Brand building is no easy nut to crack—whether you’re a digitally native brand or not. Every company, and its leaders, want to stand out from the competition in a meaningful way but carving an effective strategy for an ever-changing landscape is far from a straightforward objective.
As a co-founder of Red Antler, the brand company best known for its work with startups and new ventures, I’ve seen the brand landscape evolve and evolve and then evolve again. While we’ve launched more businesses than anyone else, our success has not come from following the same rules year after year, but instead from understanding exactly what it takes to launch in any given moment. As the requirements of launch have become more complex, so too have the requirements that follow it – things like content creation, scaling, and execution. Our multidisciplinary team of strategists, designers, and marketers are thinking about this constantly, and we’re happy to share these learnings from the past year in the hope that it spurs more meaningful, impactful work in the coming year.
Content, content, everywhere
As a recent programming advisor for the IAB Direct Brand Summit, I’ve thought critically about both the value of content and the difficulty of constantly creating more. In an age where brands have become media companies and content has to be produced in volume, it often feels like you’re merely in the mode of output, constantly churning out photos and videos without a moment to step back and evaluate. Not to mention, production can be costly and the bar for the quality of execution continues to rise. How can you keep up with the madness? The term ‘content’ is certainly overused in our industry and as a result its meaning has become conflated. It’s important to realize that content can come from anywhere. Everything in a brand’s day-to-day represents an opportunity to create content.
Let’s get granular here and list out all of the daily functions within your company—product development, team events, partnerships, photoshoots, brainstorming sessions and so on. Your current (and potential) customers want the inside scoop. Exposing these internal moments makes customers feel like a part of your brand, and in turn allows you to think about how to bring what’s ‘behind the scenes’ forward. Focus on creating what’s authentic, which despite also being an overused term is true and important. And not everything has to happen in a studio or with a huge crew at top dollar. This creates transparency, fosters deeper connection with customers, and works to generate content that doesn’t feel over-produced. Your sharing and transparency inspires customers and internal teams to do the same.
Differentiate with emotion
Quick: if someone were to ask you what makes your company more relevant than the rest, what would you say? Most of the time, I hear entrepreneurs and executive teams turn to the product itself or features as evidence of differentiation. While this is of course part of your story, it’s rarely the thing that will help you win or differentiate your brand. What can be a more effective tool is to answer these three important questions:
- Why do you exist?
- What do you stand for?
- How do you want to make your customers feel?
Hold a meeting with your leadership and have a candid conversation about these questions. What you might discover is different definitions from every team, providing a unique opportunity to define your brand purpose. It was something Tim Armstrong alluded to on-stage at the IAB Direct Brand Summit recently. He shared that an enduring truth for all brands is the need to stand for something.
You know how the saying goes: if you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for everything. It’s an adage but one that rings true, especially if you don’t make every effort to set your brand apart. As Armstrong puts it, it’s the proverbial water-cooler conversation. When you imagine your customers talking about your brand to friends or colleagues, what vocabulary will they use? What will stand out to them? Once you can pinpoint the emotional triggers and values of your brand, you can start to develop your own runway to success by standing apart—but executing with confidence, and a bit of heart.
Problem solving beyond product
One of the hardest things we do for our clients is help them narrow their reason for being into a singular idea. When you have an entrepreneurial mindset, it’s natural to have a million ideas and list of reasons your product should exist and why it’s the best. But, the process of narrowing down to one, simple, succinct idea takes time and thought, and many times an outside perspective. My strategy is to challenge brands to start with figuring out the precise problem they are solving for consumers.
The most successful companies make life easier in some way, or remove a pain-point. If you can determine your role within your target customer’s daily life, you have found your sweet spot. From day one, you should communicate clearly what you deliver, and most importantly why it matters to your customer, and stay true to that North Star.
Let’s talk about Harry’s, the popular men’s razor brand, for a moment. They had an impressive start to their business, but more impressively, they’ve grown at a sustainable, manageable pace. While it doesn’t seem like it would be a hard part of growth, I often find patience to be a soft skill that’s discounted and underrated. Everyone wants to scale and supercharge success, but the key to longevity is resisting the urge to expand too soon. Harry’s did just that. In fact, it took them five years to launch their women’s offering, Flamingo. They had enough capital to branch out faster but if they did that, it could have jeopardized the overall trajectory of their business. Their decision to wait was a calculated and restrained move to say ‘no’, and wait until their core was at the right scale.
We can all learn a little something from Harry’s: just because things are going well at the start of our brand journey, it’s not necessarily an open invitation to get bigger ASAP or try to do everything. I recommend measuring everything against your strategy before making any decision. You can do this by asking these questions:
- Does this deliver on what we stand for as a brand?
- Does it add value for our customers?
- Is it additive to our strategy—or is it a distraction?
Perhaps Rothy’s chief operation officer Kerry Cooper said it best during her keynote presentation: “It’s about saying no to the shiny object. There’s always something new you can do, but we have to stay laser-focused on the things we want in the long run.”