Why Great Brands Make Great Businesses — Your DTC Branding Cheat Sheet

For Week 1, we are going to talk on Branding, and why it matters for your business. DTC strategy may be ever evolving, but the fundamentals of good branding remain the same.

Let’s jump in by breaking down some basics, like what is a brand? Hint: It is not just a logo, fonts, and colors.

A Brand is a System of Expression

“It takes a lot of work to build a great brand,” Emmett Shine, Pattern Brands Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, says. “It has to be organic, human, and feel like it has a reason to exist. A great brand is like a great person,” Shine continues, “you trust them, enjoy their company, and want to spend time in their presence.”

Emmett Shine, Co-founder of Pattern + Gin Lane

When expressed consciously and consistently, a good brand helps an otherwise ethereal concept (a business) come to life as a living, breathing personality that has a recognizable way of communicating.

Be Yourself

A great brand is when a business’s mission, vision, value system, and purpose holistically come to life.

Camille Baldwin, currently building Outdoor Cats, a value creation community, and Gin Lane’s former Head of Brand, put this into a helpful metaphor:

“Developing a strong identity that manifests its reason for existing is the most crucial part of creating a brand. Remember when you were a kid experimenting with different ways to dress and many of them were outrageously far from who you actually were? When a brand behaves and dresses differently than its identity, people smell a fake. Like my mom always said, just be yourself.”

Camille Baldwin, Head of Brand for Gin Lane & Founder, Outdoor Cats

Origin Stories Last a Lifetime

What made you (or your founders) start the business? One day someone woke up and said, ‘You know what? I am going to start this business.’ Statistically, the vast majority of new businesses do not work out, so to go against those odds, there has to be a moment of conviction, passion, and a voice that says, ‘jump.’ Going back to that original leap of faith moment is so crucial in understanding who your business is as a brand.

Remind yourself, and your team, why you set out on the challenging journey of making something you felt the world was missing. Get this in writing. That’s the amino acid to form the DNA of your business.

A System of Emotion

Think of the way Pixar connects our human emotions to their characters — from fish, to cars, monsters, to robots — they bring life and expression to animal, alien, and inanimate objects.

That’s what your brand should do.

And it should do so emphatically, with all of the attention to detail that make Pixar’s characters so resonant. It’s not just that a robot has fallen in love, it’s the way the robot’s eyes and body language express love poignantly, and humanly. That emotional resonance makes you feel connected to that robot.

It’s the same for brands.

The interstitial moments; a thoughtful insert inside a box’s packaging, the way CX takes time to talk to customers, an ad that makes you chuckle, a well-designed footer of a website — we subtly remember those moments of detail and care. When done consistently across the user journey, that’s great branding.

It’s not easy, but great branding can elevate a business from feeling transactional to feeling more human, more purposeful, more relatable.

Put the Customer First

When we sat down with Jeff Raider, the co-founder of two of the most seminal eComm businesses of the past generation, Warby Parker and Harry’s, we asked him to share some of his thoughts and advice on branding for emerging eComm operators.

“I think it’s most important to always put the customer first,” Raider says, “and not to get too caught up in data but to start with a real understanding of the people who are experiencing your brand and their journey with you.”

This is important to understand for brand building.

Today, so much of decision making is based on best practices and data analysis. That’s valuable and a key part of the democratization of digital intelligence that has let to the explosion in eCommerce businesses. However, this doesn’t always help you 1:1 understand the nuances and real-time needs of your customer.

If you can combine a strong sense of your origin story, with a strong sense of who is attracted to the story, you have the kindling to start making a fire. From here, you can later pour on the data to get the fire burning.

Just like we all have unique genetic backgrounds, we also are all influenced by our environments and surroundings. That combination of nature and nature makes us who we are.

Similarly for a business, combining an understanding of where we come from (our origin story, or nurture) with what we do on a daily basis (interacting with our customers, or our nature) is how you build a brand that feels grounded, and always present.

Raider expounds on the value of nurture, “Once you’ve created a journey that you think will be great for your customer, use data to learn about their behavior, what they like and don’t like, to in turn make their journey even better in the future.”

- Jeff Raider, Co-founder of Harry’s & Warby Parker

Numerator / Denominator

At Gin Lane, we often talked about the numerator/denominator of branding; meaning brand values are constant (a denominator), but how a brand expresses itself should be adaptive per each given situation (a numerator).

Think about how you talk to a parent on the phone, versus how you text with a friend, or email with a coworker. In each situation, you’re the same person (denominator), but you nuance your communication to fit the situation (numerator). You are always you, but you adapt how you express your thoughts throughout the day. Brands need to do the same.

How a brand expresses itself on social, ads, emails, website, and customer service should always be constantly the same brand, yet subtly nuanced per the situation! When you master numerator / denominator, you are ready to interact with customers, and potential customers all day long.

For example, let’s say your brand is earnest and sincere, yet approachable. How this manifests itself in the world — in an ad, an email, or a product page — will be reflected in the brand’s system of expression, visually and verbally. The earnestness and sincerity of the visual language for an email might be balanced by the language used that speaks to the approachability of the brand.

Altogether, good brand building happens when each consumer touchpoint feels consistent to the brand’s DNA, and nuanced to its consumers’ needs per each moment along the consumer journey.

With that in mind, a brand has to look at each situation as an opportunity to delight the customer.

The Difference Between Businesses And Brands

Note: Beware of the temptation to conflate business and brand. Make no mistake, you sustain your eComm operation by building a great business. If the margins and economics don’t make sense, no amount of good branding will help.

With that understood, you can help your business through the presence of great branding.

For example, strong branding can increase your organic traffic (free), your loyal customers (higher LTV), and your site’s performance (higher conversion rate).

In a sea of sameness, if your brand stands out, interested viewers will click through your ad more than a generic one.

If you make your website communicative, easy to navigate, and evocative of your core values, your audience will appreciate feeling seen, and convert at a higher rate.

Engaged customers will come back if they develop trust and affinity towards the brand. That’s important.

One simple but important to remember lesson is if you want to to ensure your customers keep coming back, make and sell great products.

Products & Branding

Although our roots at Gin Lane were known for thoughtful branding and marketing, we always tried to choose entrepreneurs hyper-focused on building great products. We knew that without a great product (or service), no amount of good branding would ultimately help the business. If we chose founders focused on making great products, our job of branding, marketing, and building their sites & apps would be that much easier!

For Pattern, we’re doing our best to build a trusted house of brands centered around products that people actually love. If our customers don’t love our products, we simply don’t have a business.

Just like it’s important to remind yourself the importance of good business fundamentals, it’s equally important to know that great products win.

Without a solid product, branding is just a band-aid.

Samantha Rose, founder of GIR, our first Pattern acquisition, and a brand whose organic origin story has resonated with a devoted community for the better part of a decade, says with conviction, “Make meaningful products, and the competitive landscape will widen to make room for you. If your products are consistently awesome, you’ll earn your way to category leadership.”

Samantha Rose, founder of GIR

Marketing, Positioning, & Branding

Durable eCommerce brands lead with strong, quality products, but category leaders use clear messaging to stay on top. This is where strategic branding empowers smart marketing.

Cult brands are formed when you couple awesome products with strong branding that resonate squarely with a core audience.

At Gin Lane, we emphasized knowing who our core audience was, first. You don’t come up with a cool name, make a shiny logo, and choose a set of fun colors — then go figure out who to sell to.

Like a method actor, you have to immerse yourself in your customer group first. Who are they? What makes them tick? What are they missing?

Great branding begins with great positioning, which comes from great listening. Be humble and listen to customers. The happy ones and the upset ones.

The more you listen, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you can make your product, your brand, and your marketing seem to effortlessly ‘just get it.’

Raider agrees with this approach. “Who are they?” he asks, referring to the customer. “What do they want from a brand? What can you uniquely solve for them, and how can you make the journey delightful every step of the way?”

Shine adds, “Great branding means being a great communicator. When a business understands who they are, who they are selling to, and what their customers want — it’s really fun. If you can do this, your brand is going to build powerful, lasting relationships.”

Thank you! 👏

We hope this was helpful, and thank you for reading! Let us know what you think, what you are doing for branding at your company, and what else you’d add.

Lastly, if you’re interested in learning more about your business joining the Pattern family, we’d love to hear from you.

Cheers!
Pattern Brands
🏡

Make sure to check out our introduction installment, The Definitive 10 Part Guide to DTC!

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