Bakers Journal

The Final Proof: June 2014

May 23, 2014
By Stephanie Ortenzi

There’s no beating a dead horse when it comes to Dominique Ansel. The
infamous creator of the Cronut can’t stay out of the news, and not
always in a good way.

There’s no beating a dead horse when it comes to Dominique Ansel. The infamous creator of the Cronut can’t stay out of the news, and not always in a good way. Not even most recently when he had to shut down his shop because of a rodent infestation.

Even when Ansel’s media coverage is bad news for his business, after having to shut down in ignominy for three days, he rose like a phoenix on re-opening day. He posted a picture of himself with his staff in ’70-style sweat bands on their foreheads, raising their arms triumphantly, Rocky-style, in reference to his new creation for the occasion, the Rocky Cronut, a chocolate version of his famous original.  

This is not Ansel’s only new product since last year’s notorious and now trademarked donut croissant. Since then, he’s introduced his 3D take on milk and cookies (a cookie “glass” that you can pour milk into), a highly elegant and competition-worthy number he calls Magic Souffle, and most recently his edible pinecone, essentially a ginger snap version of a croquembouche. What a beautiful idea.


Ansel is a special case. Not everyone can innovate at that level or with that frequency. Most can’t afford to. Most don’t need to. But Ansel brings to mind what makes a brand. And what is a brand, really?

Marketing arbiter Seth Godin set out a definition for a brand in 2009. In my view, he reduces the brand idea to its fundamentals, and they ring true today – especially the warning to not confuse our business name, logo or products with what we believe is our brand. These only carry our brand. Godin essentially says that brands are created by customer experience, behaviour and actions. Here’s a two-part paraphrase of Godin and a chance to consider the best care and feeding of your brand:

First: A brand is a 360-degree visceral, emotional experience that informs a sale decision. Everything from the sense of feeling welcome when walking through the front door to the intuitive design of your website for highly appreciated and valued mobile use is all part of the “your-brand-name-here” experience. Does your interior say artisanal if that’s your main focus? Are you trying to say “home-style” but there’s a bit too much industrial design all around? Are your customers having a good time while buying, smiling, taking their time, and enjoying the ambiance? Does your shop have ambience? Do customers take time to admire all the goods on display? Do they connect with you or your employees personally, by name? Are they uplifted by their purchase? Does buying from you make them feel good?

Second: There is no brand unless people buy from you, talk about you and pay a premium for your products. Let’s start with the fact that people are buying from you. The real questions are, have you attracted the maximum amount of business from your market segment, given your profile? Do you know if people are talking about you? How do you know if people are talking to you? (Two words: social media. Get there, contribute and connect daily.) When a new face enters the shop, do you introduce yourself by name and ask if this is their first visit and/or how they heared about you?

On the premium price issue, can your clientele handle it? You’d be surprised. Specialty items are the quintessential impulse buy, and if the item’s sexy enough, price will not be an issue, but it must still be fair. And when you sell out of that day’s special, which is the best delivery system for new ideas, good word of mouth is going to include warnings that people had better get there early.

Finally, here are a few words about storytelling, which is highly important today, almost as huge as what people are calling engagement. Storytelling can be what you like to post on social media, but the best comes from real life that you’ve shared with your clientele, like the fact that the family’s first grandchild was born this week and you made this cake to celebrate (and posted it on Instagram and Pinterest). That your sister’s getting married and insisted on this crazy design (ditto for the drawings) because she’s so crazy about zebras. Or the chowder recipe you found online last night that you thought would be perfect with your cheese scones. It’s not your recipe. It doesn’t have to be. Now it’s a handout. A giving. And it came from you.

Telling stories is giving of yourself, and selling your products is giving of yourself in a commercial exchange to which we’re all enrolled. We all work for pay, and may it please us all, the giving and the receiving of it. That, in a nutshell, is the idea of a brand.

For Godin’s definition in his words, visit

Stephanie Ortenzi ( is a food-marketing writer.

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