Delivering Great Brand Experiences to Differentiate

February 15, 2016

I attended the most recent W.P. Carey School of Business Economic Club luncheon featuring Harvey Kanter, CEO of Blue Nile, the online specialty retailer of fine jewelry and largest online diamond retailer. Since it was the Economic Club, I braced myself for many charts and graphs highlighting how the diamond commodity market impacts their business and what they do to maximize their success during market volatility. I was more than a little surprised when Mr. Kanter informed the group that we were about to hear a great brand success story and the core beliefs he holds that has propelled the company’s growth—something anyone who works at an ad agency would be interested to listen to.

Blue Nile was founded on the belief that how diamonds were bought by consumers and sold by retailers was flawed and that there were two major opportunities that could be leveraged to benefit the consumer:

  1. The ability to greatly reduce the overhead expenses most retailers incur for retail stores (bricks and mortar) and pass that savings on to the consumer if diamonds were sold online.
  2. The need for consumers to be educated on how diamonds are graded (the 4 Cs: Color, Clarity, Cut, Carat) so they could be informed shoppers and for Blue Nile to serve as a guide in support of the consumer in getting the best deal for them.

Buying a diamond as a non-expert is more than a little intimidating in a retail setting with a 1-carat stone varying in price by many thousands of dollar based on its GIA rating alone. But buying a diamond online that you cannot see in person is even more daunting. Slight variations the average buyer can’t see will impact the fair price, so a significant amount of trust must be established and placed in the company.

In order to be successful in one of the most competitive industries in the world, Blue Nile leaders knew they had to have a uniquely defined and defendable brand position in the market. Asking consumers to trust the company enough to spend large amounts of money for a diamond for a special occasion or engagement was not going to be possible if the company’s points of difference weren’t meaningful or believable.

Mr. Kanter shared that Blue Nile’s brand is the most important asset the company can leverage, and the fact that they have so many brand lovers didn’t happen by accident. The cornerstone of the Blue Nile brand and its brand promise is its unwavering commitment to truth and authenticity on behalf of the customer. The meaningful points of difference the company holds as its brand pillars include:

  1. All diamonds are GIA-certified to eliminate consumer risk
  2. Non-commissioned associates called Diamond Jeweler Consultants are trained to serve (not to sell) and act as consultants through the consumer’s buying process
  3. Thirty-day “no questions asked” return policy
  4. Lower cost model than the competition with low overhead resulting from no retail stores and a relatively fixed margin on every diamond sold
  5. Consistently 18 to 72 percent less expensive than the competition for the same diamond

The unfortunate reality is there are too few companies in the world that prioritize their brand and the customer first. It is shocking to see companies with terrible customer perception be so successful.

As a brand definition, experience design and influence amplification ad agency, we have the honor of working with companies across the country that are committed to their brands and prioritize their meaningful points of difference and unique brand experiences to realize their company’s full potential. We are honored to work with those companies and we appreciate other great brands like Blue Nile that are focused on the right things first, which has resulted in success.

Kudos to Blue Nile and its visionary leader Harvey Kanter on building an exceptional brand and experience-driven company. Your story and success is inspiring and certainly a great case study on the power of a great brand.