Telling The Story Of An Artisan Brand

Beyond the “About” page

One of the most important things an artisan brand must establish is an answer to the question: what is your work about? Because I come from a brand strategy background, the question of “about” has long been on my mind. Writing a website About page is a part of it, sure, but it turns out that the important work is much harder.

“About” comes in many flavors. On the least abstract level, it’s a product question. I’ve been building a brand around a line of scarves, something I call Composure; I can easily say that Composure is about quality handmade scarves in a rare balance of silk and wool. But all great brands speak to something more abstract, a north star. With Composure I talk a lot about the pursuit of meaningful work, because there’s an entire generation of ambitious young people out there becoming increasingly frustrated with the prospect of dismal career paths in corporations that serve no great purpose.

I sort of say that in an About page. But I don’t put a lot of stock in About pages because About pages are a dime a dozen. Somewhat like the old adage about opinions, everyone’s got an About page, and they’re all flowery.

A more useful model I’ve run into is the idea of “brands as patterns,” from a smart design studio called Method (founder Marc Shillum has been talking about this idea for quite awhile). What’s useful about this model is that it rejects a traditional theory of branding and marketing, one that believes that your brand is what you say: to survive in the marketplace, optimize your messages and media channels, then push them out accordingly. Brands that survive today believe instead that your brand is what you do, repeatedly, over time. Sure, say what your brand is about, in message-based marketing and social media posts and otherwise, but that means just about nothing until you’ve established a pattern of initiatives that in total express what you’re truly about. Sometimes those initiatives are media campaigns, but more often they’re things like collaborations with like-minded brands (see: Ghostly x Warby Parker), event gatherings (see: Holstee’s Potluck Series), and projects that allow customers to participate in the growth of the business (see: Everlane’s Crowdfund Canada).

For use in Japanese tea ceremonies, many established in the 16th century and practiced consistently since. Photo by Tehya McIntosh

It’s a model that’s simple enough to understand, but it comes with a great hurdle: consistency. A pattern of initiatives isn’t a pattern until it’s done consistently. And establishing consistency can feel like a strange process. In the beginning, each initiative just seems like an amateur side project. Everything feels premature, like having a vision of a master painting in your head and publicly displaying the canvas after just a few strokes.

More practically, establishing consistency is difficult because no measure of feedback will accurately capture the value of one’s efforts. So establishing a consistency means bearing with little feedback, with few metrics to guide one’s decisions. In other words, it’s entirely likely that until you’ve done the work over time, few people people will read, click, share, or otherwise act on what you’re doing. The reason is simply that without a degree of consistency they have no reason to trust you with their time, money, or efforts. It often feels like there is no business sense in starting a pattern of initiatives, at least none that can be measured with our most common metrics of success.

But consistency is important, perhaps more so than many other measures of efficiency, because what you’re trying to do is establish trust and legitimacy. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that quality is the hallmark of legitimacy. “Build a better mousetrap and they will come.” That’s not what happens. Consistency is the hallmark of legitimacy. Consistency makes things real.

We resonate most with artisan brands that have a story to tell. And the best stories are told not in words, but emerge instead from everything an artisan does consistently with their work.

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