WASN'T EXPECTING THIS...
For about 20 years, I've been carrying an imitation leather padfolio to client meetings.
It's a dark brown thing that was given to me as a Christmas present.
It has my initials printed in "gold leaf" on the lower right-hand corner.
(Why quotes around "gold leaf"? It's faux leather. Hard to imagine they went for genuine gold leaf.)
This padfolio has served me well as I talk to clients and pretend to write down notes about things they're saying.
But, at 20 years old, it's starting to look a little...thrashed.
It seemed like time for a replacement.
Standing there in the padfolio aisle, one can feel a range of emotions ranging from dismay to fear to loathing.
It is not an encouraging padfoilo selection--unless you happen to relish the idea of walking around with a textured plastic and rubber folio bearing a giant badge indicating you are carrying a Swiss Army writing pad. (Does it come with a corkscrew? If so, can you get it on a plane in your carry-on?)
Or, maybe you desire something vaguely resembling leather that has plenty of zippers and a built in calculator as if you're a salesman or actuary ready to calculate on the go.
Or, if you ever considered a padfolio that brands you as tragically underpaid, and feels like it might accessorize well with your best double-knit suit, this is your place.
In other words, it all pairs well with the irony of a big-box, limited-selection brand like Staples. Somehow, these huge stores only ever have a modest range of middle-of-the-road items in any category.
In other words, Staples is a generalist brand rather than a specialty brand, and it specializes in commodity and parity products.
THANKS, STAPLES--THAT WAS EASY
Next stop: the interwebs.
In searching for padfolios, I stumbled across the website for Leatherology.
I'd seen it before, but never really paid a lot of attention. Your relentless scribe isn't heavily invested in leather accessories.
Nonetheless, Leatherology is a specialty purveyor of personalized leather accessories.
And Leatherology has a padfolio of exactly the kind of simple, understated style that goes with your scribe's no-nonsense, pretend-note-taking demeanor.
Several mouse clicks, and a new padfolio was on the way.
And this is where the branding fun really begins.
HELLO, PLAIN BROWN UPS BOX
It seemed like a fairly large box for something that contained an item toughly the shape and size of an engorged legal-pad.
I slit the tape and removed the clean, fresh newsprint packing material.
Facing me was a sheet of strong, smooth, brown kraft paper. It was folded over, meeting in the center, and sealed with a sticker bearing the Leatherology logo.
Peeling away the sticker (for one does not simply tear something so elegant), I was faced with a densely constructed, bronze-colored cardboard box.
The box was bound with a deep black ribbon. The elegant, Leatherology logotype was embossed at the foot of the box cover, imprinted in black.
The box feels as though it might contain an expensive picture frame or a slim but important photo album. Or maybe it's a box full of life's chocolates in all their Forrest Gump glory.
DUDE, ALL I ORDERED WAS A PADFOLIO!
Slipping the lid off the box revealed a shiny, bronze-colored microfiber sheet.
Again, the Leatherology logotype was printed on the fabric.
The fabric felt rich and clingy and sexy and maybe someone somewhere in an adult-oriented garment factory makes this same fabric into sexy lingerie.
Lifting aside the flimsy, silken fabric, there it was.
The Leatherology padfolio in all its slightly-larger-than-8.5-by-11 glory.
Clean. Simple. Fresh. Smells like a new car at a fraction of the price.
Removing the padfolio and opening it suddenly felt like it came with tremendous responsibility.
Inside was a pad of a serious, gunmetal hue that spoke of important deals to be made.
And there, in the lower left corner of the cover, in the business-card pocket, was a black card bearing the white letters: "LEATHEROLOGY."
HOW DO YOU THINK THEY WANT YOU TO FEEL ABOUT THIS BRAND?
This was an experience on par with unboxing a new iPad.
And it made me think about how long it's been since a low-tech product was presented with such an elevated packaging experience.
Because unboxing this thing is indeed an experience.
And it's calculated to make the customer feel a very particular way about the Leatherology product.
There's absolutely no reason to keep this packaging--other than it feels wrong to dispose of it.
And then it got me to thinking...
HOW OFTEN DOES A BUSINESS FAIL TO MAKE IT FEEL LIKE THEIR PRODUCT MATTERS?
A leather padfoloio could very easily have been treated like any other business-supply commodity product.
That's certainly how it feels inside a Staples store.
But with what probably amounts to five dollars' worth of packaging at cost, Leatherology has made it absolutely certain that you will notice and not forget.
You will feel like you've become part of a club.
And yes, this company obviously has some deep-ish pockets to be pulling this off. It's not cheap to do. It definitely eats into margin. (It also raises the price of the product, contributes to landfill waste, and could be considered excessive use of natural resources--but that's a whole other screed.)
That said, it is possible for the small-business owner to make such a sensory impression upon the customer without spending a lot of money.
IT IS POSSIBLE TO IMPART DELIGHT AND MAKE THE PROSPECT FEEL SOMETHING ON A BUDGET
Witness: the Leatherology kraft-paper wrapper and logo sticker.
These are two very inexpensive components that immediately change the experience. They are also affordable for almost any small business.
Back in an entirely other age (before anyone was using this thing called email), people still mailed out press kits to the media.
I was working with a homemade ice cream business in Miami.
The brand had a lot of whimsy and delight baked into its DNA.
And in an effort to make an impression on local media outlets, we sent out press kits that were equally aimed at instilling whimsical delight.
The copy in the press materials was light and fun.
And the press materials were delivered in simple, heavy-stock two-pocket folders that bore a logo sticker on the cover, and had been splattered with bright, ice-cream colored paint.
PEOPLE LOVED THEM
Granted, we're talking media people as opposed to customers.
But the net effect is the same.
In a world where everything they see is stiff and corporate or uninteresting and blah or otherwise unremarkable in its commercialness--
These people had been given a brand experience on a simple level and it left them with a sense of delight.
How do we know this?
Because routinely, in those first weeks of business, the people who had received these folders would come into the business and remark on how much they enjoyed them.
They indicated that these folders brought a smile into their day.
The experience made them feel really good about the brand.
EVERY TOUCHPOINT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE THE CUSTOMER FEEL SOMETHING
It can be done for big bucks or on the cheap.
It doesn't matter, as long as it's smart and appropriate and calculated to feel right.
So, what is your business doing to make sure your customer feels the right thing?
Does it involve kraft paper and a sticker?
Does it involve logo-emblazoned microfiber lingerie fabric?
Is there a paint-splattered paper folder that conveys whimsy and delight?
Does it involve delivering an organic, all-natural product in a little jute sack, as one of our clients does?
Are you making use of every opportunity to make your customer feel something about your brand?
What are they touching at your touchpoints?
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.