Episode Four: Building Brands that last a lifetime

This week it's all about brand building. What is a brand, is it different to a business? Spoiler alert: yes!

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Kia ora and welcome to another episode of Now That's What I Call Business, where our talks are kind of like our drinks; fizzy, invigorating, and with only a touch of bitterness. Okay, the drinks won't be bitter, but I can't promise that I won't be. 

I'm Brianne West, your host. You may know me as the Founder and former CEO of Ethique, the company that revolutionized the cosmetics industry and [inaudible 00:00:22] 28 million plastic bottles from landfill, so far. This podcast is like a spoken diary, all about building Incrediballs that I'm sure I'll either look back at one day and either laugh or cringe, but we're going to talk about the decisions we make, the challenges we've faced, and in general how building another world-changing business is going. And to those of you who have raised an eyebrow at me at why I'm doing this so publicly when it could sing failure, well, as I always say, we're all going to be dead in 100 years, so what the hell does it matter anyway? 

I'm doing this in the hopes of inspiring and educating other mission-driven entrepreneurs to create businesses that change the world. Yeah, I know that sounds really lame, but honestly. So let's pop the lid on the episode. Seriously, how are we feeling about these puns? Too many? Not enough? It's probably too many. And reshape your perspective on brand building because today we're going to explore the terrain of brand building and of course, we'll delve into some of the stories and lessons from my many past mistakes. 

So first things first, what even is the difference between a brand and a business? Well, look at it like this; your brand is everything your consumer sees. It's the personality, it's the voice, the logo, the colors, which is what people think of when you brand, it's the way you answer questions on social media, it's the way you write copy on your website. Your business is the operational stuff. Now obviously, the best businesses, of course, have both. You can have a great business that tootles along because you haven't really figured out how to get screaming fans yet, or you can have an amazing brand that people adore, but only fleetingly because the stuff underneath the brand fails and people don't even get their stuff. 

In my experience, people focus on business over brand. It's a form of short-term thinking that so many of us do. It's why we fail to grasp things like the climate crisis because it's not right in front of us. Well, it is, but that's another podcast. So we don't make decisions based on that. Instead, we make decisions that seemingly benefit us in the short term. We have loads and loads of online sales that begin to strip at the perceived value of your product. You develop product and services that don't really align with what you're trying to do, but they might get you some sales so it seems like an opportunity. You hire and put up with people who don't represent the brand because they bring some other handy talent. I have done every single one of these and way more, because by nature we just aren't great about thinking about things in the long term. It's why so many of us don't consider our retirement or why a lot of us make really bad investors. The best investors are actually the dead ones. 

Brand building is like constructing your business's house. It's the foundation that supports your business and a strong brand isn't built in a day, it's a process. It's a marathon that requires patience and resilience and, yeah, a lot of creativity. And I promise you, you are more creative than you think you are. So why do we bother even running this marathon? Because plenty of businesses exist out there that don't have hugely solid consumer brands. Well, a business may thrive because it offers a unique product or service that's in high demand and it doesn't matter about the brand. It might be operating in a niche market where there is no competition. In this case, the strength of the product or service overshadows the need for a strong brand, it sells itself. And a good example would be the EpiPen. You probably know the name, but have you ever thought about the brand behind the lifesaving jab? No. 

Some businesses may have robust distribution networks or strategic partnerships which make up for weak branding, or they may compete primarily on price, offering goods or services that competitors can't touch. I mean generic drugs are another good example there. Lastly, businesses operating in the B2B space, business to business, they often rely much less on consumer-facing brands for obvious reasons. 

However, while these are all useful in allowing a business to survive, and even thrive, in the short term, in the long term, a strong brand is massively beneficial. It will foster consumer loyalty, therefore sales, it excites retailers so they come knocking on your door, you don't go knocking on theirs, it engenders word of mouth marketing, and it provides a buffer against competitive pressures. So you don't have to lower your prices when your competitor does, or if someone new enters the market, you don't have to worry about it so much. I can't think of a better way to put it other than it's the difference between Fenty Beauty and JLo's beauty brand. And yeah, JLo has one and you hadn't even heard of it, had you? That's kind of my point. 

So, how the hell do you build a brand? Well, that is the multimillion, maybe even billion-dollar question, and lots of businesses get this wrong, but there are some basic steps. It is complicated, and that's why I've spent a large portion of my time building up the brand-building section on Business, but Better. And if you're wondering what that is, it's my free business resource library that you can learn from anywhere, anytime over at businessbutbetter.co. 

But for the sake of simplicity, let's break brand building down into six parts. Number one is research. And yes, totally the most boring bit, let's be honest, unless you're a person who likes that. But you need to know stuff. Things like, does anybody actually want the product or service you've created? Is this actually an issue for people or have you made it up in your mind? You'd be surprised how often that's the case. Who are the people who want this product? Can you categorize them? In other words, who is your target market? And before anybody tells me their target market is women from 18 to 35, please go and watch the Target Market Module on Business, but Better because that is not a target market. 

You want to know things about your competitors, and yes, you will most likely have competitors, even if you don't think you do. How did consumers solve their problems before you existed? I will totally admit I did not do this for Ethique, mainly because I thought I knew best. And as an entrepreneur in my early-ish 20s, I figured research and planning was for corporate. Now, I still dislike corporates, but I will admit they do have some uses. However, in doing this research, you want to be careful you're not getting feedback from people who are biased in ways, so that's like friends and family who might be like, "Yeah, this is great. We love it," even though they'll never buy it, or from people who want to actively see you fail. And unfortunately, that latter group does exist. 

The best thing I ever did with Ethique was simply to talk to people on social media. I started building a brand, a little bit like I'm doing for Incrediballs, from day one. It was heaps easier back then though, because Facebook wasn't the monster it is now. You could just have conversations with people that followed you. And I asked them everything from what color they liked to name ideas, flavor types, where they wanted to find us in stores, and everything in between. And that kind of feedback was so enormously valuable and I didn't even realize I was doing market research. I was just enjoying a super close customer community. And I highly recommend doing it that way because those are your paying customers. They are going to be dead honest with you because they have paid for your product. 

So step one, know who you're talking to, know what their issues are, where they hang out online, and offline, and while they will or won't buy your product. Sounds complex. I hear you. Again, head over to Business, but Better. It's broken down over there. This isn't a salesy thing, I promise you it's free. I'm not trying to get your money. 

Number two is build your brand. Obviously the big bit, the fun bit, and my favorite bit because this is where you create your brand's foundations, it's what your brand is. You craft a personality, the values your brand lives and dies for, your brand story, who your brand would be as a person. So I once had a team member write down what Ethique would be like on her first day, and it was fucking amazing. I could see her walking through that restaurant and answering a question in my mind's eye, that's how strong it was. So Ethique was and is largely an extension of me and the values I hold, whether that will continue in the future remains to be seen, I've stepped down as CEO, but Ethique flourished because people knew what that brand stood for, how they would be interacted with, and they either liked the things we stood for or they didn't. And then they would send us hate mail, which we sobbed in the shower over. Let's remember, people behind brands are still people. 

Incrediballs has an awesome personality that, I'll be honest, is not super dissimilar to Ethique because, well, it's me. Although now I'm older and I care a little bit less about what people think, though probably more than I should still. It's sassier, I like to think it's a little funnier, although you'll have to tell me, I sometimes think my jokes are like a step down from a dad joke, and probably even more idealistic. I have worked through building her personality because Incrediballs, when I picture her, is a woman, she's around 30 years old, a single kick-ass. She's a fun auntie style person. She's humorous and knowledgeable, incredibly kind, strong ethical values, is a huge protector of our planet, and loves science. I'm basically describing a younger version of myself, or at least who I would like to be on my best day. 

Now, who your brand is does not have to reflect who it talks to or who your target audience is. I'm sure you have plenty of friends and family who are not carbon copies of you and your beliefs. And sure, you don't have to go as far as I have above, but I personally found it helpful, particularly when you're building a team. 

Next, you want to craft vision, mission, and purpose statements. Yes, I know, I used to think that these are ridiculous too, but here we are. Actually, I was driving down the road the other day and I saw that, yay, election signs are up and I really feel that both parties totally missed the mark. "Get this country back on track," courtesy of National, is almost like a command and it will definitely insult people who pay attention to actual statistics, and see that this country isn't quite as far off track in everything as the media liked to paint it. Had they softened it with the word let's, it would be a much more inclusive action statement. And look, I'm sure that they debated this at length with people who are much cleverer than I am. I just think it's odd. 

And as for Labor's, "In it for you," well it's a bit meh. It doesn't have any great ambition or drive or again inclusivity about it. It's a soft, nice statement, that they're in it to make our lives better, cue cynical laughter. It's not a war cry. I don't get excited. Maybe they were going for that. 

So your vision, mission, and purpose statement really need to be succinct, clear, ambitious, and speak to why you were doing what you're doing. If you are doing this because you want a bigger house or more money, perhaps find a different podcast to listen to. But if you are in this because you have a burning passion or desire to solve a social environmental problem, that needs to be reflected in these statements. And again, I promise it's the last time I go on about it, but there are lots of worksheets that you can go through on Business, but Better that will help you with this process because it can be a little tricky. 

A couple of things to remember. Do not be for everyone. Stand for something, and therefore stand against something else. The key, though, is to make it authentic to you. Don't try and be some tree hugger if you don't actually care about the planet. Don't try and be comedic in your brand if you're not very funny. Be you, as there is an audience out there for almost everyone. Although I went to see The Meg 2 yesterday, I'm really not sure who that was for. Holy moly, it was bad. I highly recommend you go and have a look at a company called Liquid Death. They sell water, so I'm obviously not super pro it, but man are they an example of branding perfection, whether you like them or not. 

Number three. So I've dragged step three out on its own because it's the most important and the one so many businesses seem to really struggle with. What is your brand positioning statement? What is the reason people will buy from you and not your competitor? So the other week I spent a day with a room full of executives in a large company leading them through a branding exercise. Not one of them could tell me why their company was better or just different to their competitors in a way that was actually meaningful to a consumer. That's not uncommon. So there are many, many ways to position yourself, from putting yourself as the hero against the perceived enemy, which is kind of what I'm doing with Incrediballs against big soda, or making something historically inaccessible more accessible, like the wonderful Sim and Sonya at Girls That Invest, who are making investing easier to understand. 

There's making your brand say something about the people who buy it, and this is what luxury brands like Hermes and Apple do. Some examples of fab ones are Airbnb, who they're not selling nights in houses, they're selling the idea of incredible experiences. Patagonia provide outdoor gear to go and explore that actually protects the outdoors. And to go back to Coke, well, they sell the idea of opening happiness. It's not a drink, it's an experience to share with people you love. So it transcends cultures and differences. I've got to give it to them, they are phenomenal marketers. 

So what is Incrediballs's positioning statement? Good question. I don't really have one yet. I know, I've just been lecturing you on how important they are, but the best positioning is unique and engenders some kind of emotional response, and that's really hard. It needs time, and I've been focused on sorting out the product, which is exciting because we're nearly there. I'm about to announce our first flavors. I'll let you know what it is when it's finished. But as an insight, it will be something like this, and please excuse the formal wording, I go formal first and then back it down to colloquial. 

Incrediballs isn't about quenching thirst, it's about igniting a passion for the adventurers, the doers, the change makers. We offer much more than just a beverage. We serve a revolution in a glass. With each sip, feel the rush of joining a vibrant and fun movement that stands for something much greater. Embrace a plastic-free, healthy, and fun way of life with Incrediballs and become a part of a community that cares, because every drink isn't just a choice, it's a statement of who you are and what you believe in. Honestly, I know. Did you cringe when I read it? I cringed when I read it. This is super consumer facing, so it's not a corporate statement per se, but it's an amalgamation of so much of the work I've done, right? It ain't perfect, and I'm an entrepreneur, I'm not a brand specialist, so stay tuned because I'm actually having a conversation with a brand specialist this week. 

If you want to give this a go yourself, here is a quick branding exercise. So write down three words you want people to think about when they think of your brand. So for Incrediballs, things like sustainable, compostable packaging, fun colors, whatever. Next, write down three things you want them to feel about your brand. So it could be something like inspired, comfortable, trusted. And then finally have a think about what you can change about your presence online, or create if you're not already there, to engender those associations. It's a very small exercise, but it's actually very tricky. 

Step four is messaging. It's your opinions, it's what you will say on social media, what you won't say on social media. Now it's important to say things that matter to your brand. A lot of brands shy away from tricky conversations and I totally get the compulsion to do that. It's scary potentially caught in controversy online. I remember, years ago, we talked about the impact of dairy and which plant milks were the best option. Now in no way did we slam farmers. I'm not anti farmer. We simply provided facts from lifecycle analyses and I remember, my social team and I, we spent the weekend stressed as due to the abuse. 

So I get it, but you must have positions on things your customers care about. You don't have to have an opinion on everything because you're not an expert on everything, so you shouldn't. But if it's something that your audience cares deeply about, because it's reflected and it's something that logically your brand would have an opinion on, you need to. This is where you get consistent on what you say, where and when. And I know how tricky this step is. And as your team gets bigger, it's more and more important to have people on the same page. Build a brand guidelines doc and save yourself a lifetime of pain, because seeing messaging out there that isn't quite right is quite annoying and it's no one's fault but your own. 

Step five, this is the bit people think about with branding; the visual stuff. So now you have all the foundations you need to create a killer brief for a designer so they can create or revamp your visual brand. Now, there's not much to say on this one, but just ensure it's consistent. Don't be me and try to change it all the time. So, my wonderful creative designer, who has been with me through all of my businesses, and yes, Incrediballs too, has the patience of a saint. One day I want bright colors, block color, and then the next day I see a pretty pattern I like and all of a sudden I want pastel patterns. I'm so sorry. 

So step six is the most crucial; stick to it. Be consistent. Caveat though, if you somehow did step one, step two, step three wrong and it's just not resonating, well look at it, but don't jump ship too soon. If you have done this process right, you should have a solid, reliable brand that engenders that customer loyalty, but ensure it's consistent wherever people see your brand. Super hard, I know, that's why it's important to be authentic because a little bit like telling lies, if you have to struggle to think like your brand, it's not innate. 

You'll see a lot of websites break down building a brand like research, build a personality, think of a name, think of a slogan, design your visuals, and apply across your whole business. Boom, done. It's a little bit more complex than that. Think of a brand like a person and you're in a better place. 

Okay, so this has been quite a long episode, but if you haven't noticed, I like branding. It's what makes business so much more fun. Now, I have changed this podcast to become a fortnightly event for two reasons. One, Incrediballs hasn't launched yet, and there frankly isn't going to be much to talk about as the business ramps up that I can talk about it for 20 minutes without you falling asleep. And two, I'm just as excited and passionate about the world around us as I am business, so I've started another podcast. I know. I'm going to alternate it with this one, it's all about sustainability, appreciating the world around us, and it's called, wait for it, this is lame, Now That's What I Call Green. I couldn't think of anything better. If you can, you know what? Tell me now before we launch. 

In our next episode, we'll be talking investment. No, I'm really sorry to those of you impatiently waiting to invest Incrediballs, thank you so much for your faith, but we're not there yet. But so many of you are really keen on understanding how I funded Ethique and how I will fund Incrediballs. So we are going to delve into the murky, irritating, exhilarating, and potentially problematic world of investing. 

Now I'm going to leave you with two things. One, we have a slogan competition running over on social media. We have a year's supply of Incrediballs to giveaway and you will have lifetime bragging rights that you came up with a slogan for a brand that went global. So, check that out. Secondly, give that branding exercise a go. It's certainly not everything you need, but it's a damn good start. 

Well, this episode has been less short and snappy than usual, but please keep sending me feedback, rating this podcast if you liked it, if you find it helpful, and let me know what you'd like to see next. I hope you found this entertaining, inspiring, or educational. And if not, well, I'll do better next time. I've been your host, Brianne West, and this is Now That's What I Call Business, where we're not just talking business, we're changing the world.