to brand or not to brand
While I posed this as a question for the sake of the title, it isn't really a question; you have to create a clear brand if you want a successful venture in today's market. With that being said, a brand doesn't have to be a marketing ploy or a formulated concept that molds to trends. In fact, the best brands are the ones who make you feel the opposite. They pull you in, rather than push you to buy into something. They tend to veer towards the 'attraction, not promotion' avenue, rather than in your face overkill. Like the person who turns heads when they enter a room, a strong brand is magnetic. They don't need you to want them, although that is what will end up happening.
Questions around branding kept appearing, as both people online and in real life were reaching out to discuss this topic. Some of the questions that came my way included:
Do I have to create a brand?
How do I grow my following?
What am I willing to do to grow my business and where do I draw the line?
I feel that a lot of the branding I see is inauthentic. How do I avoid this?
Like I said earlier, branding is essential. However, it is the same as personal identity- just make it be an extension of you. In terms of the lines one should draw between staying authentic and doing what sells, that is a personal call. Back when Tumblr was popular, a girl began following me and I followed her back. We had mutual friends in common, so I probably felt more of a connection to her than a complete stranger. As Instagram came up, I watched as she started a new venture with her best friend. Their business is called A Bikini A Day and was created around the idea of being in a swimsuit every single day. Devin is from Hawaii and her partner, Natasha, is from Australia, so this sort of lifestyle was second nature to them. They have since went on to create a swimwear line called Monday Swim, which is based on the premise that if you're in a bikini on a Monday, then you're having a good day. They also have Monday Active, a popular active wear line. Very smart branding.
Now there are lots of girls in bikinis on Instagram, but not all of them have millions of followers like Devin and Natasha. And perhaps this is because it wasn't based on a true experience. While we've been told forever that hot sells, if that was the driving force behind someone putting up bikini photos, then I understand why they aren't doing as well. The ABAD girls also offered a story with their beautiful images. It wasn't just, "Hey, look at my sexy body." Instead, they were creating a vibe of fun, health, friendship and acceptance around curves.
Now while branding is important, it can also be overdone. As more and more people are willing to shell out big money for branding agencies and private consultants, it is no surprise that we are seeing this happen frequently. Maybe it is just in the wellness/personal growth world, but I am often seeing accounts and websites that feel over branded to me. From the color schemes to the layouts to the tag lines, I know that someone helped them make these choices. And while there is nothing wrong with getting assistance on your creation, it becomes a problem when the help no longer makes your business feel like your own.
When it comes to a single person being the brand, as in a yoga teacher, healer, artist or blogger of any kind, the ones who I am willing to follow or listen to need to be authentic. They let you into their world saying, "This is how I live and if you are interested, join me and tell your friends." As many of you know, I found myself in the midst of a deep dark depression a few months ago. And while I knew it was important to stay consistent with my blog, I felt like I had nothing to give. So I did what a lot of us do when our inner well of inspiration runs out- I began looking around at what other people were doing. I began thinking that I needed to post more recipes and products. I also felt like I needed to be more like x or y person. Healthier, more positive and brighter. And then I looked over to my bedside table, which had two empty Diet Cokes on it, as that is what I like to drink when I get really sad, and thought to myself, "Girl, don't you dare try to pretend you are something you are not. Do not post about smoothies and positivity, when you are drinking chemicals in a can and crying yourself to sleep." And while some people wouldn't dare admitting to that sort of thing in a public space, I've purposely made it so it's "on brand."
Another part of good branding is creating a fun or uplifting experience. When it comes to big brands, no one seems to be doing that better than Revolve. It was during a social media panel that a friend of mine was speaking on that I was introduced to Raissa Gerona. Raissa is the VP of brand marketing and strategic development, who has helped build the LA-based, 14 year old Revolve into what it is today. While this brand has created experiences with influencers before, such as their round the world travels and summer Hamptons house, what they did at Coachella this year was impressive. With two pop up shops, a complete take over of a hotel and an additional 9 rented homes, 10 events in 5 days (including a last minute after party hosted and DJed by Drake), hosting 120 of the biggest influencers and dressing 357 more, I couldn't help but think about their strategy.
Rather than telling influencers what they have to wear, they gave them the option to choose from over 500 clothing lines. The influencers were free to work with other brands, as long as they weren't direct competitors. Rather than requiring them to post specific kinds of photos, Revolve gave them free reign. Of course, the bloggers understand their job, but the relaxed nature of it all creates trust between brand and influencer. Revolve also realized that if they created a high energy, engaging environment, people would naturally want to share it on social media. This is a big part of the reason why #revolvefestival had over 10,000 posts after the first weekend.
When it comes to the people working for the brand, they are all the quintessential Revolve girl. They wear the clothes, live the lifestyle and often have a following equal to a small influencer. Even if you don't shop at Revolve or find yourself interested in what they are doing, they can serve as a powerful example- if you treat branding like a cinematic experience, from the environment you are creating to the tone to the people you are working with to the feelings you are inspiring, expect to get further than someone who is thinking solely about marketing.
Photo by Lani Trock