by Brad Otts,
formerly of TOMS
Building Your Brand
Brad Otts was part of the founding team at TOMS and served as their senior sales executive from 2006 - 2015. During this time he helped lead TOMS into what has become the fastest growing shoe brand in world. Currently, Brad serves as the EVP of business development for a mobile app company, Tellzone, and also owns a retail sales and consulting agency: The Forge. He has a wife, Noelle, three kids and three dogs. He also loves cooking, cycling, competing in triathlons, drinking wine and playing music.
Brand Creation: two words that can either get your blood pumping with excitement or have you running for the hills in fear.
In our rapidly evolving digital world, if you are a new company, you may not have 60-70 years (as brands once did) to cement your voice into the mind of your consumers. You might only have six to seven months.
Forming one’s visual voice needs to have cornerstones. As former Google executive Arielle Jackson said: “You need to have your three Ps in place: Purpose, Position and Personality.” Look internally at who you are as a company, what messages you want to send and what impressions you are looking to make on the marketplace as a whole. By doing these through practical application, this will guide you into defining your voice. This is an evolutionary process. While many components will become your identity, they will evolve in small ways, so have patience and grace!
Who are you?
I hear one question constantly: “What are some small practical things a company can do to keep their customer experience branded?” Establishing a core identity at the beginning is going to guide all of your next directions, from design to voice. One of the best ways to guide your brand is through extremely thorough market analysis (here’s a great Entrepreneur article to get you started), and also by enlisting the skills, knowledge and experience of others. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child.” While your business is not a real life human being, in many ways it can feel like the same thing. (I have been part of multiple start-ups and I have three kids; trust me, I know.)
As you develop your online store, there are many important elements that help shape your point of view. Determining your brand’s relationship to photography will be key in design direction. How much real estate should photos get? How can the composition, subject, background, color, light, etc. illustrate the brand? Additionally, what visual skills do you have? Graphic design, illustration, photography and video can all be leveraged in a unique way to propel your brand in the beginning.
Having specific tools or elements of a branding package will also help advance your online success. Easily accessible resources like Google fonts and colourlovers.com are great places to get started on logos. It’s important, though, to not stop there. With your MVP (Minimum Viable Product), you need to have at least two dominant visual markers that are being used consistently throughout user interface communication, such as logos, fonts, photo styles and color palettes.
You should also revisit aspects of your brand once you have more resources. Andy Dunn, CEO of Bonobos, talks about a “good enough” investment in visual language, followed by focusing heavily on customer feedback to then recalibrate (and even re-brand) into a new trajectory. In the early days, it’s key to do small tests in isolated pockets where you can interact with your customers and learn lessons. Once you arrive at a certain level of understanding, you can adjust and pivot.
What's your story?
As you grasp these things and continue to expand your foothold into the marketplace, you will become hyper-aware of the fact that that we’re inundated with options online. Saying less and making your “visual voice” count will go much further than you could ever imagine. When you dial into the primary content of the story you’re telling, this will be evident in your “visual words.”
A beautiful and compelling example of this is a brand called Apolis Global. From day one, the revolutionary model of “advocacy through industry” has been their battle cry, and has helped them harness the power of business to create social change. They built their company around one simple idea: people can live better lives when they are given equal access to the global marketplace. This concept has helped guide their design principals in their products and online platform content. Similarly, you should have a guiding ideal to propel your business forward.
Create a community
The ability to access the skills, knowledge and experience of our peers is one of the greatest resources you could ever utilize. “No man is an island” is the saying, and it could not ring true any more here. Many think that branding and marketing have gone in a very “meta” direction, and feel it’s lost some perceived meaning. I disagree. Branding is an organism like anything else and sometimes it needs to be “re-branded.” A community will help you see that, and with our world moving to the place of a shared economy, it can only serve us to join our voices in chorus and sing along together.
To sum it up:
Brand creation should focus around three things: purpose, position and personality. Assess these three factors of your business and build around them to form your identity in the marketplace. Eventually you’ll have a well-defined voice that resonates with customers.
Establish a core identity through market analysis and the help of others. Take a look at what other folks are doing, and let them help guide your company growth and direction. You can’t build a business in a vacuum, and it’s important to draw inspiration from outside sources.
Develop your visual language. Your logo, photos, color scheme and other attributes should be cohesive, and say something compelling about your brand. Additionally, don’t be afraid to go back and make changes to your visual language as your business grows.
Tell a story. People have a lot of options out there. What makes your brand unique? Find a story that draws people in, and start building your voice around it.