By Spencer Branham
Associate Design Director
Every brand has a why.
Better yet, every brand has a bunch of whys.
Why should people care?
Why do we say the things we say?
These are incredibly important questions and helping brands answer them is one of my favorite parts of the job. More and more, brands have come to understand that the “why” is just as important as the how, when, where, and what. This is a step in the right direction — but it's not enough.
Consider Catholicism: Imagine it started yesterday., and there's no weekly service, no pope, no brick-and-mortar buildings. Imagine if the only thing that Catholicism had was a book of beliefs and the promise of something great.
I can’t speculate on the success of any brand with only one tool for spreading their gospel, but I suspect it may not be enough to convert people into believers.
Brands have to show consumers their whys, and often. It’s no longer enough to say “here’s what we do and why.” Competition is steeper than ever with brands showing passion for their mission, engaging followers in their goals and constantly bringing them new experiences. Everyone votes with their dollar on purchases that matter and they aren’t making choices based on just color or caché in the age of information.
This is probably where you’re expecting a story about Patagonia’s work or the stances that Nike has taken. While they are both great examples of active/activist brands, these are big swings some brands aren’t ready to take, or more likely, can afford. So here’s some brands who didn't need huge marketing budgets to take big stances and instead took chances to simply make something that reflected their whys with great results.
Come inside: Chance the Rapper’s ‘The Big Store’
Chance the Rapper is an anomaly: he’s an independent artist with three Grammys who is not signed to a major record label. His passion for his art comes through in his music and vibrant stage performances, and his most recent foray into experiences was truly masterful. If you had the opportunity to visit Chance The Rapper’s “Big Store” in Chicago over Lollapalooza weekend, you know what I'm talking about.
For those of you didn't, here's what you missed: As advertised on Instagram, the Big Store was a merch shop that opened in support of his “debut” album “The Big Day.” Free to the willing-to-wait-in-line public, the store was more walking experience akin to the Museum of Ice Cream than tee-shirt shop. Rooms of a vacant floor of a Chicago high rise had been converted, in a charmingly slapdash manner, into exhibits that reflected Chance’s path to success. A tour guide walked visitors through rooms that were decorated to reflect his childhood, his wedding, his albums. Each room was filled with personal touches, including his wedding tux, and opportunities for Instagrammable moments for fans to share their experience.
Chance The Rapper’s personal brand has always been vulnerable, passionate and hopeful. And with the Big Store, he opened the door to his world and invited his fans in to become a part of it, turning anyone who posted about it into a media outlet announcing the new album’s release on his behalf. So while a massive media spend could have gotten the word out, Chance relied on a peek behind the curtain and his fans to spread the word for him. As time has passed, he continues to develop his brand with appearances on SNL and his new Netflix show, “Rhythm & Flow.” Keep an eye on Chance as a great example of an advocacy, entertainment and a deeply personal brand.
You are us: Le Labo’s @overheardlelabo
Founded on Elizabeth Street in 2006, Le Labo is a luxury perfume brand with a manifesto stating that “the future of luxury is craftsmanship.” In a space that is more often than not mass produced, generic and unwillingly spritzed in your face, Le Labo took a different path. “We believe in the soulful power of thoughtful hands...” reads another line from the manifesto which speaks to their commitment to the crafted experience, an experience that you can feel when in their locations or receive their products in the mail. Packed by Michael in Chicago reads one tag, Packed by Alf in Los Angeles another. These small touches go a long way and have made for an intense fanbase — so much so that the people who worked in their stores began overhearing the passionate, loving and sometimes downright crazy things people were confessing about the products. So they turned it into an Instagram handle. @Overheardinlelabo—not the main handle, @lelabofragrances, to be clear—now has 62,000 followers waiting and watching to see people who feel the same way about their Santal 35. A glowing piece of self-awareness, the profile confesses that each post is “recorded on one of our pretentious vintage typewriters.”
So if a brand is fiercely committed to craft and shares the love of their fans how else might they show it? A printed newspaper of course! The issues are available in stores and feature the same trademark wit and insights in black and white against beautiful, never-gets-old newsprint.
Music is ready: Braun Audio’s triumphant return
Braun Audio devices are the stardust in the dreams of every design nerd — simple, beautiful objects crafted by Dieter Rams. When you look at a Braun handheld radio or a freestanding speaker, you want to feature it proudly rather than hide it like the wood-paneled behemoths of your grandparent’s basement. Which is probably why some say Rams’ designs were the inspiration for the first iPod. While he may not have designed for Apple, it’s easy to see what an inflection point the iPod’s user-friendly experience (and ease and cost, obviously) caused to assist digital audio’s ascension.
While the Braun Audio brand had gone quiet for close to three decades, the world of music morphed and pivoted again with streaming services. While they battled it out for our ears, a seemingly endless line of ugly wireless speakers rolled out of Amazon boxes. After a while you could sense that consumers were wishing for a better experience.
When Braun Audio relaunched recently, Rams’ “less but better” ethos made a lot of sense. The zeitgeist was ready to shift: people wanted a speaker that looks as well-crafted as what comes out of it. And it became a great example showing the why at just the right when.
Take control: Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show
If you are looking for an unbridled display of control, look no further than all 50 minutes of the Savage x Fenty show, a “fashion musical,” as Rihanna puts it. Musicians and rappers perform parts of their songs while people of all shapes, sizes, colors and abilities sport the newest lingerie collection. The inclusivity paired with fierce self-love is where Rihanna has guided her brand. “It’s very important that the casting kind of tells a narrative of what the brand stands for and what we stand for mainly here is inclusivity. That’s what I stand for with everything that I create.”
Rihanna hasn’t only curated every piece of the brand she’s putting her name on, she’s selling the same level of control to any woman who craves it with inclusivity, acceptance and body-positivity sewn into every stitch.
A feast of experience: Bon Appétit’s media and experience blitz
If you search for a recipe in 2019, odds are one in the top 10 is coming from Bon Appétit. The printed magazine released its first issue in 1956 and still boasts a solid readership, thanks to the bevy of other media they offer. The YouTube channel alone has 4.5+ million subscribers with videos posting rapid fire across a variety of topics, while Instagram has 3.2 million followers. Their Test Kitchen chefs are high-touch celebrities who provide recommendations and advice on everything from cheap egg timers to organization of spices. The Test Kitchen also recently opened Delivered, a Grubhub-powered restaurant in Chicago providing mouth-watering food based on their recipes. They even dropped a capsule collection of $40 t-shirts celebrating their shows and their famous masthead.
Publishing food or entertaining-focused content is not a new or sparse marketplace. But what’s amazing about Bon Appétit’s hordes of foodie devotees is the brand’s unapologetic, charming-while-highly-curated devotion to the exploration of food. This belief, paired with their commitment to providing experiences that encourage “everyone to love cooking and eating as much as we do,” make for a brand that is truly practicing their purpose.
I don’t need 1,500 words to tell you that every brand is fighting harder and harder every day for attention. Hell, I don’t need 15 words to tell you that brands that stand for something continue to see bigger returns. Now is a time of hyper-focusing on intent, so with that in mind, here's a challenge: focus on and commit to pairing purpose with insight and invention. Learn from the above examples that openness, interest and passion for your audience is vital. Brands (and those that build them) must never forget that purpose is mandatory but if you don’t also continuously prove that purpose, you’ll only ever be preaching to the converted.
Learn more on how to turn your purpose into a competitive advantage for your brand here.
Dec 19, 2019
Consumer Products, Purpose, Retail
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