My husband was honored this weekend at Brown University where he and members of the 1994 crew teams were inducted into the Hall of Fame (awesome.) While in Providence, we stumbled upon the type of coffee place only locals go, and that you could drop in Paris or Portland, and it would fit right in. It inspired me to think about how brands and the venues they inhabit, and people they attract, color our worlds. The Starbucks in the lobby of our hotel was a guaranteed experience; piped in music, the New York Times, six different types of milk, and a coffee menu that, while absurd in its sweetly seasonal offerings, is a general public staple. People rely on it for those things, and they always get it. But Bolt Coffee, the little spot 6 blocks away with black soapstone countertops, Ella Fitzgerald playing in the background and perfectly imperfect 1920’s tiles lining a cozy, low-lit interior, is a radically different way to have the same product. Is the coffee different? Sure, yes, it is. Is it brilliant that by every table was a place to hang your purse? Yes. Incredibly thoughtful. But we identify ourselves and the state of our lives by how we surround ourselves. So it’s not just a cup of coffee ultimately, a battle over superior product; it’s really more about who we are reflected back to us in the brands and places we choose. Starbucks is convenient, but 3 percent of us will walk the extra blocks for something more specific.
This experience was brought home to me once I switched dance studios for my daughters. The first, located in a colossal office building, windowless with fluorescent lights and packed with mothers fretting over their over-accomodated tutu’d daughters, offers high quality dance instruction that my kids love. The second – bright, architecturally interesting, easy going parents – is the new one, also offering quality instruction. The product isn’t probably that different, but in the first, I felt uninspired and genuinely sad about the state of my life, while in the second, I identified with some of the mom’s (by shoe choices only – I haven’t gotten to know anyone yet), and had a sense of hope and happiness about life in general.
A little too deep over dance lessons, you say? Think about it. There’s nothing lonelier than a room full of people who use Android’s when you’re an iPhone girl. And so it is with everything.
Have you ever thought of how your brand – your product or service – colors someone’s world? It can’t just be about a product or service – we’ve got choices galore and competitive products and services are simply the price of entry. It’s got to go beyond that. The real winners are those who offer something that confirm the good things we are already thinking about who we are – who we aspire to be.
This honing and refining gets richer and better the more educated and connected you are.