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Warby Parker, and why Brands Don’t Matter

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Brands don’t matter?!?  Blasphemer!  Heretic!  Neanderthal!  Republican!  Put down that crack pipe!

This is of course counter to everything you hear (and if you know me, everything I say).

But it’s true, with an asterisk: Brands often DON’T matter – – until they do.  Then they matter a lot.  It all depends on what value is delivered.

At the risk of alienating my friends in the branding business:  look at some of the more successful recent brands , or just brands you’ve used everyday and never really thought about (Yahoo!  Google.  Zappos.  Ebay.  Subway. Apple.  AT&T.  Starbucks. Blackberry. Target. Kindle. MiO. Allegra.).  Even better, musical artists:  Stone Temple Pilots.  Foo Fighters. Neutral Milk Hotel.  Arcade Fire.  Queen – – no, strike that last one.  Anyway, you get the point – – does any of these in any way describe the product or service?  (and let’s not get started on prescription medicines…). Asked another way, did the brand have a material impact on success?

WarbyParker

Which brings us to Warby Parker.  Warby Parker is a relatively new web-driven mail-order prescription eyeglass business that has totally disrupted this space.  The concept:  shop online, they send you 5 frames to try out at home, you pick one, get them your prescription and you’re immediately sent designer eyeglasses for $95!  So from a value perspective it’s a great deal – – sort of in the same mold as Target – – call it cheap chic or funky frugal or whatever – – their value recipe is cooking right now.

But that’s not all.  Like Zappos, WP have distinguished themselves with over the top customer service.  Every message, call, post or Tweet is answered personally, promptly, and cheerfully.  The combination of value and service has created a significant buzz that is helping to propel the business very quickly.

So where does the ‘Warby Parker’ name come from?  Who cares?* — because of a winning value proposition and excellent execution, it NOW means something very valuable and unique that drives customer loyalty – -and that’s the value of a brand.

*According to the WP website, it is actually a combination of two characters’ names from Jack Kerouac’s work.

Sure, the exceptions to the ‘brands don’t matter’ statement could fill an e-book:  Oikos and Chobani convey Greek; Twitter suggests short bursts of conversation; SquareSpace describes a computer screen, Orapup means something to do with a dog’s mouth, etc.  These and others can help quickly telegraph what’s going on, particularly where authenticity is critical or where marketing funds are limited.  And certain brands can definitely convey a sense of quirkiness — or seriousness — that is core to the product or service’s desired positioning.

However – – while many electrons are spilled proclaiming the value of brands, the most important thing is ultimately not the brand itself, but the lasting value and relevance that the brand delivers.

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