Lisa Merriam

Brand Identity: Everyone’s Crazy for a Sharp Dressed Brand

Brand identity matters. President Obama’s reputation for dignity and style took a step back with his less than decorous vacation pictures. felt it necessary, due to the flip-flop flap, to provide how-to advice . The last time a President so crossed the line into “eew” was when President Johnson lifted his shirt to reveal a bare belly and surgical scar.

Don’t do this to your brand:


Brands should take notice: How your people look conveys a powerful brand message.

“A company that has employees meeting the public must realize that what they convey about the brand is just as important—if not more important—than the logo,” says New York-based business consultant Rob DeRocker. I talked to Rob after The Financial Times interviewed him for an article on dress codes.

I thought back to last year when my computer blew up while I was traveling. I had to get it fixed fast. I found a small local shop manned by guys with tattered t-shirts and plenty of body piercings. They were probably talented computer nerds, but I ended up in the safe environs of Best Buy, with their well-groomed and uniformed staff.

Ensuring staff conveys the brand with their grooming and dress can take many forms:

  • UBS has a 43-page dress code that gets into the details of how men should knot their ties and what color underwear women should wear. Too detailed? Maybe for some, but it might be just right for a Swiss bank.
  • The Hooters brand aims to be “delightfully tacky yet unrefined,” and that requires a very specific dress code that specifies flesh colored nylons at all times, no body piercings or tattoos and no bra straps hanging out or visible midriffs. Shorts must “not be so tight that the buttocks show.” Hooters even has a section of its Web site devoted to becoming a Hooter-Girl—be advised that the content is mostly pictures.
  • TGI Friday’s brand spirit of employees having as much fun as their customers with “an attitude of serious showmanship” was famously lampooned in the movie Office Space where the waitress character said, “We’re, uh, we’re actually required to wear fifteen pieces of flair…I, uh, I just grabbed fifteen buttons and, uh, I don’t even know what they say! Y’know, I don’t really care. I don’t really like talking about my flair.”

Dress codes can be controversial. Disney is still locked in a legal dispute with an employee who wants to wear a hijab to work. Disney’s position is that employees are entertainers portraying characters and types. The dispute is ongoing. One wonders what will happen when the employee portraying Snow White wants to wear a burka.

Company dictates on fashion are not merely about looking nice; they are about conveying brand. The human interaction experience has far greater impact on making a brand impression than the logo, name, color scheme, typography, etc. As Rob says, “People ultimately do business with people.”