E.B. White’s brand natives, brand commuters, and brand settlers

In 1948, E.B. White wrote a wonderful essay titled, Here is New York. In the quote below from its opening, he talks about three kinds of people who inhabit the city, he could just as easily be talking about consumers and brands. In reading the passage try substituting the words brand or brands for New York or city and you’ll see what I mean.

“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh yes of an adventurer. . . .”

Great brands, like great cities, have the native, the commuter, and the settler in their DNA. And whether you are strolling the streets of New York or shopping the aisles of Stop & Shop you will encounter all three.

And shoppers are, at one time or another, even in the same shopping experience, all three of these individuals. Browsing the mall, we might shop for electronics at Best Buy with the eye of a native. Turn the corner, and as a commuter, purchase the pair of shoes at Nordstrom’s simply because they are on sale. And finally breathlessly search Sephora, like a settler, for that sensual new fragrance.

Our job as designers is to find where in the brand’s DNA each of these personalities lies, and how to make it evident.

For the Native
These are the life-long frequent users who seek the comfort of a familiar brand. To keep them around we must continue to find enduring ways to distill and sharpen the classic elements of a brand’s identity.

For the Commuter
These are the part-time users who may occasionally select our brand. We must motivate them to visit more often, by including short-term, perhaps promotional or seasonal elements in the package design. This may keep them around more often.

For the Settler
As E.B. White might have said, these are the consumers who approach your brand with “ the intense excitement of first love.” For these people we must continue to fill our brands with passion and diversity, making each encounter fresh.

I have spent all of my life in and around New York, and E.B. White’s observations sing with clarity and first hand experience. On my next assignment I am going to approach it with the solidity of a native, the restlessness of a commuter, and the passion of a settler.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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