Convention: Branding American Wool

Branding American Wool — Building Buyer Confidence

JUDY MALONE
ASI Director of Industry Information

What’s in a brand? A brand is a point of differentiation. Brands help to articulate a product’s passion and purpose across multiple audiences and channels.
John Bellina, BrandJuice creative director, began his brand discussion with the ASI board of directors on Jan. 27 by emphasizing that the brands meaning the most lead with one thing:

• Get to ONE strategy – A focused, ownable positioning that defines the brand.

• Get to ONE innovation – A single, pointed direction for exploration. Seeing beyond the way things appear.

• Get to ONE design – A standout look that is recognizable and unforgettable. Brand storytelling is how to convey the authenticity and relevance of a brand.

With the recently released American Wool logo developed by the Sterling-Rice Group, ASI commissioned BrandJuice to transform the logo into a consumer brand, beginning with the development of a website.

The idea and the challenge for BrandJuice was how to connect with consumers and how to share the experience of wool in a new and different way. The tag-line: Experience. Wool. became the starting point.

Consumers want an emotional tie to a product and they want to know what a product can do for them. The things that will differentiate the American wool website are that it will reach out to the consumer rather than to the producer; it will help consumers learn about American wool and be inspired; it will tell them something new; it will talk about the benefits of wool; and it will sell confidence.

“No one here just sells wool,” Bellina said. “There is something much deeper going on here than simply selling wool. We think what we sell to the consumer when it comes to American wool is confidence,” said Bellina. “It is an amazing fabric.”

What do consumers age 25 to 52 (the target market for the website) think when they think about confidence and how can it be equated to wool? According to Bellina, it comes down to three main areas, which will also be the three sections on the website:

• Wool is performance – This includes outdoor adventurers, trail runners, cyclists, campers, hikers, hunters and the U.S. military. The photography will show that confidence is not just on the sleeve of the garment but is built into the garment. The idea is that wool can ‘cover’ you in many different environments and that wool is not just for winter.

• Wool is style – New York Fashion Week and top-end designers are represented here. The tone is about music; about modern contemporary society; it is distinct; it is never mistaken for fast fashion.

• Wool is room and home – Wool has a refreshed place today in the room and home. It carries value and comfort. The idea is that wool is absolutely uncommon, yet never ceases to amaze.

“In each of these area, we want to talk about the benefits of the product rather than the features,” continued Bellina. “Once someone makes that emotional connection to American wool, we want to back that up with a rational argument for why it is an absolutely fantastic product that deserves a premium price. We want to answer the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’

“Experience. Wool. Wool is for all genders, for all ages and for every race. Wool is part of a bigger picture. The campaign will be candid and will capture a realistic slice of everyday as opposed to fashionable perfection. Wool is reality. The promises that are made need to be respected, simple, straight forward and truthful. It is not something that needs to be dressed-up, as it is already a great thing,” concluded Bellina.

Supporting the branding concepts described by BrandJuice, Kelly Nester, Nester Hosiery, and John Fernsell, Twizel, Inc., shared branding stories from their respective organizations.

The process for Nester began in 1999 with just a few customers. Today, the company’s socks – Farm-to-Feet – boast of being 100 percent USA manufactured, all the way from the raw materials, through processing and every stop along the supply chain, including packaging and in-store fixtures. The introduction of the superwash equipment (the process that makes wool washable) into Chargeurs Wool in South Carolina allowed Nester to source American wool since it could now be processed in the United States.

“Our Farm-to-Feet socks are completely made in America, but the more important thing about the product is the story telling,” said Nester. “Consumers want to identify with their products and we realized we had a great story to tell. That’s when we started telling the story of how we make our socks.”

With supply-chain transparency trending in the marketplace, Nester reached out to the wool-supply chain and got to know the supplier better. A large part about telling the Farm-to-Feet story is also telling the story of the sheep rancher. Consumers want to know the wool suppliers and how the wool is raised.

Farm-to-Feet enjoyed a 90 percent growth in 2016 and is projecting a 65 percent growth in 2017.

“We are having a lot of success with the brand and telling our story, as well as yours,” said Nester. “We think your story and your brand will resonate around the world.”

Twizel is a new company developed as a ‘buy-better’ brand. The house brand will be primarily wool manufactured in the United States. With retail-model changes brought about by the internet, consumers are more empowered than ever.

“Consumers are calling for more transparency and that plays very well into what wool producers do,” commented Fernsell. “We need to get closer to the consumers. For example, consumers don’t know that a producer works an entire year for one shearing. We need to tell that story.”

Fernsell agrees with BrandJuice in that we need to celebrate our differences. Producers need to take what they do and make it special. Treat your wool like it is special, believe it, market it and be known for the value that you add to a product.

“Each one of you has a personality. Bring your personality out in what you do,” concluded Fernsell. “Your personality will be an important part of the consumer brand story.”

Significant time was devoted to wool and branding the American wool product during the ASI board of directors meeting at the Annual Convention.

“All three speakers challenged the producer to tell their story,” surmised Rita Kourlis Samuelson, ASI director of wool marketing. “American wool is more than a commodity and branding American wool for the consumer market will bring value to the end products. We have set out on a journey to improve the value of American wool and we are excited about the opportunity to let consumers know about new wool products and educate them on how wool can bring confidence to their lives today.”

Attendees at the convention got their own education on the product during presentations by ASI’s team of wool consultants, as well as Angus McColl of Yocom-McColl Testing Laboratories in Denver.

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