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A 'brand' new concept

Over the past year we've seen a surge in licensing in home textiles — almost to the point of excess.

The players span the gamut, from celebrities to museums, to artists in other media, to fashion mavens to sports figures and even dead people.

Last market it seemed like every supplier was standing in line to gain access to anyone with any kind of celebrity or recognition name — kind of a way to give credibility to products that need differentiation.

It was remarkable how many of the companies involved knew little about their new "partners" and even less about what other products for home these partners were involved in.

Marketing is a concept that hasn't really permeated the world of home textiles. Branding is even less a concept.

So it certainly was timely, — and a coincidence — that one of the topics for discussion at the annual meeting of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association (AFMA) last week was branding.

And it was significant that Mel Wolff, chairman and ceo of nine-store, Houston-based Star Furniture, pointed out to the AFMA audience that many of these so-called brands are instead marketing vehicles — and that there is a vast difference between them.

To Wolff, as well as to many others, including serious students of branding, brands endure through ups and downs of the economy, fashion trends, marketing bonanzas, celebrity and headlines.

The confusion arises from a general melding of the two terms rather than an understanding that branding and marketing are separate.

We're beginning to see some movement toward branding vs. marketing with such names as Waverly, Cannon, Royal Velvet and Martex among those getting some recognition. But it's a long-term game plan, and home textiles seems to be focused more on licensing than establishing brands — an activity that requires dedication and money.

But when we start talking about sports figures, museums or even TV celebrities, we are talking about opportunistic marketing activities. It is merchandise or merchandising designed to take advantage of the popularity of a person or thing within a given time frame. Nothing's wrong with this; it's creating some level of interest, but it's not building a brand.

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