When was the last time you went to a mall? Even if you haven’t set foot in one since the Clinton administration, chances are the sights, sounds and smells are forever etched across your memory in a heady mélange of Victoria’s Secret and Orange Julius, Taylor Swift and cell phone conversations, Sbarro pizza and Calvin Klein Obsession. A mall is an emporium of sensory overload, of brands clamoring for your attention with an onslaught of visual, aural, and olfactory noise. What brands captured your attention? Was it a store you’d find outside the vaulted ceilings of multi-level, brick-and-mortar retail, or was it the kind of brand that shows up in peculiarly targeted (and poorly edited) Facebook ads? Was the stuff behind the logo coherent or confusing? Which ones “branded” your brain the most effectively?
Chances are good that whatever retailer sticks out the most in your head is the one whose branded image is consistent. For me, that’s Abercrombie and Fitch. When you enter one of those stores in a mall, it’s a concentrated blast of lifestyle branding: displays feature photo spreads of impossibly beautiful models lying around a lake house, wearing layers of casual plaid while a backdrop of high-energy music and woodsy cologne reiterates that all that leisure time spent looking pretty could be yours if you were only to grab a shirt or five. From the outside, however, Abercrombie maintains a veritable poker face. Except for the entryway’s floor-to-ceiling black-and-white of a model and the sounds and scents emanating from behind it, Abercrombie’s hides its interior behind wide wooden blinds, drawn shut to keep your focus on the sensory murmur enticing you. There’s no gaudy window spread, and virtually no sales display, just subtlety and understatement. In other words, Abercrombie does more with far less, broadcasting a highly consistent brand image with little more than two letters and an ampersand.
Abercrombie doesn’t bombard you with slogans or discounts. It doesn’t do everything under the sun to get your attention. And on 5th Avenue, the “most expensive street in the world”, the Abercrombie & Fitch store maintains the mystery, just as its counterparts in America’s malls. A&F’s wooden blinds are the mark of their brand’s consistent image and this particular A&F stood out with its six stories of consistency. When you see its name or the A&F logo, you automatically have an idea what it’s about, and even the sound of its name gives you the idea of what they sell—the kind of classy casual wear that gives teens an air of sophistication.
Seeing that flagship store in New York made me wonder what our industry can learn from Abercrombie & Fitch. For the legions of shoppers in its demographic, Abercrombie is the name they turn to for clothes that reflect certain personal aspirations—looking clean-cut, looking attractive, enjoying weekends with friends that apparently never end—and for the dental profession, a practice’s brand has to do the same thing. An orthodontic office’s brand has to capture its audience’s attention. It needs the “it” factor that puts it as the first choice for potential patients. A practices’ brand needs to be the first and only choice when people decide it’s time for orthodontic treatment for their child or themselves.
Sure, part of a brand’s ability to captivate (and capture) an audience involves an impacting logo, a well-done website, and plenty of visual evidence demonstrating your practice’s excellent results; all of those are crucial to representing who you are and what you deliver as the choice dental professional in your area. But just like the subtlety of Abercrombie’s understated storefronts fosters an “it” factor for the A&F brand, you need to find the facet of your business that will foster the “it” for yours. What sets your practice apart from the others in a Google search? How can you rise above all the other voices without having to shout across tons of marketing channels—some of which might not even make sense for your office? Broadcasting in every way, shape, and form might work for some products and services, but does it genuinely help your practice? Examine your market. Find the unique, unassuming qualities that would make you choose your practice for your own child’s orthodontics. When you do that, you’ll be like those stores in the mall, stamped in patients’ memory–“branded,” if you will.