Frye Company, the famous crafter of American-made artisan boots and leather goods, has developed a brilliant product that speaks volumes about its brand identity.

With more and more Americans forgoing plastic and instead using canvas totes to transport food, clothes, yoga mats, and more, Frye is putting its own distinctive stamp on the trend with a leather tote.

And not just any leather tote. The new product, called Harvest, is made from surplus leather, and only a limited number will be made; moreover, for every bag sold, the company will donate a portion of the sales to Feeding America, a charity fighting against hunger in America. The bag comes in multiple colors to match buyers' wardrobes and lifestyles.

We've long known Frye as a company that sells high-quality boots that offer strong utilitarian value. In our parlance, we would say the brand offers "strong enabling benefits" (more on that in a minute). And because the boots are often both comfortable and stylish gives them a strong experiential quality (what we call "enticing benefits"). So what makes this decision to make a tote so brilliant?

Frye's move highlights what many brands often lack: the ability to provide benefits that enrich and inspire customers.

Our research finds that people become most strongly enamored with brands that offer three distinct advantages, what we call the 3 E's:

  • Enabling Benefits: They produce a great product that solves customers' problems. Frye boots do just that: They can be just as easily worn in the woods as on 5th Avenue. Although they are not the cheapest boots on the market, they are known for their high-quality construction that makes them last a long time. Consumers trust a brand that solves their problems using what limited resources they have at their disposal (time, money, effort).
  • Enticing Benefits: They create products that please consumers' senses, thoughts, or emotions. Frye is a great example in this respect. Its products are soft to the touch and comfortable to wear. They come in rich colors, and their simple styling is aesthetically pleasing, allowing them to coordinate well with many outfits. Consumers love brands that provide those enticing benefits.
  • Enriching Benefits: They make people feel good about themselves as people. Our research finds that what distinguishes good brands from great ones is the great brand's ability to do just that: make people feel good about themselves. Those "enriching" benefits are less common in brands, and their presence can serve as a strong motivator of brand purchase. Brands with enriching benefits inspire their customers. Moreover, consumers respect brands that make them feel good about themselves as people.

It's that last point that makes Frye's marketing actions so smart, so let's look at the results more closely:

  • First, by purchasing the brand, consumers can feel they are supporting companies that place a value on Earth's scarce resources. Rather than being made from new leather, this product makes use of leftover leather. Buyers can feel more virtuous in knowing that they are, in some small way, contributing to the resource preservation of our planet.
  • Second, by purchasing Harvest, consumers can feel good about themselves because they are making a positive contribution to a national social problem: hunger in America. By purchasing the tote bag, consumers can signal to themselves and others that they are caring and compassionate people who want to see the end of human suffering.
  • Third, because a limited number of bags will be made, consumers who buy the bag feel distinctive. They're part of a special group that has managed to buy a valuable, yet scarce, good. Indeed, the fact that the product is in short supply makes owning one all the more valuable. The exclusivity of the bag makes the buyer one of a special class of people.
  • Fourth, using the bag can powerfully communicate to others who one is and what one values. By using a Frye Harvest tote, consumers communicate that they are a certain type of person who wants to contribute to the betterment of the world.

What does this marketing approach do for the Frye brand? It expands the brand's identity and relevance.

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image of Debbie MacInnis

Debbie MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration and a professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. She is co-author of a recent book on brand admiration, which blends years of best-practice thinking from academia with the real-world practice of marketing.

LinkedIn: Debbie MacInnis


image of C.W. Park

C. Whan Park is the Robert E. Brooker Professor of Marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. He is co-author of a recent book on brand admiration, which blends years of best-practice thinking from academia with the real-world practice of marketing. He is internationally recognized as one of the most frequently cited researchers in the area of consumer behavior.