Episode 38

Why free work is a smart strategy for personal branding

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…

Show Notes (click to expand)

When you want a quick, casual meal but don’t want to cook, you have many options, ranging from sit-down restaurants to take-out, to fast food.

When you hear the words fast-food (or as the industry sometimes calls it, QSRs or “Quick Serve Restaurants”), I bet I know what brands come to your mind –  McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken (or KFC as they now call themselves), Burger King, Domino’s, Pizza Hut and many more.

Well, there’s another category of food called “fast casual”, a blend of fast-food and casual dining, featuring a more upscale and diverse menu selection. Fast casual typically has no table service, orders are placed and paid for, and customers are then directed to an assembly area where their food is ready and waiting for them to take to a table. Fast casual brand leaders include Panera Bread, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches, and Chipotle Mexican Grill. There are also some hidden gems in this fast casual category, one of them being a favorite of mine and today’s brand clip: PRET-A-MANGER…or as most people call it, “Pret” for short. (I love that name by the way…just sayin’!) 

Pret a Manger is French for “ready-to-eat” and was based on prêt-à-porter, French for “ready-to-wear” clothing. Although Pret a Manger sounds French, the company is actually British. Since opening their first “sandwich shop” on London High Streets in 1986, Pret’s mission has been simple: To serve freshly made food and 100% organic coffee, while also trying to make an impact in the world. For example, any unsold food is donated to food rescue partners at the end of each day and their Coffee Fund is supporting the next generation of farmers. From a sustainability perspective, their sandwiches are packaged in paperboard rather than sealed plastic.

Much of Pret’s success comes down to its promise of “freshly prepared food”, an alternative to rival chains that ship their sandwiches in from faceless catering suppliers. They pride themselves on building a kitchen in every shop, meaning their food is made in house throughout the day.

Pret appeals to the time-crunched, value-driven, urban customer who is looking for healthier sandwiches, salads, soups, and baked goods in the under $10 price range. Pret blends freshly-packaged sandwiches with extraordinary convenience. They pride themselves on getting a customer out the door in 60 seconds once the customer makes their selection. 

I would venture to say that if you’ve worked in New York City, like I did, then you’ve stepped foot into a Pret! Having spent 7 years working at Godiva and always time-crunched for lunch, I appreciated that I could go to Pret for an easy, healthy, freshly made meal. 


I believe that telling your story is a critical part of crafting a winning brand. And brands that “show, don’t tell” forge stronger connections with consumers. Why? Because stories captivate our attention and build loyalty by bringing ideas, emotions, and experiences to life in a memorable way. 

While Pret has carved out a unique segment of healthier food for customers that want speed, ”FRESHNESS” is their differentiator. They bring this point of difference to life via “Passion Facts”, informative and visually appealing photography, positioned throughout each location, accompanied by short stories about the food and the care each item gets from Pret chefs.

Let me share a few examples:

Number 1: Baking At Pret

You may have noticed we have a big, fancy baker’s oven in every Pret Shop, (indeed, some have two). We bake our baguettes, pastries, croissants and savories in-house throughout the day. This is fundamental to good quality and has been sacred to Pret since we started in 1986.
Number 2: Just Roasted

Like bread, coffee beans go stale. Big coffee companies keep silent about this. The truth is, after a couple of weeks the flavor goes out the window. Imagine if all milk was “long life” simply because it suited the distributors. Anyway, we get “Just Roasted” beans delivered every day to every Pret (any not used quickly go to the compost heap). We grind a generous 14 grammes of “Just Roasted” into every Pret cup. Our Baristas are obsessive.
Number 3: Tricky Ingredients

We love using the tricky stuff like fresh avocado, very crispy bacon and fresh salad leaves. Because we make everything in-house, you’ll not find shelf life and display dates on our salads and sandwiches, etc.

Number 4: Made Today, Gone Today 

Every night we give our fresh food to the hungry rather than selling it the next day. It’s the right thing to do.
If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

Your product is NOT your brand.
Your brand is your Core Value…AND
You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.
Pret-A-Manger uses their sandwiches, salads, soups, baked goods and coffee to drive their Core Value of FRESHNESS.
So the next time you’re looking for a meal that is reasonably priced, convenient and feels like it could come from your own kitchen, remember this:

FRESHNESS is how Pret-A-Manger SCORES

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

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