May 17, 2012

Sally's Monday Madness

So I have a thing for brands. I’m fascinated by them. What makes a good one? What makes them worthy and interesting? What sparks ardent love, both inside and outside a company? What makes a brand feel personal…like a friend or even a quirky family member, and not like a business, or god forbid, a corporation?

In my past life as a brand strategy consultant, those are the questions I was asked every day. And I was paid to answer them. I was paid to help companies achieve the holy grail of brand equity: an emotional bond with customers. For our clients, especially at the CEO level, this bond was discussed in dollar terms. Higher equity meant not only more market share, but also customers who would pay more for their products (premium pricing) or stay true even in a down economy (hello 2001 and 2008).

But the money was never my fascination. For me, I loved brands that stood for something. That were about something more than a widget, an app, or a pair of shorts hanging on a rack. I respected brands that talked about big ideas. That acknowledged humanity. That had opinions, even if it meant pissing some people off. That had humor and humility.

And thus the genesis of the Oiselle brand. And the opportunity to take my own advice. One of the first exercises was creating a brand map that outlined who we are, what we do, who we cater to, and the benefits we offer. My favorite part of the map of course is the “emotional” section, in which we list words that describe the emotive connection with customers.

So…when we decided to do the #mondaymadness challenge a few weeks ago, I decided my exercise should be about revisiting the words that I used to describe the emotional benefit of Oiselle from when we started the company – and see if they still felt right.

So roughly four years ago, these are the words I used:

Empower, in that women feel their own confidence growing as they enjoy the sport. Delight, in the sense that we offer something new and refreshing to the staid running apparel market. And transform was about the transformative power of running that linked to my own experience of the sport changing my life.

But when I sat down last week and rethought them, this is what came out:

So what I found interesting about this exercise was that a) the words that feel more natural now are adjectives and not verbs, and b) the change in the words themselves and what they mean.

My take away is that four years ago, I felt a stronger urge to put something OUT into the market. It was about making sure people knew what we had to offer, thus the verbs. I was trying to identify and connect with an audience that didn’t yet know us.

Today, while “empower, delight, and transform” still feel good, I feel differently about where we are. Now that we have established a community, both tight knit (staff, ambassadors, elite team) and far-flung (Twitter, FB, media, and greater online world) I feel there is less of a distinction between the inside and the outside of our company. And so rather than gravitating toward words that describe what I want Oiselle to DO for you, I feel better about words that describe US. You, me, and the crazy running community/industry that we’re a part of. And while we are still a bit player on a very large stage, this feels right and powerful and just where we need to be.

As for the words themselves, a bit of context – since per usual, context is everything. BEAUTIFUL is a loaded word, but I am lacking a better one. When I use it, I mean the kind of awe-inspiring beauty that’s made visible when you watch a world class athlete do what they were born to do. The fluidity, strength, jaw-dropping beauty of pure athleticism. I feel this is the true meaning of beauty, and it’s a far cry from the kind of beauty sold to you in a fashion magazine. COMPETITIVE in that it’s at the core of what we do and care about. We run, we race, we train…and that comes with its own basket of goodies. It’s also quite different than a lot of women’s brands. Not better, just different. And finally, IRREVERANT. Not just because it makes our silly office escapades more legit, but because it’s about acknowledging that life is a big crazy, sometimes messed up, often joyful, bumpy journey that we are all on together. And when you’re in that journey, pack your humor sister friends, because we’s all gonna need it!

I still have a thing for brands. But another thing I’ve learned is that it’s really not about me. It’s not about what we think of us. But more about what YOU think of us. And that is why I am always, ALWAYS loving the conversation that we have with our peeps. Good, bad, or ugly, this as a collaboration. I’m grateful for your part in it. Onward!