I'm just back from a visit to Milan, which truly is a city where brand is king. Although I could never be accused of being a fashionista, I was amazed at how many labels I recognised on the streets around the Quadrilatero D'Oro (the Golden Quad); from Italian giants such as Gucci, Armani, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana to Chanel, Yves St. Laurent and Ralph Lauren and even relatively minor names like Penny Black, Camper and Mandarina Duck.
What's even more remarkable is how easily I distinguished between one label and the next. The only brand I own from those I've listed is Camper; I'm not sure I've even been inside a shop belonging to any of the others. Yet, despite my relative ignorance, I find myself almost on first-name terms with each of these fashion blue-bloods.
I'd struggle to say which of these brands is 'best' but I don't think I'd have much difficulty in telling you which brands I like and which I don't. This always strikes me as one of the most useful features of the brand, this ability to stand apart from rivals that have so much in common when it comes down to traditional features and benefits. The brand allows the customer to home in on something other than a list of distinguishing characteristics and make a choice that's based on a much more complex set of ingredients.
As business-owners, we're challenged to move our own offer beyond a simple list of 'reasons to do business' and on to something much more engaging for our customers. Otherwise, we'll find ourselves lost in the dazzling array of the high street where personality and attitude count for so much more than earnest application.