Meet Emily Heyward, the co-founder of Red Antler, who helped launch some of the biggest brands in the world including Casper, Allbirds, and Prose. Now, she's sharing her lessons and insights on building iconic brands in her new book, OBSESSED: Building a Brand People Love from Day One.
I spoke with Emily to learn how brands big and small have a significant role in driving our culture, through times of great uncertainty and beyond.
Kate Talbot: What have you learned in the past 13 years since launching Red Antler?
Emily Heyward: In terms of the role we play in putting together an initial brand experience, helping our clients strategize their brand vision, and bring that to life at launch, one of the main lessons I've learned is that it can't end there. The founders who think they're going to quickly hire a branding company, get their logo, etc., and then run their business are not the ones that ultimately see great success.
Instead, it's the ones who genuinely understand that brand is a living breathing thing that you have to continue to invest in and keep fresh and evolve. Brand is the lens through which you should be making business decisions.
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Talbot: What has been your favorite brand you have launched, and why?
Heyward: This is truly an impossible question to answer because when I'm working on a project, I pour my soul into it. However, I'll tell you my favorite recent brand launch is a company called Jot which launched during the pandemic.
It has been an interesting challenge to navigate, but it's gone phenomenally well. Great founders, fantastic product, and our team had so much fun building the brand experience. Even though none of us would have chosen to launch during this time, it's been great to provide people with a spark of joy. People are missing their coffee shops, and it's been great to see people embrace this new form and have an uplifting effect.
Talbot: How do you think that brands need to think about storytelling during Coronavirus?
Heyward: It truly depends on the category. A telemedicine brand is going to have a very different story to tell than a fashion brand. The most important thing that brands always need to do, and especially now, is to think about what story they are most suited to tell.
As soon as you start to jump on the bandwagon because you feel it's what you're supposed to say, you get to a territory where you are eroding people's trust. Brands need to be extra cautious about messaging right now and making sure it delivers value.
Talbot: What advice would you have for entrepreneurs who are pivoting their business during this time?
Heyward: You have to be true to yourself. Consumers BS detectors are at an all-time high right now. Nobody wants to be fooled or have their time wasted — everybody's in a very sensitive place. For a brand to stand out, it's not about a crazy stunt or making a ton of noise. It's about delivering genuine value in ways no one else has and getting that message across effectively. If you have a legitimate way to make people's lives easier right now, more comfortable, joyful, safer, and healthier, that's the way to stand out.
Talbot: To that point of staying true, how do brands create communities that are authentic?
Heyward: The biggest mistake that brands make is thinking that community exists in their comments section or that community can be measured by likes. It is not that those aren't key metrics for brands, but community is much more than that. It's about a feeling of connection that people have with the brand and its values and, therefore, with each other.
The way that brands need to think about community is: how are we uniting our audience around a common set of values and ideas. When it comes to social media, there is a wonderful opportunity for brands to pull back the curtain and be more raw and transparent than on a paid ad or their website.
Talbot: Do you have any tips for companies right now in terms of marketing initiatives?
Heyward: The most important thing right now is word of mouth. People are desperate for connection, and there's a lot of tip swapping happening. Every time I talk to my friends, they share advice. Word of mouth will go far beyond a budget.
A strategy would be referral bonuses and mobilizing your initial fans to spread the word. Incentivize them and create an offer that's going to encourage them to tell their friends to post. Think about turning that first group into your brand ambassadors.
Talbot: How do you see female entrepreneurs reshaping the business world in 2020?
Heyward: In general, entrepreneurs are likely to be solving problems that has directly affected them. You want entrepreneurs to have their ideas come from a place of relevant experience and empathy. To me, the more diversity that we can see in our founder community, the better off we will be.
That doesn't just apply to women. It applies to people of color and from different economic backgrounds. This will lead to a place where new businesses serve a much wider audience, and people who in the past perhaps have not been helped as much as they should be by innovation.