Episode 41


What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… BUILD-A-BEAR

Show Notes (click to expand)

When my children were little, I remember everyone recommending that I take them to Build-A-Bear…and my first thought was, “Why would I pay close to $100 bucks to make a bear when I can go to Target and buy one for less than $20. So in my mind, there was no way that would happen. 


However, my daughter Samantha came home from school one day when she was around 7 years old and asked if we could go to Build-A-Bear that upcoming weekend. Now, if you had walked into Samantha’s bedroom, you would have wondered how she fits into her bed because she loveeeeeeeed stuffed animals and dolls. So in my head, I knew she didn’t need another stuffed animal, but she wore me down, my heart did take over and off we went!


Now the best way to describe a Build-A-Bear workshop, for those who’ve never been there, is arts ‘n’ crafts on steroids. When we arrived, I did admit to myself that this was the perfect place for an imaginative, dynamic and spirited ball-of-fire like my daughter Samantha. From the moment we walked in, I felt like I was placed inside the “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory” movie for stuffed animals. There were stations everywhere that guided you on an interactive journey to create your very own personalized furry teddy bear. Being in the brand marketing profession, self admittedly, this was a really cool experience…and at that point I started thinking to myself, maybe this is worth the money!


So at this point Samantha wanted nothing to do with me, as she took off with a BEAR BUILDER associate (that’s what employees are called…get it?) who walked her through the seven steps to creating her furry friend. Here goes:

1.   STEP 1: Choose Me: The bear.

2.   STEP 2: Hear Me: Add the sound effects. Side note: this drove my wife and I nuts for a few years.

3.   STEP 3: Stuff Me: AND don’t forget the iconic special heart that holds love and wishes. Another side note: Samantha was able to put her foot on the pedal that pumped out the stuffing…for a kid, that’s huge.

4.   STEP 4: Hug Me: Samantha got to do the “Is It stuffed just right?” test and add more stuffing until perfect.

5.   STEP 5: Dress Me: The outfits. Side note again: Notice the plural here…OUTFITS…now my wallet was screaming!

6.   STEP 6: Name Me: A birth certificate of its bear-y own (Get it?)!

7.   STEP 7: Take Me Home: The box to transport the bear home…AND color it too. Last side note: Did you know that the box was inspired by the McDonald’s Happy Meal

At the end, when I came back in to pay (now Samantha needed me)….I saw and read behind the counter, the “Bear Promise”, and I was struck by the one statement that read “I brought my bear to life”….


…AND that’s exactly what Samantha did when we got home. She marched right into her bedroom and proceeded to introduce her new bear to all her stuffed animals and dolls, sharing stories of how each of them came into her life, what they meant to her, and what she wanted them to become when they grew up – doctors, professional athletes, artists, fashion designers…all the things she was dreaming of becoming one day! Today, Samantha is now a sophomore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville preparing to go to Med School (Another wallet screamer by the way).


In that moment in her bedroom was when I realized that Build-A-Bear is NOT in the stuffed animal business…they’re in the EMPOWERMENT business. In fact, the mission at Build-A-Bear clearly states this:


“Our mission is to EMPOWER kids of all ages to express themselves in a safe, warm space through services, experiences and, of course, furry friends!”


Like every winning brand, I always say that the magic happens after purchase. Of course, Samantha created a great product in the factory, but what she really purchased was EMPOWERMENT, the freedom to play, to explore, to let her imagination run wild and make believe. I paid for Build-A-Bear’s core value of EMPOWERMENT!


So I want to thank Build-A-Bear for EMPOWERING Samantha to create dreams in that moment that felt limitless…that’s money well spent!


If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

o   Your product is NOT your brand.

o   Your brand is your Core Value…AND

o   You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.

o   Build-A-Bear uses their stuffed animals to drive their Core Value of EMPOWERMENT.


The next time you want to EMPOWER your child to dream big, remember this:



I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

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