Weren’t buttons supposed to make the world a simpler place? Staples thinks so. That’s why the office supplies retailer is proud to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its “Easy Button” branding strategy.
Lori Ross, Toronto-based vice president of marketing for Staples Canada, says the impetus for the branding—which is accompanied by the tag line “that was easy”—is that consumers find it strangely challenging to buy office supplies and technology.
In Staples’ television commercials, people are shown in various difficult spots, such as running out of printer ink right before a big meeting. While one employee freaks out and yells “code red!” another calmly presses the “Easy Button,” and a revolving wall—sort of like the revolving bookcases often seen in Scooby Doo or Get Smart episodes—reveals a Staples employee who matter-of-factly hands over an ink cartridge.
“People are so time-pressed these days, they want to make easy and quick decisions about everything. Office supplies fall into that category. If there are things we can do to make a technology decision easier, that’s good for the consumer,” Ross says.
“Consumers are looking for somebody to come up with a solution that will help them organize their lives. The ‘Easy Button’ is the solution for all of that. The choice the customer makes is, ‘If I go to Staples, I can get my life back on track.’ It all has to do with getting yourself organized and feeling as if you have a modicum of control over your life.”
Staples stores offer a wide range of goods, from technology—computers, iPods, printers, digital cameras and video game programs such as Wii—to office furniture such as desk accessories, coin rollers, luggage and filing cabinets. It also has a category called JanSan, which sells janitorial and sanitary supplies like mops and cleansers.
Even though it’s half a decade old, the Easy Button isn’t going anywhere, Ross says. It’s all over this coming fall’s Back-To-School campaign and has been featured prominently in the company’s messaging during the economic downturn.
“There needs to be a little bit of focus on value and savings for people these days because of the economic environment. Making the choice easy by offering value and savings is a good combination. That’s what we’re focusing on for Back-To-School,” she says.
While the Easy Button has been used most often in television spots and in newspaper ads and flyers, it recently made the jump to social media, including Facebook and YouTube, in an attempt to appeal to young consumers (or, as they’re known in Staples’ circles, the office workers of tomorrow).
For example, the company is resurrecting a decade-old television commercial called “The most wonderful time of the year.” It has been viewed nearly 60,000 times on YouTube, prompting the company to shoot an updated version this summer.
Ross says that brand engagement is crucial and that Staples’ branding message gets reinforced on a daily basis by its staff, all of whom are put through a thorough, integrated training program that enables them to offer product information in an easy and simple way.
While Ross admits Staples is best known in consumer circles, it is also increasing its focus on the business side. It’s not a stretch to appeal to small business owners, many of whom are regular consumers. They are similarly pressed for time and looking for technology solutions to many of their daily challenges, she says.
Mid-sized and big business customers are also on the company’s radar screen, Ross says. The company acquired a firm called Corporate Express several years ago and subsequently renamed it “Staples Advantage.” Today it services customers as large as Canada’s federal government.
“We really run the gambit,” she says.
Robert Warren, the I.H. Asper executive director for entrepreneurship at the University of Manitoba, says the Staples approach is particularly appropriate today, after many companies have been forced to lay off employees.
“They have fewer staff and they’re tighter on their budgets. If they can find one supplier who can meet all their needs in a timely manner and at a good price, they’re going to deal with them,” he says.
“With all the turmoil going on, if you can tell somebody you’ve got something that’s easy, it’s a great general stress reliever.”
To coincide with the Easy Button’s anniversary, Staples is simultaneously repositioning the brand as a charitable one. This summer it will host a celebrity auction during which Easy Buttons signed by luminaries such as Olympic sprinting champion Usain Bolt, former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Darryl Sittler, singer Nelly Furtado, comedian Rick Mercer and television personality George Stroumboulopoulos will be awarded to the highest bidders.
The proceeds will be donated to the Special Olympics, a charity supported by Staples since 1996.
An easy decision for a brand with an easy button.