Branded Culture – Lessons From A Teddy Bear Shop

In a copycat world, where news travels at the speed of

nanoseconds, achieving sustainable competitive advantage has

become a real challenge in business today. Branding has therefore

become a hot topic in business. The aim of branding is to create a

unique space for your company, enclosed by a strong fortress. A

fortress that is difficult for competitors to penetrate.

©2009 TMI Consultancy Sdn Bhd | | Page 2 of 4


Branding has traditionally been associated with visual image,

advertising and slogans. In this article, I will discuss how you can

build an even stronger brand fortress. You can do so by creating

your company’s unique branded service experience.

I was in Las Vegas recently, and my TMI colleagues told me, “You

must visit Build-a-Bear Workshop (they call their shops

Workshops).” I was not sure what all the fuss was about, but, based

on the strong recommendations, I just had to visit the Build-a-Bear

Workshop. Build-a-Bear is based on the idea of your child (or, in

this case, my wife and I) creating your own teddy bear. The Mission

of Build-A-Bear Workshop is to bring the Teddy Bear to life. Staff at

Build-a-Bear know that their role is to create a memorable

experience that brings a teddy bear to life for the customer. You

begin the process by choosing your bear (which at this stage is an

empty shell that has not been stuffed), you fill it with stuffing to give it

shape, you give it a heart (and whisper special blessings into it

before you insert it), you give your bear a sound, you choose its

clothes, you give it a name, you give it a birth certificate and then

you take it home in its own cardboard bear home. The shops are

colourful and vibrant. They are staffed by relatively young people.

And it is the staff that makes the difference to the fabulous Build-a-

Bear experience. I went to three Build-a-Bear shops in the US and

in each case, the employees were having fun, helping their

customers create a cuddly, furry friend to take home. It was totally

authentic. There was nothing scripted. And it has created huge

success for Build-a-Bear.

Build-a-Bear is a highly successful, growing international business

that turns over USD$304m a year. Yes, that’s 304 million dollars in

teddy bears and teddy bear outfits! It has achieved this by designing

a brand, then designing a brand experience around that brand. I will

tell thousands of people about my Build-a-Bear experience. I’m

doing so in writing about it in this article. It was not of the quality of

their graphic design, or the quality of their bears that grabbed me.

Rather, it was the quality of the brand experience that I was given

from the time that I entered the shop, that turned a teddy bear

purchase into an emotional experience!


at Build a

Bear know

that their role

is to bring a

teddy bear to


©2009 TMI Consultancy Sdn Bhd | www.tmimalaysia.commy | Page 3 of 4

From Teddy Bears to Your Business

So what has this got to do with you? No matter what business you

are in – whether you are in industries including hospitality, banking,

insurance, telecommunications, hospitals or retail – you can

strengthen your differentiation by delivering on the branded service


The process starts with your company clearly defining the brand

experience that you wish your customers to have. We need to go

beyond traditional “give good service” models. This is important, but

it’s no longer a differentiator. We need to move to the next level – to

give your customers the experience that you have defined.

South West Airlines is another great example. It is by far the most

successful airline in the United States. It offers a brand experience

that is defined by low fares, fun and love, where love refers to care

and respect. Employees deliver on the promise – fun and love.

Customers are known to have fun on South West Airlines flights.

There have even been occasions where a passenger coming on

board opened his overhead storage to find a flight attendant inside.

Now that’s a funny surprise! And customers vote with their dollars by

growing this airline’s passenger traffic. South West realizes that it

goes beyond being polite and giving good service. It is about

delivering on the South West Airlines experience.

You can strengthen your brand fortress from attacks by competitors

by defining your unique brand experience. The challenge is then to

shape your culture and to align your systems to enable delivery of

your brand promise. A TMI study showed that the impact of your

brand advertising is magnified when your people deliver the brand

experience. Your HR Department can magnify the return on

investment from your branding efforts by creating a branded service


Business is indeed tough these days. Success requires different

thinking. Developing an “on-brand” culture that delivers branded

service experience represents an opportunity for your company to

develop a competitive advantage that will be difficult to copy. Build

your brand fortress. Reinforce it with the brand experience. The

result will be market share and sustainable growth. If you want solid

proof, just ask companies like Build-a-Bear and South West Airlines.

The impact

of your



is magnified

when your


deliver your




by delivering

your branded



©2009 TMI Consultancy Sdn Bhd | | Page 4 of 4

And one last point…for you to build your brand fortress may require

that you take down the invisible walls between marketing and HR so

that they work closely together for the same brand objectives.


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  1. Powerfully effective Intellectual Property: We have 2 strong international consulting & training companies under our umbrella — TMI & TACK International.
    You will have access to a wide range of World Class consulting & learning solutions, customised for Malaysian companies.

  2. Our focus is on YOU.

  3. You will find that we listen first and then work with you to co-create a solution for your needs

  4. Our solutions include consulting, workshops, training, measurement processes and workplace learning processes

  5. Focus on ROI for your organisation: We focus on implementation and change in the workplace, at personal, team or organisational level.
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