If there’s one one thing that we’ve excelled at since launching Bonjoro, it is building a brand that we, and our customers, can connect with. I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve done, and while our product is still in its infancy our brand has matured quickly and is responsible for the majority of our growth.
Now, before we go any further, it’s important to note that when I refer to brand, I’m not talking about our logo, or even our website (in fact I don’t believe brand is part of design at all). To me, design is simply an expression of the brand - the brand itself is so much more.
Brand is an ethos. It’s a vision and a voice. A way of life and a way of business. It is culture and values, but most of all, it is people. Brand is all of this, focused, expressed and shared.
Consider building your company brand first, not your product
Before we get to people, lets just talk about brand for a minute. New companies are generally built brand-first or product-first. I’d argue that online, 90% of us fall into the product-first category. Offline, the numbers are split much more even, and in consumables, brand leads product for most companies - are you Pepsi or Coke?
Building a market leading product takes years. It is an iterative process, ever changing to suit not only the needs of users but also accelerating changes in technology. Brands however, can be timeless, and built correctly, can be your greatest growth lever. Most importantly of all, brands are incredibly hard to copy (unlike product), and in competitive markets are absolutely key to standing out.
Great brands should be:
Timeless: Brands weather the ages where technology does not. No one drives a Model T anymore, but many of us choose modern day Fords as they hold the impression of reliability and innovation.
Relatively easy to set up: We have a product roadmap of years ahead of us, and I’m sure by the time we get there we’ll have added on a few years for the next leap...ad infinitum. We built our brand foundations pretty quickly during first few months of launch, and though it absolutely needs to grow and mature, the bulk of the work has been done.
Expansive and applicable to many products: Google started as a product, the search engine, but today it means so much more. Any new product with the Google brand will be embraced by the market quickly and used vociferously, as the Google brand tends to connote leading innovation and visionary product. Brand is an asset that you can use to increase the value of all your future products, not just the one you have today.
Competitive: We all have competition but if you only compete on product the race becomes about widgets and nothing more. If your arena is full of weaker brands, you’ll stand out, you’ll resonate, and you’ll attract more customers.
You already have your most unique brand asset
Forget the vision statements, the written down values, the colour guides and office design. These are all important but your most important brand asset, the only asset that is explicitly unique to you, is you, your team, and your customers.
Every single team is unique. The business world is like some vast experiment with infinite possibilities. Two brands that have the exact same written values can express them in completely different ways.
Think of the greatest brands as akin to political movements and obscure religions. As long as a single individual survives, that movement, that brand can ultimately start again, even if nothing else remains.
This to me is amazing - approach brand as people first, and you can build a brand that lasts generations, inspires millions and changes the world.
The power of people
The best brand teams are instantly recognisable; one of the best examples I’ve experienced is Google employees. Despite the now monolithic size of Google (which usually leads to a diluted culture), you know within 30 minutes of meeting someone that they work there. It comes through in their energy, attitude...and they’ll probably bring it up too.
Part of this comes down to excellent hiring, but an equal part comes after hire (see our blog on why startups should put culture first). If you put culture first from Day 1, hiring people that shape and extend your brand should take care of itself.
This is not just limited to team, it absolutely applies to customers, and your customers can be an even bigger brand asset. For instance, plenty of people have been doing extreme events their entire lives, but as the old adage goes: “how do you know if someone has competed in IronMan? Because they’ll tell you.”
IronMan, is a brand built almost 100% by its community, its customers, who self identify as IronMan athletes, and live and breathe the brand values.
The point here is that your team and customers will interact with exponentially more future team members, and future customers. This is your viral network, your ability to spread through the world. Most of us know what IronMan is, even though 99.9% of us will never participate.
(Not this Iron Man)
Putting people at the centre of your brand
At Bonjoro, our brand hinges on our people, and this has been a conscious decision from the start. There are so many ways to let your people shape your brand, but here are a few to consider:
Demystify your team: We run “Meet a Bear Wednesday” on our Instagram, when each week one of the team curates our Story for the day. There are zero stipulations to how they do this, and each of us use our creativity in a different way - but they are all open and personal. We also shoot images of the team each Friday after our global catchups and post these out to the world.
Design Pickle have 100s of remote designers in the Philippines but they make sure to include every single one on their Meet Your Designer page.
Let the whole team interact with customers: Kayak, Wufoo, Amazon and a whole host of great brands expose all team members to customer support. Zapier has an “All Hands Support” shift each week, where every level of the company gets involved. At Bonjoro, we require all team members to assist customer support in each of their respective areas.
By doing this, we ensure our team remain customer focused, but it also means that customers WILL see the many sides of our company culture, through each different person - and as a result the brand (the feeling) they experience will be made up from this wonderful mix of personalities.
Visual representation: Most of us wear costumes for work. Be it suits, tees, jeans or rugby gear. The first thing any team member does at Bonjoro is to design their own custom bear suit, which they’ll wear at retreats, on team socials, or just on cold winter days.
No one makes the team wear the bear suits, we just do - they are comfy, unique, and most of all, fun. Beyond our internal culture, if anyone in the world meets any of the team - they go “ah you’re the Bonjoro guys”.
Think about Virgin staff worldwide. The cabin crew in red are unmistakeable.
Your About Us page is not an afterthought: Your about us page is where you hire, inspire, build trust and is an AMAZING place to portray your brand. Don’t do this as an afterthought, let your culture shine through. If you’ve never seen Mailchimp’s about us page, its a beautiful thing: https://mailchimp.com/about/
Brand your customers: We send bear suits to customers who send 500 Bonjoros to invite them into our brand, to be advocates and more. Many brands do this (I’m wearing a ConvertKit shirt as I write), and you really shouldn’t be afraid to ask, because your best customers are often willing to advocate your brand.
Back to IronMan for the best example - there are 1000’s of people out there with an IronMan tattoo. THAT is brand!
A note: Brands & teams that polarise opinion are good!
We’ll often have people tell us they find our brand a bit “immature” - or as one person put “too playful”. How can you be too playful, if what you’re after is delight!?
What this shows us, is that our brand IS SPOT ON! We want to be polarising - because it means that our true customers really get what we do, and if someone finds us too fun and playful, it’s unlikely that person would agree with our mission or engage properly with our product. What’s more, the fact that our brand polarises people actively filters for customers who align with our product, which has the net benefit of decreasing churn, and improving the quality of our word of mouth.
If you took away your website, your logo, your office, even your product - would your brand remain?
I can guarantee these are going to change significantly over the next 25 years. But, your culture, your values, and your people will most likely remain fast. This is why getting things right from Day 1 and taking care of your customers and your team is should be at the heart of everything you do.