‘Authentic’ Brand building 101
Over the last couple of months we had the chance to speak to the founders, leaders, and key players within the Amsterdam creative scene as we hosted them on our Skandl Talks podcast. Since Skandl is a Branding and Communications agency, and one of our core service offerings is Digital Strategy & Brand Building, these topics came up quite naturally.
Building a brand is extremely important nowadays. With the internet and social media making entrepreneurship more accessible than ever before, the markets have been flooded by products and services. It seems that consumers now have too many choices, especially when it comes to products.
So how do they decide what products to buy and which brand to support?
Traditional branding was mainly concerned with how the product looked and was communicated to a particular target customer group. Consumer needs, behaviors, preferences, and values were mapped out for lengthy marketing communication plans which would then use product focused creative campaigns to push consumers to purchase. Nowadays, consumer time and attention is spent on things that they consider valuable. In a world of Netflix and Social Media, the ability to consume content which offers value has never been easier. Even if people still watch TV, as soon as the commercials come on they will pull out their phone and look at their favourite social media platform. This shift in attention set the stage for media companies such as Vice, Highsnobiety, Hypebeast, Complex Magazine, and many more. They also brought with it the age of Influencers, who wrote, posted and vlogged about their passions and lifestyles, never asking or pushing their followers to spend their money.
Media companies, content platforms, and influencers offer FREE value to their audiences. Yes, the initial business model behind this approach was, and oftentimes still is, Business-to-Business, with their main income being sponsored posts, but the fact that they built genuine communities on the back of putting out free content that adds value, remains. Once influencers, media companies, and content platforms realised that their communities were gladly willing to support them financially, product lines & services were developed, and business models were adjusted. They continue to hold the attention of their communities by offering free value via their content, and create products/services which directly reflect the values of themselves and their communities.
Now ask yourself this:
Would you purchase products from a platform/brand which offers you free content to consume on a daily basis? A brand that you know, engage with and have a relationship with?
Or would you buy from a brand which is trying to push it’s products on you via sponsored social media posts, without you having heard of this brand before?
Well, unless that product is a life-changing innovation, it will most likely be the brand you know, and have a relationship with, that will get your vote.
How does this affect the way in which companies have to approach brand building?
When we introduce our clients to this new idea of brand building, we usually explain that in order to generate an authentic community which engages with their brand via social media, they have to start acting like a media company which feeds their online platforms with content that adds value to their target audience. Without constantly pushing their product. To drive this point home, we like to give a few examples of people who have successfully used this approach.
When we spoke with Maru Asmellash, Co-Founder of Amsterdam based fashion brand The New Originals, he revealed that the brand actually started as a blog they ran together with friends. By posting and organising events around topics that they were passionate about, they were able to build an authentic community. When they introduced their clothing line a few years ago, it was this community which was happy to support the brand’s activities financially by purchasing their clothes. This in turn allowed The New Originals to continue to do things for the community, one such example being SMIB X TNO Fest, a culturally driven festival that gives platform to emerging dutch artists & fashion brands.
Daily Paper, another Amsterdam based fashion brand started much in the same way. When speaking to Abder, one of three founders of the brand, he stated that running a blog allowed them to express their interests & point of view on fashion culture in a way that resonated with a lot of people in the Netherlands. Once they had the knowledge and insight into what their community connects with they launched their first product line. Today, the Daily Paper brand has become a movement that is a proud representative of the African Diaspora within fashion & music across the globe. With content, projects and collaborations they continue to add value to their community, which doesn’t solely focus on their products, but more on the narrative around them.
A non-fashion example is Avant Arte, one of the worlds biggest digital art platforms. It was founded by Christian Luiten and Curtis Penning in 2015 out of sheer interest and passion for art. When I spoke with Christian during our recent podcast session, he said that they didn’t even think about monetising their platform until they had grown their community to about 350,000 followers. It was at this point on their journey, when art galleries started approaching them to curate shows, that they realised that they can leverage the reach of their platform. Their community, which they had built by consistently putting out content that adds value to their followers, gave them the insight that there is a huge market for art among a younger demographic which can’t afford original works of art. This is when they started collaborating with some of the most acclaimed artists within the art world to produce limited edition runs of affordable art. Furthermore, they are using these collaborations as an opportunity to create more value-add content for their community, giving them a glimpse into the world of their favourite artists via photos, studio visits, and interviews.
What can you do to build an authentic brand?
Leroy, the brand manager of Amsterdam based fashion brand Filling Pieces, once told us that the most authentic way to build a brand is by loving what you do.
So here is the ideal situation. You are starting a brand out of sheer passion for a certain field. Not to make millions, but to build something that will let you do something you love every day. You are interested in the culture surrounding the thing you’re passionate about, and are actively involved yourself, building a network. Via your brand, you start giving platform to people who are also active contributors, and ideally cultural leaders aka real ‘influencers’, within the community you are trying to become a part of. Give them a voice, learn from them, and collaborate with them if they are willing. These collaborations don’t have to be product collaborations, but can be as simple as a blog post with practical advice from the collaborator. Besides providing value to your followers, this content collab should also provide value to the followers of the collaborator.
What we are trying to say here is that brands shouldn’t hijack cultures in order to sell products to its tribe. Instead, use your brand as a platform for storytelling, which adds value to the culture that you want your brand to be a part of.
Let’s say you are a creative who loves streetwear and you started a company that makes clothes. Your product is on point because you know a lot about the streetwear industry, so your standards are high.
Now, how can you build a brand around your collections that people will love not only for the products, but also for what the brand stands for?
1. You identify what your customers value (lifestyle focused)
You are targeting streetwear affectionados like yourself, who love fashion, finding rare pieces, and the power of expression that fashion brings them. They love to trade and connect with other streetwear collectors.
2. You find out how they consume content
Much like yourself, being a young collector, most of your customers are on instagram, facebook, and youtube.
3. You come up with a content concept that will add value to your customers, and does not talk about your product. This is called ‘Branded Content’.
You already have lots of friends who are into streetwear, so you start a styling challenge video series, which involves them in a way that is fun and engaging. This allows your customers to connect with the content via the passion they share, and gives them value by finding out about new brands, styling tips, and fashion inspiration.
4. Create the video, optimise it for each platform you use, and turn its content into photos, blog posts, quotes, and other forms of micro-content.
Post it across all your platforms, and if you can, run a Facebook or Instagram campaign with the video, targeted at people who share similar interests as your target customer group.
5. Stay consistent.
Brand building via value add content is not the same as running seasonal marketing campaigns. It’s a never ending process and is focused on building a community. It’s slow, takes effort, and won’t directly boost your bottom line… at least not right away.
Slowly but surely you are growing your network, as well as your community, who have now realised that your social media channels help them become aware of other streetwear fans, find new brands and style influencers that they have never heard of before. In their mind, your brand is now trustworthy and authentic within the streetwear scene. So next time they are looking to buy some new clothes, you might be at the top of their list.
PAQ have done this extremely well, which is why we have used them as an example. Off the back of their branded content they have been able to build a loyal community of streetwear fans who consistently engage with their content, and support them by purchasing their clothing as a ‘thank you’ for all the value their team provides them through their videos.
With everyone always talking about engagement on social media, this approach is one way to create it. Generate a pull-effect via your branded content so that your target customers have a reason to visit your channels and engage with your brand.
If you are not integrated into the culture yourself, then find people who are and make them part of your team. Bigger companies often face this problem, and the best way to ensure that your branded content strategy is effective is by hiring an agency which is ingrained in the culture you want to tap into, or by building an in-house team which is part of that culture. This is the only way to build a brand that is authentic, and has the authority to provide relevant, value-add content.