Mike Toth & Branding by Jessica Hodges
“It used to be that ‘branding’ involved cattle and hot iron. Today, of course, everything — and everyone — seems to have a brand,” Bella English declares in her Boston Globe article on Mark Toth, “Mike Toth and the art of Branding.”
For those who are unaware of who Mike Toth is (until reading English’s article, I myself was unaware of his existence and whereabouts), he is the branding genius behind the growth & appeal of J. Crew and other household brands, like L.L. Bean, Wrangler and Tommy Hilfinger. Toth is also the founder of Toth + Co (clever name!).
The success of Toth’s marketing vision for these brands rests in his ability to capture a narrative that consumers can relate to. The comfortable, yet professional image Toth projected unto the J.Crew brand paralleled how most people define themselves – both comfortable and professional. By wrinkling the sleeves of a clean-pressed, stodgy prepster look, Toth transformed the J.Crew brand into the immensely profitable, beloved industry that it is to date.
I found English’s profile on Toth to be rather compelling, mostly for her ability to capture how Toth’s personal brand is portrayed through his very own appearance. English describes on how “Toth’s own white shirt is custom-made…in the lower-left corner [of Toth's shirt] are tiny embroidered initials of the people who inspire him. His wife’s initials are the first, followed by those of Winslow Homer; St. Anthony, ‘the patron saint of lost causes;’ Walt Disney; JFK; Huckleberry Finn…”
For Toth, the initials of Susan Currie (Toth’s wife), Winslow Homer, St. Anthony, etc. are not merely a series of adjacent letters in pairs; rather, they are the meaningful influences by which Toth defines himself. What the initials achieve for Toth should be what a brand archives for a company- marketers should aim for their audiences to feel personally & intimately aligned with their physical image (which is just what Toth executed for J. Crew!). The greatest takeaway from English’s piece on Mike Toth (at least, for a marketer like myself!), is that the means by which you publicize your brand is the difference between J. Crew pre-Toth & J. Crew post-Toth.
Getting your image out there so that people know and identify with it on a deep & personal level is how you make your company memorable. To get your brand started, follow Toth’s example: order your personal or corporate brand some customized promotional shirts (via Shoplet Promos, of course), emblazoned with your brand’s logo (just like the initials on Toth’s customize shirt). Promotional products are a great way to root your brand’s narrative in the memories of your current and prospective audiences. When people use whatever promotional products you distribute, they’ll be reminded of how your brand is much more than a logo, in the same way that the embroidered initials on Toth’s shirt represent much more than just two letters.