MOM… and Brand Gemutlichkeit

Jim Huebner
20 September, 2021

No, that’s not a typo.

Gemutlichkeit is a real word. A German word, in fact. And, oddly enough, how it related to branding was the topic of a conversation I had with my mom over the weekend.

Well into her 80’s, my mom still likes to hop in the car and go- particularly if it means seeing grandkids and great-grandkids. A few years ago, she had driven out from Nebraska to see her three new great-granddaughters, all born and living just a couple of hours apart from each other in Colorado. That weekend, after she’d had her fill of baby-holding, she and I decided to make the trek up Thompson Canyon toward Estes Park, just to soak in the majesty of the granite spires and winding river. It’s a trip she knows well, having made it dozens upon dozens of times with family members since the 1930s.

While the talk seemed to focus mostly on babies, with a little gardening and politics sprinkled in, we did get around to our own lives, and I mentioned my idea to write a book titled “Brand Gemutlichkeit.”

“Gesundheit-what?” – she asked.

I said – “Gemutlichkeit. It’s a German word that really has no English equivalent. Basically, it describes a state of coziness, warmth, a friendly feeling you have… like with an old friend. I want to write a book someday about brands that create ‘gemutlichkeit.'”

She said – “Oh, you mean like Hy-Vee?” referring to the grocery store chain with stores sprinkled throughout the Midwest… including her hometown.

Now, you have to understand my mom’s connection to and love for grocery stores go WAY back. It started when she was a little girl. Brubacker’s grocery store in her hometown of Murray, Nebraska, would show Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies on the white brick wall outside of the store on starry summer nights. Talk about creating gemutlichkeit.

Since then, she’s become a real connoisseur of grocery stores, picking them apart like a turkey carcass on Thanksgiving Day. She shows no mercy in her critiques, firmly believing that if they gladly take her money, she has the license to gladly make assessments.

“So, tell me about Hy-Vee,” I pleaded.

“Well, for one thing, I love the way the store smells. And the meat section has lots of offerings, fresh seafood, the bakery produces great goods, I love their bagels, cookies, and desserts, like pumpkin bread. They have lots of choices for people with lactose and gluten problems, fruit and veggies are always fresh and have many choices. They have a post office available, dry cleaners drop off, pharmacy, a huge assortment of fresh flowers. The checkers are pleasant and I’m ALWAYS offered a carry-out person. I like all the Hy-Vee brands I’ve tried, you can buy greeting cards there… even some Husker stuff. Their prices are a bit higher than Wal-Mart, but I would never buy fresh veggies or meat at Wal-Mart!… And best of all, if I don’t feel like going there in my car, I can just order everything I need online and they’ll deliver it to my house. The delivery people will even come to my house and put it on the counter for me!”

And there it was nearly everything it takes to create “brand gemutlichkeit.”

I say “nearly everything” because she did leave out one very important detail. A few years ago, we were trying to figure out how we were going to fit everyone in her house around the table for the holiday meal.

“Well, we could just go to Hy-Vee,” she suggested. “They’re going to serve a really good meal, and they have a very comfortable seating area upstairs.”

Really? Well, I guess if I’m leaving it to her to establish the litmus test for brand gemutlichkeit, a desire to spend the holiday with a brand you love may just be the best measure of all.

Thanks for the insight, Mom.