ladies. But was that Stranger & Stranger's intent? I don't know. I know it's my own gender bias, but I'd design beer packaging with men in mind. I can't call this a win unless I know who they were designing it for, and that's what makes this one so interesting. It's unclear who they thought their audience was. And maybe that's the issue—it's a little cloudy from start to finish.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Circuit City - Mission Statement

Circuit City is the next brand mission statement I'm evaluating.  Since Circuit City went bankrupt and liquidated in 2009, that casts an interesting light on this analysis.  The credit crisis has caused a lot of businesses to go under, but Circuit City also had a bunch of mismanagement and poor decisions—laying off salespeople and not staying current with the tech industry. That latter one is anathema for an electronics retailer. The business of electronics retailing has moved primarily online, and Circuit City did not, at the time of close, have much to offer in sales opportunities on the web. And after laying off their sales people, the question becomes: where are you selling your product?

I suspect that's in large part why their business failed—they weren't selling. They weren't where their customers were (online), and they also were pretty half-assed about where their customers weren't (in their stores), so it's not difficult to make that leap to a conclusion on why they shut their doors.

Let's take a look at their mission statement:

"To make sure that we are all working in the same direction, each of us must live and breathe Circuit City's values and use them as a guidepost for our actions and decisions."

To further clarify that mission to all of its employees, the company outlined its corporate values in detail...

Our Associates are our greatest assets. We expect every Associate to demonstrate that they respect and value others for their efforts, their knowledge, and the diversity that they bring.

We are a product of our experiences and those around us can benefit from our lessons learned. Pass on to others what you value and learn.

What's in it for you? We foster an environment of engagement where associates are invested and involved in the future of the company. What you do matters.

Use your fresh perspective to look, ask, and learn. We never stop looking at the way we approach our business and ways to simplify processes.

Maintain the highest integrity
We expect all of our associates to maintain the highest of ethical standards. Our integrity must never be compromised. Integrity is the foundation onto which all other values are placed."

Yawn.  And what?  Nowhere in this does it say "We want to hit electronic sales out of the park like Renteria in the seventh inning.  We want to wipe our competition off our boots.  We want to develop a cutting-edge, contemporary website that allows our customers to find and buy what they're looking for efficiently.  We want to make Best Buy look like your grandpa's radio store."

There's no plan in here for success.  This doesn't sound like a competitive plan, or even one that will meet with any success.  It's entirely elementary.  Respect, education, engagement, simplification, and integrity are all great values, but I'd expect to see them at any company.  What will set Circuit City apart?

Apparently, not enough.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Understory Chocolatiers

Another piece of eye candy from Lovely Package, this was done by Mark Johnson, when he was a student at SCAD:

It's chocolate packaging for Understory, a chocolatier that harvests their own cacao beans from South America and takes great care with the chocolate making process from start to finish.  A brand with that much care to detail deserves packaging that shows the same craftsmanship, and Mark definitely delivered.

This is a knockout brand for men—the ticking used looks a lot like business shirt fabric. Plus, the classic styling ties in very well with the vintage speakeasy craze.  It has broad gift appeal too, which is a plus.  I like it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Disney - Mission Statement

I have a love/hate relationship with Disney.  I really disapprove of what they're trying to do with copyright law, but I also loved visiting Disneyland as a child and generally speaking, I think of Disney as Big Fun.

One of the things I like most is that the Disney experience is all-encompassing.  If you visit a theme park, you'll note that every detail is meticulously looked after.  Everything from the cobblestones to the water fountains is considered.  I love that.  It allows me to get completely lost in the experience, leave the real world behind, and tap into being a kid.

You pay a pretty price for that of course, but that's no different from any other kind of escapism.  And heck, escaping to being a kid again and having fun?  Yes please!  So much healthier for the psyche than other types of fun I could go into.

Disney's mission statement is:

"The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world."

I actually disagree a bit with that "Disney as a leading producer of information" part.  Their stance on copyright is kind of at odds with that aim.  They certainly have an educational component, but entertainment vastly outstrips it.

However, I do think "creative, innovative, and profitable" sums up Disney very, very well.  Who they want to be is very much in keeping with who they are, and that's translated into big dividends for them.

But don't take my word for it.  What do you think?

Emblemist: Yes
Readers: ?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Seventh Generation

Taking a break from my Mission Statement series for some pretty packaging.  This is student work via Lovely Package, one of my favorite blogs.  The project was to design packaging for personal hygiene items for Seventh Generation:

Hygiene products are typically not very sexy, but this packaging is kinda sexy because it doesn't try to make hygiene flowery or overly precious.  It's utilitarian, but also bright and appealing.  The designer, Johana Tran, says:
“The package design utilizes sustainable materials, while maintaining a hygienic appeal, ensuring a product that users can trust to be safe for both the environment and the body. Tampons are packaged in individual molded paper pulp packs of 5, featuring a quick dispense method for convenience, while also offering the advantages of being easily portable and discreet. Pads are packaged in a sturdy paper pulp box. Toilet paper is packaged in a reusable biodegradable bag and the toilet cleaner features a hygienic hideaway nozzle.”
It's eco-friendly, in keeping with Seventh Generation's core values.  It also appeals to their demographic of value and quality-conscious shoppers who care about design and minimizing packaging. 

I don't think I've ever been this excited about feminine hygiene or toilet cleaner.  There's something to be said for that.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Limited Brands - Mission Statement

Next up on my roster of big brands for mission statement evaluation is Limited Brands.  Limited Brands encompasses Victoria's Secret, Henri Bendel, La Senza, C.O. Bigelow and Bath & Body Works.  Their mission statement is:

"Limited Brands is committed to building a family of the world's best fashion brands offering captivating customer experiences that drive long-term loyalty and deliver sustained growth for our shareholders."

So let me get this straight: Limited's main goal is to be... captivating? Well, okay.  In a retail context, that makes sense: you want to charm and engage your customer, because they're far more likely to stay and spend money.  But some of these brands are more of a success in this experience than others.

Henri Bendel—yes.  Henri Bendel is one of the most luxurious retailers in the United States.  Going to Henri Bendel is a captivating experience.  Victoria's Secret... you've got me there.  Their commercials, fashion shows, and in-store branding captivate me.  It's hard not to be captivated by lingerie and the women modeling it.  La Senza is a Canadian chain, so I can't say if they're captivating, but they're also a high-end lingerie retailer, so my  money's on yes.

Captivate just seems like a weird word though for Bath & Body Works, a brand that started out looking like a farm stand.

Since its acquisition it's gotten more upscale, but I wouldn't call it captivating.  Have you been in a Bath & Body Works lately?  It's homogenized and weird, and the scents, in my opinion, have more chemical overtones.  I actually kind of miss the old Bath & Body Works for their clarity of vision and old-skool charm.  The scents weren't complex, but there's a childhood comfort in the Apples scent that I loved.

That brand felt friendly, and everything from the packaging to the retail merchandising formed a cohesive vision of what it was meant to be—quirky, homey, non-intimidating.  I think something was lost in trying to create a "captivating" experience.  As it turns out, however, not everyone agrees with me.  Sales are up in the 3rd quarter for Bath & Body Works, with a 6% gain over prior year sales.  That could be the economy recovering, or it could be the continued growth of a great brand.  It's hard to say, but for my part, I still think Bath & Body Works fails to offer a captivating experience because I'm not charmed by it, nor do I want to spend my money there.

What do you think?

Emblemist: Yes for Bendel/Victoria's Secret, No for Bath & Body Works
Readers: ?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Target - Mission Statement

In this post, I talked about why it's vital to start your branding strategy with a strong mission statement to rally behind. has an article with mission statements from several retail giants, and I thought it would be fun to do a little debating over whether we think these brands have lived up to their brand promise. 

The first one up: Target

Target's mission/vision statement is:

"Our mission is to make Target the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and an exceptional guest experience by consistently fulfilling our Expect More. Pay Less.® brand promise. To support our mission, we are guided by our commitments to great value, the community, diversity and the environment."

First up is value.  I think Target delivers on value.  Are they the lowest prices on the block?  Not always.  Walmart and other discounters can deal a price smackdown now and again.  But where Target stands alone is innovation.  They were the first big box retailer to partner with contemporary and progressive designers to create low-price versions of high-brow concepts.  Michael Graves did their first line; now they work with Stella McCartney, Tucker, and Dwell Studio.  They've also developed a food category, a higher-end boutique beauty section, and have an eco-friendly focus.  Target wins on innovation, hands-down.

Exceptional guest experience is tough.   Target is well-organized, bright, and usually clean.  The checkers tend to be pretty nice, though the dressing rooms could really use some work.  However, I vastly prefer shopping at Target to many other discount retailers.  I like that they've partnered with Starbuck's.  It gives them an edge.  And I do think they're playing the "upscale experience for a downscale price" game solidly well.  So I'd agree.  Target is living up to their mission statement.

Emblemist:  Yes
Readers: ?

What do you think?  Does Target live up to its mission statement in your experience?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brands Are Built

One of the things I think about a lot is brand success indicators—how likely it is that a brand will succeed, and what components make success likely.  Brand Channel has a great article on this, Successful Start-Ups Launch with a Brand, that delineates why they think some brands thrive and some fail.  The key seems to be to start early and build your brand from the ground up.
One of the biggest misperceptions that companies have is that branding begins when the firm has money and can hire an expert. The most successful companies consider branding from the moment the business is just a kernel of an initial idea. When Joe Smith says he is starting a company and his buddies ask what business he is starting, this is where the concept and the establishment of a brand should begin: in his answer," explains Ed Gyurko, founder of Brand Illumination, a New York-based industry analyst and investor relations consulting firm.
Your brand should infuse every element of your business, because your brand is your word.  You have to start with a plan and answer some deep questions about the purpose behind your product.  Does your product or service fill a need?  Does that need have a wide enough market to support your business?  How exactly and how well does your product or service fill that need?  And (in my mind) most importantly, how do you plan to communicate your product or service as a solution to your potential clients and customers?

It's vital that you consider these things up front.  The most successful businesses have answers to these questions, and every step they take in developing their brand supports their mission statement, their answers to those questions above, from the name to the logo to the collateral.  It has to be cohesive, concise, and clear in order to win.
A brand is not a commodity that successful companies can buy. A successful brand is a highly valued asset that the best companies build – for themselves, for their customers and the markets that they serve. The most successful companies began the process of building their brand long before they first opened their doors to do business.
And of course a snappy logo, a punchy slogan, and a stunning celebrity endorsement doesn't hurt either.