How Brands Can Stay Sane and Successful with a World in Constant Motion.

This past week, WE Communications hosted a panel event bringing together founding CEOs to talk about the beauty and battles of building a brand and how to manage a business when the world is in constant motion.

It was a compelling topic and broad enough to take us in several directions. Trish McEvoy, CEO and founder of Trish McEvoy Cosmetics and Susan Feldman, Co-Founder and Chief Merchandising Officer at One King’s Lane (OKL) and I tried to answer the pointed questions that Jenna Blaha, Marie Claire’s Fashion and Tech editor, put together.

“Aren’t we all suffering from MOTION SICKNESS?” – Jenna Blaha 

There is no doubt that as the world dramatically changes around us, businesses must adjust while staying true to their brand. This is perhaps one of the most fundamental challenges of advising companies on their marketing and PR.

Trish and Susan offered practical advice like staying authentic to the brand and more often than not, having the strength to make controversial calls. They both talked about creating business ideas based on “finding the friction” in the marketplace: OKL started out of a perceived need for homeowners to have better access to furniture and decorating items that were previously only accessible “to the trade” and Trish McEvoy has built her brand with great products, coupled with teaching women how to use them. You may know her eponymous brand is famous for the half-face makeover, where they do one side and then the customer completes the other side.  Even as they have started very different companies, they both credit word of mouth being instrumental to launching their commercial success. This is consistent with what was seen in the Stories in Motion survey – that 54% of people would try, buy or recommend a product if it strikes them as a compelling new idea and over half of consumers surveyed also said they would recommend a product if the content related to it is helpful to their lives. Of course, these fearless, female founders have had to focus on one brand thriving for the past few decades. Throughout my career, I’ve seen so many businesses and have noticed some trends around what can be done to help them weather all the change affecting their share of dollar and their share of voice. 

Here are some ingredients we think are critical in order to really fight against change, or to use it to a business advantage –

  • Be brutally honest with your place in the marketplace. As new competitors are using technology to displace the old ways of doing things, traditional brands need to take a hard look at what they offer, how consumers experience them, and what are some fundamental things that you need to do to “keep up” and also that deliver what no other brand does – and then double down on those unique offerings and ground them in fresh insights to ensure relevance.

  • Understand any and all disruption. Examine what is disrupting your business or industry because that will likely hold the key to what may be driving media interest and intrigue. If you are a disruptor, the way you can activate marketing is different than if you are a legacy brand. For example, if you look at the hospitality industry, AirBnB is the most popular disruptor. So this year, we thought Hyatt Hotels had a great idea on focusing on wellness and health, with a BeWell partnership. This was effective in creating news because it was 1.) different from the industry disruptor and done with a credible partner and 2.) a unique point of strength for them – they can claim wellness because they have gyms and the opportunity to create wellness experiences and distribute amenities.  One position is not more advantageous than the next, but it does need to inform how you select ideas and insights to leverage in your marketing and PR.

  • Write the epic, not the episode.  We work with clients to make sure their storytelling is right for today (and PR is literally a daily business dealing with the news media and social media) but also relevant and helpful to their ambition over time. It’s important to include executives for thought leadership, partners for credibility (these can change annually to help drive new goals), and technology in everything you do – either in the products you provide, or if you don’t have that… in how consumers experience your brand (think an interesting and interactive experience or flagship store exhibit, or a pop-up), or in how you convey your story (think mobile and experimenting with new platforms).

Founders Fail and Change

They both shared stories of how they have evolved their businesses and their judgement over the years. One Kings Lane had to change from its start as a flash sale business, to a carefully curated home furnishings store that now lives both online and offline, with their OKL Studio in Soho. Trish talked about trust and surrounding herself with talented people, which she has done, but also ones who may need to pass a background check these days (this simple lesson was learned after an employee was caught stealing truckloads of product out of her warehouse).  These very character traits of understanding honestly what’s going on, of looking ahead and at trends, data, how consumers are behaving and what the media is saying, to suggesting new ideas and change is exactly what we try to provide to our clients. 

Something I learned being on the panel with two amazing business founders is that there is an undeniable super power among those brave souls who actually start their own companies. Trish McEvoy and Susan Feldman showed us that starting and fueling a company is as much about the culture as it is about the commerce. They do not rest on their success, they are constantly fighting for it, and even after decades of building a business, they continue to give culture, legacy and brand DNA a lot of thought.