Recently I penned a book entitled “Bigger Than This” in which I studied commodity brands that people go nuts for in today’s age of disruption and innovation. It fascinated me to think that companies are offering commodities — products that people don’t necessarily need more of in the marketplace, and that see no innovation in functionality or design — were flourishing. All of these companies had two things in common: they possessed fantastic brand thinking and a truly authentic story to tell.
There’s a lot to learn from these brands, for any entrepreneur at any stage of their journey. Here are quick insights into seven of the eight traits I saw in these companies and how they can be reinfused into any brand that wants to connect more deeply with its tribe:
Telling a brand’s story is key to branding and has been a fundamental element of any marketer’s playbook for decades. Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, once famously said, “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope.” Stories can change brand perception more than anything else, but they have to be authentic to truly resonate.
Rewrite your brand’s story by going back to its roots. You have to feel that passion that initially formed the brand, then work your story from there. People love visionaries, problem-solvers, and DIYers. They love passion and, in return, they will become passionate about your brand.
One of the biggest brand rules of all time is “Do not talk politics.” This all went out the window, sparked by a divided America in the 2016 elections and the resulting controversial leadership of Donald Trump. Today, brands take a stand in support of the values they share with the core demographic they serve.
The only way to deeply connect with your tribe through a shared belief is by deeply understanding your members. This is well worth the effort as shared values will always have a bigger impact on your tribe than your products alone. Passionate beliefs, if voiced in an honest, empathetic and bold manner, can become the driving force of your business. Shared values and the expression of passionate beliefs will also likely play a significant role in sparking sales and increasing the value of shares as an added benefit.
We have been “cause-washed” by hundreds of startups jumping on the “buy one, give one” bandwagon started by the TOMS and Warby Parkers of the world. There is a reason why they are successful. According to a survey, almost two-thirds of respondents said they actively seek out brands that support certain causes, and they’d be more likely to purchase from a brand that supports a cause they agree with.
Instead of writing a big year-end donation check or blindly giving a product away for every product purchased, fully integrate the cause into your brand’s messaging so that it can only be seen as truthful. Base it on a logical product/cause proposition that will create an immediate emotional connection with your audience. Then plan for it to be expandable as your service or product offering diversifies.
We love to connect with places we’ve been to, call our home or dream of visiting one day. We sense an immediate feeling of connection and sometimes belonging.
Formulating a brand story based on heritage can be an extremely rewarding proposition if you can connect your product with the desire of consumers to formulate a deeper connection with the place your brand will be known for. This is establishing its “brand aura.”
Connect with (your) heritage and let it speak. It will create conversations that will have your brand as the centerpiece. Just think of how Shinola made Detroit the heart and soul of their entire brand.
If heritage becomes your brand, “buy/support local” may turn into an obvious and sometimes an immediate added benefit to your brand.
Lately, I stumbled upon a slew of successful startups where the small delights they offered were bigger than the actual product. A great example is the pet supply company Chewy, which takes delighting its customers’ love of their pets to heart. The brand sends out handwritten cards, including the customer’s pet’s name and provides a 24-hour hotline for customers to ask pet-food-related questions. How impactful can this simple brand trait of customer delight exactly be? Well, Chewy got acquired by PetSmart.com for $3.35 billion, which was a record for an e-commerce company.
The core idea of consistently providing small but thoughtful delights to your audience is often the only thing setting brands apart.
If you’re operating in a rather mundane segment, think about which part of your audience is not having fun, then catch them when and where they least expect it and shake them up through small, delightful surprises. Start with email and then slowly work delight through your entire communication chain. Your brand will be more loved, one interaction at a time.
You might have heard when Avis, which held the No. 2 spot behind market leader Hertz, famously launched its 1963 brand campaign with the tagline, “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder. Or else.” Translated into a full “We try harder” campaign, it was sheer brand transparency gold.
In a world where we feel cheated by politicians and big brands day in day out, transparency can go a long way.
Especially if your brand falls into a category that aches for transparency, such as financial services and fashion, go ahead and tell all! Customers will instantaneously trust your brand as a whole and prefer your products over your competitors.
Aligning a brand empathetically with someone else’s dream is a move I saw many of today's smart startups use. Often going after an initial niche audience, their entire messaging was aligned around their tribes’ point of view. They exclude everyone else and by doing so they thrive.
Planet Fitness is my favorite case study for a company leading with solidarity. “We don’t judge” is the fitness center’s motto, and “judgment-free zone” is the verbal brand glue that holds its 1,600-plus franchise locations together. Occasional free donuts at the entrance and tweets about sweets connect more than 6 million members that would otherwise not have easily found their tribe in any traditional gym.
It may be time for your brand to wholeheartedly support your tribe’s feelings and actions and, in turn, become one of them. Forming, not forcing, a friendship with your audience is the best way to create long-term brand love – on any budget.
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!