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  • Writer's pictureJulie Gile

The Most Forgotten Element of Branding

This is a story of how one muffin changed everything.


As many of you know, my family lived in San Francisco, California for 10 years before relocating to Wisconsin. We absolutely loved our time in the Golden State, but once we had kids, we wanted to be closer to our Midwest roots.


This spring, I had the pleasure of revisiting California to shoot brand photos for several Bay Area, California companies. While there, I had one particular experience that re-shaped me in a big way.


You see, there are 7.75 million people who live in the Bay Area, plus 4.42 million small businesses. There are a lot of people, a lot of opportunities, and a lot of transactions. Needless to say, successfully standing out requires an expert level of branding. So when you walk into a cafe, store, restaurant, or boutique, you understand the brand goals and personality pretty quickly with cohesive messaging, complimentary colors, consistent themes, music choice, and intentional decor. These elements are designed to influence your decision-making - and research indicates it’s worth the investment.


What’s often overlooked, however, is one extremely important detail: human touch.


Now this is a story of how a muffin caused a massive ripple.


In Livermore, California there are 10 independently owned coffee shops in a 6-block radius. Each one has a distinct personality – the grunge, the Panama, the bright white, the yoga, the French cafe, the bakery, the retro, the patisserie, and the hippie, just to name a few. I love them all for different reasons, which is actually by design. Strong branding positions each company as unique, and I would argue that on this street, it’s working ;-)


86% of consumers prefer an authentic brand image

83% of shoppers prefer to buy from a brand they trust

90% of customers are willing to pay more from a brand they trust



Heading out on my last day in town, I stopped at a newer place for a coffee called The Press. At the last minute, I asked the barista: “So if you had to get on a plane today, what’s the one thing you would bring with you?” Her face lit up and beaming, she shared: “The Chocolate Chia Pudding – hands down. It will keep you full for a long time too. I’ll package it so it doesn’t leak on your plane ride. Also, my other favorite is the Vegan Morning Muffin – I’ll add one, my treat. I hope your trip is amazing!” I was stunned, and it changed everything.


What did this change? My belief was reaffirmed: No matter how amazing, expensive, and beautiful your branding is, these details cannot replace a human touch.


I absolutely love great coffee, but I doubt I'd be motivated to write a whole blog about it. What inspired me to write a blog about this experience was sitting on the airplane and opening my chia pudding that never spilled (even during airport screening!), and feeling taken care of by a complete stranger. She heard me, she understood my long day ahead, and so she added a very kind human touch that cast a shadow on any other coffee shop in town. As I savored my muffin, I resolved that this coffee shop would be the first stop on my next trip to town.


Let’s apply this to you and your branding.


Step 1: Consider how your clients experience your brand, and how you make a lasting impression.

How do you follow through with your clients?

How do you leave a lasting impression?


Step 2: Consider how you actually solve problems and address pain points for your clients.

Are you building a relationship or looking for a sale?

Does your client process involve listening?


Step 3: Consider how you can relate this humanity even before your clients hire you.

Is your brand telling a relatable story?

Are there humans or just products in your brand imagery?


You have opportunities with every touch point, even before a person becomes a client, to build these real connections. Be intentional with how you use each opportunity. And remember: Humanity is the single most important ingredient in your brand.










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