Jessica Potts of ‘We’re Not Really Strangers’: “Keep the focus on community first before sales and revenue”

Keep the focus on community first before sales and revenue; that will come if you are building and engaging with your community the right way. As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Jessica Potts. Jessica Potts is the Vice President of Digital […]

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Keep the focus on community first before sales and revenue; that will come if you are building and engaging with your community the right way.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Jessica Potts.

Jessica Potts is the Vice President of Digital and eCommerce of We’re Not Really Strangers, a purpose driven card game and movement all about empowering meaningful connections.

Jessica’s expertise spans a number of disciplines including leadership, brand and digital marketing, eCommerce, and digital strategy development and execution. She currently oversees all aspects of We’re Not Really Strangers’ digital strategy and online retail presence, and most recently, led the brand’s eCommerce strategy around the launches of the Self-Reflection Kit and the Breakup Edition.

Jessica is passionate about how the game and platforms help build community and encourage difficult, but necessary, conversations around vulnerability, relationships, race, privilege and much more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The eCommerce and digital space has always fascinated me, I fell in love with it the moment I had my first job in the online industry. The customer journey from brand discovery to first purchase to lifetime value is so complex and mesmerizing to me. I can (and will) talk about it all day, everyday!

I had my first opportunity to work in eCommerce while working in brick and mortar retail in LA, but it would have required moving with my young son out of state. As a single mother, I had to turn the opportunity down to be able to be near family. And that’s when my dear friend Hilary heard her friend mention she needed help with her startup that was at an incubator and needed help…I got the job! I worked hard and dedicated everything I had to grow and learn, and get where I am today.

When Chris Pfaff, President and CEO of We’re Not Really Strangers, asked me to join the brand, I knew that all that hard work, all those long hours, long days lead me here. We’re Not Really Strangers isn’t just a place I work, it’s where I know I was meant to be and feel passionate about our mission and honored to be able to help build connections and drive conversation on a daily basis.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think in business there is a stigma about making mistakes when in reality they are what teach you the most. When I was first starting out, I insisted I knew everything about the email system the company was using at the time — meanwhile, I hadn’t even taken notes during the training. I was in the middle of building an email, and I accidentally sent out a half-completed DRAFTED email to our entire email list!!!! If I could have escaped out of the back door — trust me, I would have! It wasn’t funny at the time, but looking back I laugh so hard at myself. The lesson learned was to take notes, don’t be arrogant, and ask for help when you know you clearly need it.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

We’re Not Really Strangersstands out for many reasons, but the main reason to me is that we are a community-first brand, and we are discussing mental health in a way that no one has before. As a brand, we encourage everyone to have those hard conversations that lead to growth. The card game goes far beyond just a game and creates authentic connections and a positive impact on people’s lives.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We just launched a new product! The‘Breakup Edition’stems from our team’s own personal breakups. Whether the breakup occurred recently or years ago, the Breakup Edition is meant to help teach us about ourselves, what we want, and what we don’t. The end of a relationship is the beginning of a new one…with yourself.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain it?

Before I started working at We’re Not Really Strangers, I viewed Brand Marketing as a brand mission/manifesto (storytelling) versus Product Marketing as simply selling a product to a customer (more technical). After joining the We’re Not Really Strangers team, I now believe that these two things don’t ever have to be exclusive from each other. They are one and the same if you are doing it correctly.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

There are so many ‘brands’ out in the world these days, and there is endless access to it all. The brands that stand out in the market are the ones taking the time, energy, and effort to invest resources into explaining their mission — why they exist and essentially why you should choose them above all other brands. These are the brands that will have longevity in the market. The majority of consumers these days want to feel like their hard-earned dollars they spend on a product aligns with their personal values as well. A great deal of brand identity and storytelling needs to go into that, thus the investment into resources to do so.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand?

  1. Stand for something. Discover the “why” or the mission behind your brand before beginning anything else.
  2. Find your brand’s authentic voice and make sure it’s carried out across all channels — social, email marketing, product design, etc.
  3. Keep the focus on community first before sales and revenue; that will come if you are building and engaging with your community the right way.
  4. Make sure you have a great product that can highlight the brand’s mission and bring it to life.
  5. Invest in the right leadership and team members.
  • Leadership can make or break a brand. Hire wisely.
  • Skill is important, but if a hire doesn’t believe in the brand mission as well, it won’t work.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Patagonia. They have a very clear company mission and never waiver from it. They live out their mission statement in the products they make, the documentaries they produce, the daily content they provide, the people they collaborate with, the list can go on and on. They have also built a massive community that is not all about selling products. That’s where I truly believe brands lose customers is when you don’t put community first. Patagonia takes a position politically when it’s a direct question of right vs. wrong on what’s best for our planet. That to me means their mission isn’t just fluff, they take it as their duty. They have also acknowledged and are outspoken in that they are a white-led outdoor company reliant on recreation on stolen Native lands that are not yet safe for all. This has now been part of their company mission to do better, be better, and actively show up here. I’m eager to see their work here.

How do you replicate that? Have a purpose and mission that is way beyond just creating revenue.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand-building campaign?

That really depends on the overall strategy of the campaign. The kickoff to a campaign should always be asking yourself questions like:

  1. What is the purpose of this campaign?
  2. What do I hope to achieve?
  3. Who am I speaking to?

Once you clearly answer the ‘why’of said campaign, you can start setting goals and specific KPIs around it. When you have an understanding of the intent behind the campaign, you can then start the data process: define, collect, analyze, interpret, and then apply.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media plays a major role in our branding efforts. I would be concerned if any brand said otherwise.

We’re Not Really Strangers has grown organically with a loyal community of over 2.9m on Instagram and 1.8m on TikTok in large part because of the introspective, thought-provoking questions and quotes we share which create connections and conversations among strangers in the comments.

Social media is the most beautiful, powerful, and to be honest — sometimes exhausting tool — that exists for brands.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

  1. Your team is there for a reason. Give them a clear strategy and then get out of their way and let them execute. It will save you so much time and energy if you truly give them autonomy in their job roles.
  2. Define clear boundaries for yourself. Previous to my current role, I was burned out because I was trying to be everything to everyone. My job got every inch of me, and I had nothing left for myself at the end of each day. I created these clear boundaries for myself:
  • No computer in bed
  • When I’m with my son, he gets priority and receives (and deserves) my full attention: not my cell phone or work emails/slacks.
  • When I’m totally burnt out on a day, I call it. I try not to force it.
  • I started holding myself accountable to all of the above. I don’t win at this every day, but I can definitely say some days I do 🙂

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Recently, I started my own ‘movement’ — it’s called Ôtaneme (IG: @thisisotaneme). It’s a community that has an honest and expanded conversation about leadership in the workplace. There’s so much that needs to be accomplished in this area, and there are no reasons leaders shouldn’t have access to tools to help them grow, navigate, and thrive through the complexities of being a manager/leader. Koreen, the Founder of We’re Not Really Strangers, Chris, and the entire team have been so supportive of this passion project of mine, which I think only further exemplifies the importance of community and strong leadership within a company.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship,” by Denzel Washington. There are many times when life gets hard (professionally and personally), and I always come back to this quote. It helps me push through and keep following the right path, not the easy one.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast?

Cathy Hughes, Founder of Radio One and Allison Robinson, CEO of The Mom Project.

Cathy Hughes story, which you can listen to on the ‘How I Built This’ podcast, is one for the books! These women GRINDED in a male-dominated field and didn’t let anything get in her way.

Allison Robinson tapped into and highlights the strengths of working mothers. It was an open space that no one was paying attention to nor appreciated or gave us the respect that we deserve.

I have so much respect for women who fight for what they want in their career and show that you can do all of that while being a mother — it doesn’t have to be one or the other. That takes guts and strength. Society pushes women to choose between home and work the majority of the time, gives us language that you can only succeed at one, or that you should feel shame for choosing to do one or the other. These women are proof of the exact opposite (like me!).

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@WereNotReallyStrangers on Instagram, @WereNotReallyStrangers on TikTok, @WNRSTweets on Twitter, and We’re Not Really Strangers on YouTube. You can also discover Ôtaneme on Instagram at @thisisotaneme.

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