Defensive Strategy

UBS: Attire and Branding

17 Dec 2010  

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that financial giant UBS is out with a new dress code for its Swiss employees.  You can read the article here:

The UBS code is rather impressive; it is 44 pages long and includes lots of advice on dress and person hygiene.  It document reviews how to tie a tie and explains how to care for underwear.  It also provides direction on perfume and shaving.

You can read the entire dress code here (it is in French):

Is this appropriate?


Appearance is always important, because whether we like it or not people draw conclusions based on attire and looks. 

For an investment firm, appearance is particularly important.  The difficult thing about selling investment management is that the benefit is ambiguous.  Customers don’t buy something tangible, like a pizza or a car.  They buy something intangible, the hope that the investment firm will do a good job and won’t make off with the money.  As a result, building a strong brand is essential; an investment firm like UBS has to create a brand associated with integrity and sobriety and intelligence.

Perhaps the most important factor in building the brand of an investment firm is the team.  And the way the people look communicates a lot.

One could argue that people should know how to dress; you don’t need to spell it all out.  But as new people enter the firm it isn’t a given that they will quickly understand the expectations.

Being clear on appearance expectations is a good practice.  This is true for people working at McDonald’s and for people working at UBS.

4 Responses

  1. Ofer Witkon says:

    Organizational culture is both formal and informal. I believe that in Banking, unlike McDonalds, dress code should be kept a part of the informal culture. Setting rules for everything makes order but also influence creativity thus it might be appropriate for bank tellers but not for other stuff members that are supposed to do more than working by the rules.
    On the other hand, I am sure that it’s a cultural thing as people in Switzerland and Germany would not see this in the same way Americans (or Israelis…) would

  2. Tugrul says:

    Hi Tim,

    Just finished reading your book on breakthrough marketing plans, where you actually argue that short, simple and clear is more effective for marketing plans.

    Why does it not work for dress code?
    I really doubt that you need 44 pages to explain it.

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Tugrul—Excellent point. I agree that 44 pages is too much…it is fine to have a dress code but best to have one that is short, direct and too the point.


  3. Chris W says:

    44 pages – wow.

    Defining expectations for employee presentation is a good thing but it also has to be done sensibly and with a respect to the employees. A company’s staff are their brand ambassadors and staff buy-in is essential for promoting the brand.

    If done well something like this could create pride and raise moral. If done badly it could be viewed as company bureaucracy and interference.

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