Saturday, July 9, 2011

Branding - part 1

I'm re-branding. Slowly. Not slowly from reluctance but from practicality - I just don't have the time to do it all at once. I had planned to revamp my website during our long stay in France this summer but of course we're not going at all this year now and life in Stroud gets filled up with other things so I don't really have time for the website at the moment. I have time for little bits and pieces, though.

I've always been aware of the concept of a brand, I think, though I wouldn't have called it that. In recent years 'brand' has become a phenomenon, buzz-word or whatever other term you wish to use for something that is 'in'. And I am distinctly ambivalent about 'in' things.

Clothes fashion is a really good example of this.  In choosing what to wear I've never been one to follow fashion, really, other than when I was at college.  There, fashion was mostly what I was engaged in, although even then, while we were following the general trends of what might be called 'high fashion' of the times, we were also supposed to be creating our own styles and mine, though influenced by the top designers and particularly Zandra Rhodes, was already recognisable.  After college, though, clothes returned to being something that everybody just got on and wore and my style soon became pretty informal and unrelated to fashion.  Periodically the clothes that come into fashion interest me more and at other times my favourite colours turn up as the colours of the year but by and large fashion trends and I have little to do with each other.

What I hate, though, is consumerism and the extent to which fashion and brand drive it.  That people with not much money feel driven to replace perfectly serviceable items because the colour and shape isn't 'in' this year is, I think, what is behind many of the ills of our modern world.  I've no wish to sound like an old fogie and drive my readers away so I won't go on about this, but suffice to say it couldn't matter less to me who has made my shoes so long as they feel comfortable, don't fall apart and I find them visually pleasing.  (If you care, I wear Crocs during as much of the year as I can get away with them as they are amongst the few shoes I have ever owned which fulfil all three criteria.)  But kitchen appliances, hi-fi equipment, three-piece suites and even wallpaper should not be replaced because they are not in the latest style if they are still in good order and do the job you want them to do.

So then, as a consumer, I'm mostly not keen on the whole brand thing.  But here's where Ms Jekyll turns into Mistress Hyde, I'm afraid.  As a manufacturer, Brand is important to me.

At Gloucestershire Arts & Crafts Centre we have more than 50 different makers selling in the shop at any one time.  Some sell better than others and I'm convinced that this is often linked to whether or not they have a recognisable brand.  When new people join, if they don't have much experience in selling their work we try to encourage them to think about their brand, or image.  The worst way to sell is to be skilled in many crafts and display them all together.  If among those things you've made are some pottery mugs, you need to provide a reason for the customer to pick your mug out of your mixed display instead of buying one of mine from a display of nothing but pottery.  We all do it as shoppers - look at a display and in a split second make an assessment of what is being sold - and if that assessment doesn't come up with a clear concept, we tend to move on to something that has.  Over more than twenty-five years of involvement in the arts and crafts business I've seen that the best sellers are always people whose brand is clearly recognisable.

Exactly because I do diversify more than most, it's always been important for me to present my work in a way that shows it clearly as mine.  Working in both ceramics and textiles I can sometimes be seen as a bit of an amateur.  I have been turned down for craft groups for reasons along the lines of if I was a proper potter/textile artist that would be all I do.  I can understand that view even though in my case it's erroneous.  I'm professional in all the things I make and more dedicated than many to my work.  But so that other people recognise this I need to make sure I have an observable brand.

To some extent this was helped when I built my first website.  Needing a domain name, I knew I had "The One" as soon as I thought of Cloth and Clay.  It's what I do and it rolls of the tongue.  Stage one achieved.  In part 2 I'll write about my current rebranding project.

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