Today's Reading

Q: Okay. So what is a brand?

Don't confuse the importance of brand with what you might traditionally think of as "branding": a name, a logo, fonts, colors, a tagline. Those elements matter a great deal, but they're a piece of the puzzle, the outward expression of what a brand is all about. There's the part that people can see (important), and then there's the part they feel (more important!). Leading brands are able to form deep emotional connections because they stand for something that people care about. When I talk about brand, what I'm actually talking about is what a business stands for, at its very core. In order to drive success in today's consumer landscape, brand cannot just be a layer that sits on top; it has to be baked into the business itself. Many founders think that "branding" is something to worry about once they've figured out the important stuff, a box to check at the end of the process. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Brand should be the ongoing, guiding force that drives how a business behaves. Whether you're a startup founder, an aspiring entrepreneur, or a brand marketer, there's a lot to be learned from the companies who get it right in the early days. These are the ones who come out swinging, and it isn't long before people have a hard time remembering the world without them. These companies so fundamentally transform a category that they become the benchmark for others looking to do the same ("I want to be the Warby Parker of shower caps/dog food/laundry detergent"). These category-defining brands may look like overnight successes, but the work began long before consumers were even aware these companies existed. I can't tell you how many times entrepreneurs will point to a past success and try to explain how their business is actually much harder, much more of a challenge than, say, Casper, the mattress business we helped launch. And I'll have to explain to them that before Casper was Casper, no one thought it was possible to sell mattresses online—many investors laughed at the idea. It was only after we built a brand with which people fell madly in love that Casper's success felt obvious, a foregone conclusion. It looks easy because the connections these businesses build with their consumers feel so natural, so human, like a lifelong friend that you've somehow only just met.

In this book, I will outline the core principles that define the new generation of brand leaders, brands like Casper, Sweetgreen, Allbirds, Warby Parker, and Glossier. As I'll indicate throughout the book, some of these brands are my clients, companies that we've partnered closely with to create brand-led experiences. Others are companies that I admire, through my perspective as both a brand builder and a consumer. By examining the new rules of brand, I will demonstrate not only what it takes to create a category-defining business but also how this new generation is changing the game for everyone.

In chapter 1, I'll look at what it means to ground everything you do in the problem you're solving for people and the deepest, truest needs of your consumers, ensuring that what you're building is relevant.

In chapter 2, I'll talk about the importance of moving beyond the functional, building a brand that is rooted in a deep emotional benefit. We'll examine why the emotional resonance of a brand can't just be a nice, pretty story you tell but instead needs to connect to the value that your business actually brings to people's lives.

In chapter 3, I'll look at how today's successful brands tap into their consumers' sense of self and identity, aligning their values with the people they're trying to reach.

Chapter 4 is about community, and the strength of brands that create a sense of connection across their audience.

In chapter 5, I'll talk about the importance of focus, and how the most successful brands of today aren't afraid to put a stake in the ground about who they're for and what they stand for.

Chapter 6 is about breaking convention and redefining consumer expectations. We'll look at how brands have rewritten the rules to build connections in categories where no one even thought brand mattered.

In chapter 7, I'll dispel the old myth about the importance of consistency, and look at how tension and surprise play a critical role in today's brand playbook.

Lastly, chapter 8 examines the role of the founder, and the power of revealing the human side of a business in order to drive brand love.

Throughout the book, I'll look at examples that embody what it means to build a brand that people love from day one, from huge successes like Airbnb, Everlane, and Sweetgreen, to growing startups whose stories are still being written. These are businesses that understand that every single consumer interaction—from talking with customer service, to shopping on a website, to reading an interview with the founder—counts as "brand." Throughout the customer journey, standout brands balance newness and surprise with a feeling of deep, intimate connection. It never seems like they're trying to sell you something, or convince you of something; instead, it feels that you're in a relationship based on a shared set of values.
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