In our culture, we are all engaged in a labour of self-creation. We create and present the self to the world through all of our many choices -- where we live, the kind of work we do, our hobbies, our clothes, our accessories. This is the essence of a consumer culture, and a major reason that brands are so important. Brands are signifiers of meanings, and this project of self-creation is a process of building and communicating meanings. [Yes, we are getting to office supplies.]
Staples has discovered that office supplies are a form of self-expression. Even those that can go get a pen from a stationery closet spend their own money on office supplies. Fascinating too that men spend more:
"Staples reports that consumer appetite for such things is so strong that they spend their own money rather than charge it as an business expense. On average, workers spend $90.14 per year on office supplies that reflect their style, with men spending an average of $134.00 per year, and women spending $101.00." (MediaPost, May 13, 2008)
Personally, I know that the ring-bound notebooks and classification file folders I take into meetings have garnered comments more than once from clients. [And I wish they were a little more unique. If Staples was offering classification folders with style, I'd be putting in an order today. I have to work with what's shown below.]
We know that expensive pens have been the mark of executive for years. In some industries, it's not just a pen, it has to be a fountain pen. Or a felt-pen or gel-writer if you are a creative type. And either a limited-edition design, or a genuine antique.
Staples has research that suggests a huge majority -- 82% -- notice office supplies such as "an eye-catching file folder or pen", more than they notice shoes, for example. Which totally makes sense -- how much time do you spend looking under the table at meetings anyway?
Staples has launched this venture with a completely un-Staples looking web site.
If you visit a few of these pages you'll immediately see the message of indulgence. These items are being presented like cupcakes and petits-fours. There are charming push-pins shaped like old typewriter keys, and paperclips too fancy to throw away.
The look of these materials suggests to me that Staples has learned a lot from the success of the scrap-booking industry, where people spend hours just to make a single photograph look nice.
Some brands are all about the organization. It's all "we, we, we". But customers are all about "me, me, me". Buy Apple and it says you are a person who appreciates good design, and you are probably creative too. Buy Starbucks and it says you are an urban sophisticate with a European sense of style. But what the heck does HSBC say about you? What does Fidelity say about you? What does AT&T say about you? In my view, not much -- most services brands are about the service, not about the customer. Virgin is one of the real exceptions to this pattern.
Our assignment this week is to see how the Blackberry brigade adds their unique style to their berry. All observations welcome. Extra credit for photos or links to Flickr, etc.
Staples Says File Folders Sum Up One's Personal Style by Sarah Mahoney, MediaPost, May 13, 2008