What’s your favorite brand? Whether it’s your go-to athletic apparel or most frequented airline, chances are, you stick with certain brands for a reason. For business leaders, the challenge is determining and then effectively communicating those reasons.
At the 2017 IN-NW digital marketing conference, leaders from three Seattle-based companies discussed strategies that propel successful brands and shared actionable tips for determined brand builders anywhere. Whether you’re creating a personal brand, defining a company’s distinct characteristics, or recovering from a corporate crisis, read on for ideas to make your brand stand apart.
A Venture Capitalist’s Brand Guide
Jason Stoffer, General Partner at Maveron LLC
Venture capitalist Jason Stoffer encounters a lot of brand pitches, and over the years, he’s learned which ideas take off and which fizzle out. “In many ways, venture capital is like playing poker,” he said. “You have to be good enough to pick things that could win, and lucky enough for it to actually happen to you.”
When determining whether to invest, Stoffer looks for brands that delight people or solve a pain point. The question to ask yourself is, “Can I integrate this into people’s lives in a way they’d miss if it disappeared?’” Stoffer suggested two frameworks to help ensure your brand is successful:
New Twist on the Old
“This is an idea relating to an existing business model in a proven market,” Stoffer said. “You provide the differentiation via marketing, customer service, brand, or customer experience.” For example, online dog food company Chewy.com sends customers handwritten thank you notes and uses a customer relationship management system to remember pets’ names and preferences. Chewy’s underlying brand message is, “We know you and care about you and your pet.” Still not convinced? The company also hires artists to paint pet portraits for delighted owners.
New New Thing
Stoffer urged trailblazing individuals and organizations to own their “newness” as a core brand identity. According to Stoffer, “the hardest thing is getting frontier tech right–it’s either the right time or the wrong time, and that right time could be now, or ten years from now.” So hone in on how you uniquely delight or problem solve, and you might just get lucky.
Vulnerability as Brand Strength
Britt Stromberg, Co-Founder, Strategy Director at States of Matter
In a world where strength and success are venerated, talking about vulnerability as a brand strategy can sound radical. Britt Stromberg, co-founder of branding agency States of Matter, suggested genuine vulnerability makes brands more memorable and trustworthy, impacting not only reputation, but also bottom line. “Tenderness is a different way to think about it,” she explained. “That’s empathy, and that’s what your customers need from you.” Stromberg shared three key ways anyone can infuse their brand with vulnerability.
Create a Big Idea Rooted in Vulnerability
Infusing your business strategy with vulnerability is a bold move that can pay off, Stromberg said. For example, vulnerability is the guiding star for online clothing retailer Everlane, which displays its production costs and markup for each item.The result? “Everlane is making money and putting it back into building the company,” Stromberg said. “This shows success with core purpose as differentiator.”
Vulnerability Based on Personal Story or Cause
Another way to employ vulnerability is by tapping into a personal story or motivation. Stromberg shared the example of Dave’s Killer Bread–a bread brand that details the true story of its namesake, ex-convict David Dahl, on its website and packaging. “It was an instant hit,” Stromberg said. “Everyone loves a second-chance story.”
Vulnerability to Expand Awareness and Deepen Loyalty
According to Stromberg, some of the most impactful moments of vulnerability occur when leaders talk about their struggles as they face them, and not just in retrospect. Take Gimlet Media founder Alex Blumberg, Stromberg said. Blumberg created Gimlet Media’s first podcast, “StartUp,” to document his struggles and successes as he launched–you guessed it–Gimlet Media. “The most tender moment happened when he mic’d himself and his wife,” Stromberg noted. “He was very revealing about his fears and anxieties–he was taking you on the hero’s journey.”
Building a Community Brand
Monica Guzman and Anika Anand, Co-Founders, The Evergrey
When Monica Guzman and Anika Anand decided to create a daily email newsletter for Seattleites, they paused to take a hard look at the problem they were solving. “When you’re starting anything, you have a set of assumptions about the need you’re serving,” Guzman said. “What are the needs of the people in Seattle? What product is going to deliver that? We went and reported it out.” They discovered Seattle residents wanted to feel more connected to their city, and thus The Evergrey was born.
When designing an intimate product for a specific community, Guzman and Anand emphasized three crucial brand considerations:
Start Where People Are
Guzman and Anand decided a warm, casual tone best fit their newsletter’s brand, and they consciously decided to refer to people by their first names and avoid jargon. “Speaking to people like a friend helps make the city feel more accessible,” Guzman said.
Follow Community, Not Convention
According to Guzman, your brand will be most successful when you follow the needs of your target community instead of following convention.The Evergrey does this by organizing its content into beats, or categories, that, while unconventional, align with its readers’ interests. Haven’t signed up for the newsletter yet? The Evergrey’s beats include “Perspectives,” “Resources,” “Introductions,” “Discoveries” and “Explainers.”
Make it an Experience
Great brands become a tangible part of people’s lives, Guzman said–they move beyond screens and connect people. To take their brand beyond their audience’s email inboxes, Guzman and Anand organized a road trip that connected Democrat and Republican voters and created a space for meaningful conversation. “We gave people the experiences they were craving,” Guzman explained.