RM Williams – The Brand Storytelling is Critical

RM Williams Brandmark

I have never experienced the pull of an authentic brand quite like I did years ago when I purchased a pair of riding boots. At the time I was an Economics teacher at a Melbourne High School, commuting to school on a motor bike and feeling the need for some foot wear that was a little more robust. I have a few frugal genes in my DNA (you would only have to have met my father to understand where they had come from) and as I ventured out on a buying excursion for some boots these genes kicked in. I arrived home with a pair of elastic sided riding boots that I had purchased from an Army disposals store – they appeared well made, looked a lot like the famous Australian boot brand RM Williams and were, you guessed it, a lot lot cheaper than RM Williams boots.

However, from day one I new that I had made a mistake. The boots I acquired were simply a cheap imitation of the brand I truly  aspired to own. They made feel like the great pretender, when what I really wanted was to share in the romance of the rugged outback image of the RM Williams brand. The boots I had purchased delivered functionally, but they stood for nothing at an emotional level – in fact worse than that, each time I pulled them on I felt emotionally depleted. In branding there is no substitute for authenticity, no matter how good the imitation the wearer always feels a little second rate!

Fast track to today and RM Williams plays a regular role in my life. Each weekend I pull on a trusty old pair (pictured below), hop on my faithful quarter horse Lone Eagle and ride out to share a little in the folklore of RM Williams. The brand, and therefore the boots represent far more than the leather and stitching that shapes them. They also reflect the life of RM Williams, the man who created this iconic Australian brand. RM Williams the brand embodies the many adventures the man himself experienced in Australia’s rugged outback on his journey from swagman to millionaire. Camel boy, drover, well digger, bootmaker, miner, businessman, historian, author and leatherworker are just some of the experiences that RM acquired along the way. In Australia he has a legendary status that imbues the brand with rich layers of emotional meaning.

RM Williams - Peter Singlines Boots

This year I had a great reminder that without the storytelling brands are simply judged by the functional or tangible attributes that their products represent. I had the pleasure of spending a week horse riding in the South of France. It was the second ride I had completed in France with a couple of Swedish women, both endurance riders with huge amounts of experience. They know far more about horses and riding than I will ever know.

RM Williams - Horseback
Mia, Swedish endurance rider, checking out my RM William’s boots in France!

Horses are a huge part of their lives, but they know nothing of RM Williams – they have not been exposed to the brand and importantly they have not been exposed to the storytelling. In conversations about riding gear, they were less than enthusiastic about my RM Williams boots. They judged them purely at a functional level. They felt they were far better suited to walking down the street ( I had a newer pair than those above!) than riding in for seven hours a day. They had no feel for the RM Williams story, and therefore absolutely no emotional connection to my brand of boots. It was simply the leather, the stitching and the look, and relative to their expectations the boots fell short. The Swedes simply failed to realise that I was not just wearing a pair of riding boots, I was sharing in the outback spirit of RM Williams the man. Never lose sight of the power of storytelling, it can be the difference  between a piece of leather and the romance of a cowboy.

Peter Singline
Brand Scientist

3 Comments

  1. A great blog Pete and you are so right about RM Williams being for anyone from a swagman to a millionaire, that in itself tells a great brand story! I had a similar experience with a pair of imitation Red Wings. Every time I pulled them on I felt robbed as you just knew they weren’t right. I’ve now had my authentic Red Wings since 1992 and they’re still kicking along.

  2. This is a great story and in terms of your relationship with the brand, one that I can relate to. But I think what you are saying is that the brand hasn’t done a good job because the Swedish endurance riders didn’t know of RM Williams.

    If I am right, then I think you are approaching this from a mass economy, one size fits all angle and, in the customer economy of today, that is not the most effective way forward. Whilst telling a story is important for a brand, it has to be the right story to the right people otherwise it will be a waste of resources. Ask BP who have spent in the region of US$500 million on advertising to tell a story since 2000 but we’re all forming our own opinions based on events of the last 6 months.

    Indeed, I don’t see the Swedish response as a negative one, in fact quite the opposite. I believe the brand has grown based on a well researched and thought out strategy. The Swedish market simply isn’t worth going after.

    Endurance riders are a unique lot who have different needs of the average recreational rider or even stockman. Mention Ariat or Mountain Horse to an endurance rider and their eyes will light up, much as yours do when you see your boots!

  3. I saw this blog post in my twitter feed, and got interested because of my love for the RM Williams brand. I love your story, and I totally agree – a great storytelling is vital!

    Since I’m Swedish, I felt the need to comment on the blog post, even though it’s been a while since it was posted! 🙂 Over here, RM Williams has – since the last five years – actually gotten quite popular. They are sold in the larger cities, and often used as a semi-dressed boot in the autumn/winter. And they’re expensive too. I don’t have any sales figures, but you see a lot of people wearing them here nowadays. Ironically, I don’t think people use them as a working boots at all.

    I would say that the key to success here is much thanks to the storytelling. RM Williams owners over here (including me) love to tell folks around them that “these are the same boots that farmers down under use”.

    With that said, I think it is amazing how the same story can attract people with different lifestyles in different part of the world. I would bet it is because of the authenticity of the brand and the story.

    Greetings from Sweden

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