Sunday, October 26, 2008

Celebration of a Brand

My normal day job has me looking after the visual identity of a global fast moving consumer goods brand. I really love what I do, and although my job requires a slightly different set of creative skills than I use in the kitchen, I find there are also a lot of similarities. The emphasis on color, shape, proportion, presentation and stand-out are as critical to patisserie as they are to brand identity…not to mention the power of heritage and the consistent application of product formulation. It is how a consumer can identify what you are, and how they choose if they like you or not….or whether or not to buy you for the first time.

Like many FMCG products, patisserie is very often an impulse purchase…people are passing by the display, see the products on offer, feel the temptation and go for it. Temptation is often based on what is being presented in terms of color, proportion, shape, etc. They may be just passing by, not expecting to buy anything…or they may be on a routine trip and then decide to try something new just for the heck of it. So in terms of being fast moving, a freshly made cake certainly can move even faster than laundry powder, toothpaste or cosmetics!

So with these similarities in mind, when I was asked to create the refreshments for the celebration of one of our brands, I was all too happy to say YES! A chance to practice my visual presentation skills, deliver a new expression of brand identity and observe ‘consumer’ behavior…three activities which are important to my job.

The event in question was the 3-year anniversary of the launch of one of our strongest regional brands…a real powerhouse that had been born in my region, now expanded globally, and had exceeded profit targets since launch. We were hosting this at our Geneva offices, all of the regional brand teams were visiting that week, and the Brand Manager left me to decide what to make. So in reflecting on my past weeks of lessons, not to mention the brand character and my available time, I came up with a suitable theme and compatible repertoire.

I can’t reveal the brand character here, as it is confidential information. But leveraging some of the cheerful brand colors, the desire to innovate with new ideas, and meanwhile deliver something people would recognize I organized myself with a recipe theme.

The most involved recipe was a Genoise a l’Orange. The principle brand color is orange, so I made this a focal point for the cake and garnished it with a lightly tinted, orange flavored buttercream. The sponge cake layers were imbibed with a caramel-rum syrup, and then the outside edges were coated with toasted pecan pieces and praline powder. I topped it with a candle in the shape of a 3, and made this my centerpiece creation....the real celebration cake!

To add some authenticity to the mix, I decided I made my favorite batch of chocolate chip cookies. Bite into one of these and there are no hidden mysteries…you see and taste each chunky ingredient, it is so satisfying and it is something that people recognize as ‘American’ patisserie the world over. So I had to bring this into the menu as we are essentially an American company in heritage. Also I figured that people who don't like a lot of rich ingredients like buttercream would gravitate to this choice.

For some innovation, also to bring the secondary brand color into the range, I made a batch of lemon macarons, lightly tinted in yellow. Folks were delighted…there is a real trend at the moment with people enjoying macarons in Geneva due to the arrival of La Duree. Mind you, I am just learning this recipe and technique, so I am nowhere near La Duree in terms of results, but still the taste and appearance came out well. They were light, crisp and simultaneously decadent due to the buttery filling. Easy to devour in one bite...and folks were doing just that!

So, it was a happy day….after the business presentations were done, we all gathered in a meeting room, lit the candle, and sang happy birthday to a brand that is paying our salaries, then devoured the cakes! In observing consumer behaviour, I noticed that the genoise and the chocolate chip cookies got eaten first, which is in some way a testament to people’s behavior to reach for something they recognize as well as something that looks eye-catching & decorative. So in the end, I am glad I was asked to share my abilities this way with my colleagues…some of whom I’d only met in person for the first time that day. It was delightful and I hope we continue to find ongoing celebration in our daily work as this year continues.

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