Branding Don’ts and Don’ts – As Explained Using ‘Express’

I’m having a particularly tough time connecting with the Express brand.

First of all, let me say that I am that guy.

Where many guys are just trying to buy clothes, I turn even simple everyday concepts into over-emotionalized events in which brands are attempting to make me part of their concept.

Whatever, sorry I’m not use to Russian communism and the idea of only having one brand of ketchup to choose from.

If you want me to shovel out money from my pocket, you have to convince me that your brand is worth buying into.

It isn’t the 90’s anymore.  They days of ‘build it and they will come’ are long gone.

When I think of retail spaces effectively branding their concepts, I immediately think of retail’s pacesetters, J.crew and Anthropologie. Yes, perhaps you’re buying a 100% cotton cardigan batiked or dyed that mustardy color that J.crew has legal rights to, but the overall concept is BIGGER than that.

J.crew is a lifestyle. The cheeky girls with the bright red lipstick. The up-and-coming professional who isn’t skimping out on style. That modified old-money look on a modern gentleman.  I don’t necessarily want their clothes, let’s be honest, I can get a shirt and tie almost anywhere if I look hard enough.

But I want that image, I want that concept, I want that brand. Bringing me to my issue with Express.


Express…what is your thing? Other than perhaps blatant metro-sexuality?

I make this statement as someone who genuinely cares. This time last year I wouldn’t have cared if every Express store in the world instantly caught fire out of sheer coincidence, but recently, I had an experience that made me want to want Express.

Firstly, I go to school in Greensboro, North Carolina. If asked to point to my location on an unlabeled map, I would be completely clueless.

Secondly, the shopping mall most easily accessible has three floors and almost two real stores at which I would purposely shop.

One is not Aeropostale.

American Eagle is an embarrassment to American culture.

There is no Gap. How are you a mall without Gap?

We get our first H&M sometime next year I think.

If H&M did exist, I still probably wouldn’t shop there on purpose.

Really. Even if you put a gun to my head and told me to buy a misshapen polyester button-down from there, I would politely request you shoot me after agreeing that I wouldn’t be caught dead in H&M.

There’s a Hollister store.

Between this line and my last line, I stopped to laugh.

And so by process of elimination, I started shopping at Express.

I use to shop there when I was a sophomore in high school. I had a burning desire to be loved, and I probably would have covered myself in animal feces if it could positively influence the possibility that someone in this world would find me valuable.

Express was the closest thing I could find to animal feces at the time.

But NOW I approached Express with a different outlook.

I happen to be a gentleman nearing my mid 20’s. From a completely societal standpoint I should be taking my future more serious. I ought to start making sound investments in business attire. I should start to own ties for more reasons than merely the vintage appeal.

“Hey! How are you doing?” a salesperson who I think popped up from behind some counter or another asked in the same key that Mariah Carey sometimes sings in.

“I’m doing well.” I responded kindly. I hate pat conversation. There is nothing I hate more than pat conversation. In the time you asked me a question you don’t care to hear the answer to, you could have asked one that maybe you did actually care about. You just missed out.

I scanned a table of neatly folded slacks in cadet blue.  At that moment I owned one pair of Express slacks. A pair of Producer-Cut slacks. No one pair of pants has spent so much time under my sewing machine.

Cutting, and stitching inseams and that awful waistband. The original fit-model was probably a refrigerator. And so I vowed I wouldn’t purposely purchase another pair of slacks from Express ever again.

And then it happened. Love happened. You can’t fight love. Well…you can. Chris Brown did. Chris Brown fights just about anything, evidently. But the general rule is you can’t fight love, it just happens, you have no real control over it.

The Photographer cut.

Slim leg. Tailored at the waist. Something looked right.

It looked even more right in the changing room.

‘They looked great on you!” the salesperson mentioned without being asked. He would have probably told me whatever I wanted to hear for the right price.

“What other colors do they come in?” I asked while still focused on my own reflection.

He thought for a minute, “There’s a grey pinstripe, khaki…navy”

“Bring them.” I said, still gazing at two months of quad workouts. “ Bring me all the colors”

I intentionally spent something close to three hundred dollars in that one trip. Honestly, I still can’t bring myself to regret the decision.

They pants are all so beautiful.  They fit immaculately; the colors are simplistic but exceptional.  Express actually had a good idea hiding behind their super-mediocre advertising and marketing strategy.

Their borderline boring advertisements consisting of clean looking guys, or pretty looking guys wearing things that their girlfriends might have picked out or suggested.

It’s safe, but it doesn’t convince me why I would shop Express over any other brand selling menswear.

To better explain my issue with express, I’ve created an easy chart below sampling a couple of looks from Express, and pairing it against a couple of looks from J.Crew.

The express concept

The Express guy honestly looks pretty douchey. He seems like the kind of guy that would drive a car he can’t afford, and would go by a completely fake and over-the-top name to impress a girl. He looks like a Chaz, a Chadwick, a Charles, or some other super pretentious Ch- name. Is that the kind of man you want to be? Because it’s the kind of men I know who shop at Express and openly brag about shopping at Express.

Express fails to lock me in as a consumer because they haven’t really portrayed the image of male hood in a way that makes me want to take money from my wallet and buy things on a consistent basis.

Now observe the J.Crew concept.

First of all. The model has a beard. He looks like he’s been through life and puberty. He looks like he’s outgrown his ‘express guy’ phase. He looks like the kind of guy that would give you good advice in a bar. He looks like he comes from money. He looks like he made that money.

Down to a small detail like a smile. Express guy takes himself too seriously. Chill out man. Your sweater is 40% acrylic.

J.crew guy looks like he’s enjoying WHATEVER it is he does. Maybe he writes for the dying newsprint industry. Maybe he’s a wine connoisseur. Perhaps he and his new lady friend frequent the downtown museum. His specifics are unclear.

What is clear is the J.Crew’s marketing puts every man into two different categories:

1-    Guys that are the J.Crew  man.

2-    Guys that want to be the J.Crew man.

Express fails to establish a place in my wallet. Which is a shame, considering they have made some pretty significant changes from the days of throwing shoulder epaulettes on just about every mens and womenswear design imaginable.

If they want to establish a customer base with men, they have to revamp and solidify their image.

Who are they selling to? What does he do for a living? Where is he going? What is his aspirations?

Perhaps they’re okay with selling clothes. Keep in mind that Kmart also sells clothes.

If you want to be successful or at least memorable, you can’t just sell a product, you have to sell a brand.