The Essence of a Brand

May 21, 2024 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Forget Jargon: Your Brand is How You Make People Feel

Over the course of my 35-year marketing career, I’ve heard the word “brand” defined in countless ways. Each definition intones some combination of identity, differentiation, and customer perceptions. Some explanations are simple, and some are downright tortured. One particularly insightful definition came from a restaurant marketing consultant named Joe Calloway, who said “Your brand is what people think it’s like to do business with you.” Boom! That’s it. It really is no more complicated than that. It’s an apt definition for brands across all industries and categories, and it’s especially true for brands in the retail marketing space, where customer experience is paramount.

I like to think about this stuff, so Joe’s remark set in motion a ton of personal reflection over the years about its implications, particularly when it comes to crafting a retail marketing strategy. A successful strategy goes beyond just creating a logo and catchy slogan. It’s about building a consistent and positive emotional connection with your target audience.

The Role of Advertising in Brand Perception

If a brand is what people think it’s like to do business with you, then as an advertising professional my contribution to building a brand only goes so far. My creative team can build a wonderful advertising campaign for a client, but if the customer’s experience doesn’t meet the expectation set by that ad campaign it will do more harm than good. In the words of legendary ad man, Jerry Della Femina, “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster.”

Shifting Focus: From Advertising to Customer Experience in Retail Marketing

I started my career focused on building great advertising. Over time and through experience, I’ve come to fully appreciate that great advertising, by definition, is only great if it accurately represents the thing it’s selling. In other words, it’s not about the ad. It’s about the customer’s response.

Advertising isn’t art, it’s salesmanship. If advertising doesn’t sell it’s an expensive waste of time.

That means an ad campaign can only be great if the customer response is great. What does it take to generate a great customer response? Simple. A great customer experience.

Company Culture as the Driver of Customer Experience

Early in my career, I’d start building an ad campaign by writing a creative brief. Nowadays, I start with an honest evaluation of the company’s product or service. More importantly, I begin with an appraisal of the company culture because it’s the culture that creates whatever that customer experience is.

This is rich and rewarding territory. In fact, I wrote an entire book about it with my co-author and former creative director, Michael Tuggle. There’s a chapter in the book titled, “New Best Friends: Why HR and Marketing Should Share an Office.” The bottom line is that a company’s culture is the upstream energy that fuels the downstream customer experience. A company’s culture is built and maintained by the behavior of its people, so getting its people right is the most important thing a brand can do.

The Critical Role of Human Resources in Retail Marketing

This is why personnel are an important element of the retail marketing mix. Sadly, personnel aren’t listed among the original Four Ps of marketing.

Traditionally, the marketing mix is defined by the Four Ps: product, price, place, and promotion. Let’s delve deeper into each of the Ps and how they influence customer experience in retail and later we’ll look the fifth, and most important “P” of all—People.


A strong product offering is the foundation of any retail strategy. But in today’s competitive landscape, a good product isn’t enough. You need to understand your target audience’s needs and tailor your product assortment accordingly. Consider Sun Tan City’s strategic shift beyond tanning beds, incorporating beauty services and wellness products to cater to a broader customer desire for overall health and appearance.


Finding the right balance between profitability and customer value is essential. Consider offering tiered pricing structures, loyalty programs, and strategic promotions to incentivize purchases. Rug Doctor, for instance, leverages a value-driven marketing strategy with their rental program. This strategy positions Rug Doctor as an affordable solution for occasional deep cleaning needs, rather than requiring the upfront cost of purchasing a carpet cleaning machine.


Choosing the right physical location (bricks and mortar) or creating an intuitive online shopping experience is crucial. Consider factors like accessibility, store layout, and website design to optimize the customer journey. The Maids exemplifies strategic use of place in their marketing mix. The case study showcases how The Maids implemented strategic regional marketing campaigns to reach target audiences in various locations.


Retail advertising plays a role here, but it should be used strategically to support the overall customer experience. This includes traditional advertising channels, social media marketing, and in-store promotions. The Container Store was ready to dive into television to show off their brand’s unique ability to help people stylishly organize and simplify their lives. The client was looking for a compelling concept that would create new Container Store devotees—and make them as passionate about the brand as their faithful shoppers.

Effective retail advertising goes beyond simply creating a catchy jingle, image, TV spot or digital advertising. It’s about crafting a message that resonates with your target audience and compels them to take action.

Empirical Evidence: The Financial Impact of Customer Experience

In the world of retail marketing, however, there’s an additional P to consider: People. That’s because the customer experience is inherently social and emotionally driven.

It is the interactions between customers and staff that ultimately define their connection to the brand.


Hiring the right people is paramount for exceptional customer service. Chick-fil-A, renowned for its unparalleled customer experience, places great importance on hiring employees who naturally embody friendliness and courtesy. It’s no coincidence that the company just announced that the chain’s average unit volume (AUV) has hit a whopping $9.3 million. That’s roughly five times the QSR category average for a chain that’s closed on Sunday.

But Chick-fil-A isn’t the only brand that achieves outsized financial performance by focusing on people as a priority. According to a Forrester study, companies that prioritize customer service outperform competitors by as much as 80%. Not convinced? Here are 50 stats connecting customer experience to marketplace performance.

So, the next time you hear someone pontificate about building “brand identity” or creating “differentiation,” politely nod, then remind them that their brand boils down to a simpler truth: it’s how you make people feel.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

ad agencyadvertisingadvertising agencychallenger brandsChick-fil-Acustomer experiencedallas advertising agencyFour P'sjerry della feminaJoe CallowayMichael Tugglerestaurant marketingretail advertisingretail marketingretail marketing spaceretail marketing strategyRug DoctorSun Tan CityThe Container StoreThe Maidstop 10 Dallas Ad Agencytop DFW advertising agency

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.