I find this recent import from Japan to be an interesting retail branding story.
MUJI. Unless you live in one of the major metropolitan areas, you probably have not heard of this new retail store. It's very new to the US and I just happened to have stumbled upon it while walking in my neighborhood in NYC.
The store claims to be an "unbrand". In fact MUJI in English means "no name quality goods." The store is filled with mostly monotone, simple products that are all unbranded, almost generic in nature. I bought a grey scarf that is probably the most plain item that I own. I couldn't even describe the color, but I still thought it was cool.
The brand is minimized for sure with merchandise that is very plain yet spans clothing, home accessories, bedding, organizing items, and even file cabinets. Go figure. The designs are minimalist, simple, and almost "shy". And although the product lines are created by pretty famous designers in Japan, you wouldn't know that because the brand doesn't promote them. It's trying to not be a "brand."
This whole "not a brand" thing feels like a huge disconnect, don't you think? The prices are far from "generic" and retail stores feel more exclusive than mass to me (not to mention the affluent neighborhoods where the stores are located). The mere fact that the brand is trying to consciously be an "unbrand" in fact makes it a brand. There's an identity and a look that makes it a brand no matter what they call it.
It's actually a nice experience -- that's a brand. The stores have a mission and an essence -- that's a brand. Generic styles or not.
What's your experience? Jim