Branding is about telling stories. In some cases, these stories happen by letting go of our impulse to create a plot and simply focusing on observing and documenting.
I’ve always known this in theory, but it was only a few weeks ago, when I received an offer to articulate the brand of an unbelievably successful company, that I was reminded of the importance of harnessing the ego, our urge to control and dictate.
Totto is the leading brand of bags and backpacks in Latin America, by far outselling any other luggage brand in the continent. Launched in Colombia in the late 80’s, the company has expanded its presence into 22 countries and over 450 Totto brand retail stores, just in the last decade. But what surprised me most, when looking into the marketing and branding behind Totto’s success, is that it broke all the rules.
At first, it was difficult o get past the lack of standards and guidelines in their marketing strategy. I felt the need to add my vision to the company, my ideas and my expert knowledge of aesthetics, design and marketing. I was nerve wrecked, because I loved this company and wanted to do an outstanding job. Then I took a step back and analyzed the situation.
This brand was given to me not to make it successful (it already is), but to find out what exactly it is that made this brand work. What is it about these backpacks that speak to millions? How can I materialize this story and pass it on the next generation of Totto industrialists? And, perhaps most difficult, how do I get inside Totto’s head when, like many businesses, they know what they are doing, but they haven’t documented it?
What I learned is that Totto is to its founder what Kodak is to Eastman and Apple is to Jobs. Separating the brand from the man behind it is impossible. Totto’s CEO is a truly honest, down-to-earth man who sincerely cares about his employees, his products, and the world at large. I was told by one of his master franchisers that during a 30-day medical emergency, the CEO jumped on a plane to cover for him. As I got to know him, I realized that this type of dedication he extended to costumers and employees as much as to his bags and backpacks. The CEO’s unconditional spirit of devotion is reflected in everything the brand does. I started realizing that people don’t just like Totto bags, they bond with Totto as they would with a best friend.
Once I understood this, writing the Totto story became simple and natural. I was reminded that it is the responsibility of the brand consultant to materialize the existing reality rather than create a new one. It’s about honesty, not vanity.
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