Abby Taylor: “Your brand is everything”

People can relate to a genuine and true story about hard work and having a vision. Make sure you have a great story to tell, and the passion to fuel what you’re doing. If you don’t have a passion for your brand, quit now. Our story is so relatable and people connect with us because […]

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People can relate to a genuine and true story about hard work and having a vision. Make sure you have a great story to tell, and the passion to fuel what you’re doing. If you don’t have a passion for your brand, quit now. Our story is so relatable and people connect with us because of it. It’s also accessible, and easy to understand. Our branding makes you feel like you know us, you get us — when you walk into one of our stores.

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

Abby Taylor is Co-Founder and Creative Director of Playa Bowls, New Jersey’s original superfruit bowl franchise. Avid surfers, Abby and Playa Bowls co-founder Rob Giuliani conceptualized the company while exploring surf breaks around the world, where they noticed that versions of superfruit acai and pitaya bowls feature prominently in the surfer diet. Inspired by the unique flavors and driven by their desire to share the delicious healthy discovery with family and friends, Abby and Rob brought their own twist on bowls back to the Jersey Shore, setting up the first Playa Bowls location — a single umbrella stand on the boardwalk. A fine artist by training with a BFA from Salisbury University, Abby also oversees the creative identity of the Playa Bowls brand from the design of each of the 85+ franchise locations, to the menus. In 2019, Abby was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list, and received the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Regional Award for Innovation.

When she’s not at Playa Bowls, Abby is surfing Playa Maria in Rincon, Puerto Rico or the waves in her hometown of Bradley Beach, New Jersey.

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

I grew up living at the Jersey Shore, and was always a beach kid. I’ve been surfing since I was ten years old, and the lifestyle is the only one I’ve ever known. I’ve also always excelled in art, and am very creative. I went to college for Graphic Design and really found my niche. After graduating, I wanted to travel, and was determined to surf all the spots I’d always read about, so I did just that. I would bartend all summer and save my money so that I could travel all winter, but deep down I knew that lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew for certain that I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle with a normal 9–5. I wanted to be my own boss.

Trips to Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, California and Hawaii introduced me to the delicious flavors of acai and pitaya bowls and I was hooked. In each place we traveled, we ate them and I learned about the different flavor combinations and various health benefits of these superfruits. When I got home, I made them nonstop for friends and family. I wanted to share my passion for them with everyone at the Jersey Shore. My co-founder Rob, and I set up a small stand on the side of the road, and told the story of acai. We talked up its many health benefits — walking around with flyers on the beach and directing people to our makeshift stand on the side of Ocean Avenue in Belmar, where we were whipping up bowls with a blender, on a single folding table with an umbrella. It took a while, but it finally caught on.

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?

Brenna, our first ever employee, would respond to incoming customer emails. She once responded to a customer in an email and when talking about an encounter they had at one of our stores, using the word “encouterment.” We’ve never let her live it down.

If you look back at our Instagram feed, you can see our growth. Our picture quality and content was not nearly as strong as it is now. We all make mistakes — that’s part of being a young company but we’ve grown so much.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think our origin story makes us stand out. This is really a true American success story — going from a folding table on the side of the road, borrowing electricity from the pizza place next door so we could operate our blender, to having 90+ stores across the country. A lot of people have good ideas, but are scared to really go for it. We put everything aside and made it happen. The people that work for us make our company stand out. They’re so passionate and it’s such a cool feeling to give someone a raise, or promote someone to a new position and actually see these young people grow with us. We are all learning as we go, but we’re learning together.

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

Right now we’re focused on expanding our catering program and making it easier to order delivery from our app in the future. We know that unfortunately, the pandemic is not going away and we need to continue building our to-go options as we adapt to the changing environment. Our hope is that even though our customers may be stuck at home, they can still get healthy and fun options delivered right to their front door.

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?

Branding to me is really the core identity. How people recognize your brand. We’ve created such a strong brand identity that people go to other bowl shops and ask for a “Playa Bowl” instead of an acai bowl, the way you’d ask for a Band-Aid instead of a bandage. Advertising is the way you further your brand identity and get your message out, whether that’s through billboards, social media ads, or even a branded parasail we created to fly along the coastline at the Jersey Shore!

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?

Your brand is everything. Anyone can have a bowl shop, but it’s not going to be a Playa Bowls. We have created an experience. A space for the beach kid in all of us to take a mini vacation for any meal of the day. A place to eat a bowl, and take a break from whatever stress is happening in your life. A big part of our brand identity uses a pineapple, the global symbol for hospitality, and each of our stores embodies the brand from the surfboards on the ceilings to the hand painted mermaids on the walls. Without a recognizable brand identity, tactics like advertising will not be effective.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

  1. Be Authentic — People can relate to a genuine and true story about hard work and having a vision. Make sure you have a great story to tell, and the passion to fuel what you’re doing. If you don’t have a passion for your brand, quit now. Our story is so relatable and people connect with us because of it. It’s also accessible, and easy to understand. Our branding makes you feel like you know us, you get us — when you walk into one of our stores.
  2. Have fun with it! — Who doesn’t love fun? Try a bunch of different ideas until you find one that sticks. No matter how silly, or off the wall. Some of our most successful campaigns are borne of our own personal passions.
  3. Be Consistent — With store hours, products and the overall experience. This is the hardest to obtain, but it’s part of the journey.
  4. Build a Strong Team — Ensure the team of people below you fully understand your vision, and can effortlessly tell the story of your brand. They are a representation of you.
  5. Keep it fresh — Bring in new and exciting concepts and ideas. We started Fall Specials five years ago, and people wait anxiously for the release of those bowls every year. People love new items, and specials strengthen our brand and showcase our ability to keep our customers on the edge of their seats!

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?

I think Rook Coffee, a New Jersey based coffee chain has done a fantastic job. Their branding is on point, and they’ve utilized their logo perfectly. For anyone living on the Jersey Shore, one glimpse of the bird immediately conjures the idea of Rook. I’ve always been impressed by that. We had so many variations of our logo, which continues to evolve over time, and their branding has remained consistent. I’ve become very friendly with Holly, one of the owners, and it’s been wonderful to have another female founder to bounce ideas off of. She’s someone I really respect and admire.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

Social media has really been our measure of branding success. The way our customers capture themselves in our stores or at the beach or on a boat with their favorite bowl or smoothie showcases how they understand and want to replicate our branding aesthetic in their everyday lives. The way they show us at home how they create the Playa Bowls experience showcases the success of our branding and how it resonates with our community.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media plays a huge role in our branding efforts. We can promote posts to boost new locations, promote new store openings, product launches and can really give a feel for the comprehensive Playa Bowls experience. Social media has allowed us to share our story, and our personality with so many people. We’ve also found it to be a reliable driver of sales. Posting a beautiful bowl on someone’s news feed can make them crave Playa Bowls when they didn’t realize that’s what they actually wanted. We broke into the market as pioneers in the bowl space, and Instagram was also very new at the time. We have grown with it, and used it to catapult our success.

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

Have fun with it and take risks! Build a solid team that loves the brand and inspires you with ideas. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’ve hit the wall creatively, but my Marketing team is quick to get me out of those ruts. A room full of creative people bouncing ideas off each other sparks something special and helps you keep it fresh and fun. I also highly recommend a surf or a workout class. Nothing gets my creative juices flowing faster and allows me to reset and tackle the task at hand with a clear and open mind.

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. 🙂

I feel strongly that people should always lead with kindness. You never know the battle the person on the other end of the line is facing. I also feel strongly about compliments. They work wonders — if someone brings a good idea to the table, or has positive vibes one day, I think it’s important to recognize that verbally. It’s beneficial to everyone if people feel good about themselves and that they’re in a positive, uplifting environment.

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

“Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young to accomplish something. A baby shark is still a shark.”

This quote has always resonated with me. When we first started out, I had a lot of people in my ear questioning my decisions, and trying to tell me what to do. I was 24 when we first started Playa Bowls in 2014, and I was on a mission to create the company of my dreams. I was confident in our concept, in the product we delivered, and in our team and that’s what kept me going. I put my head down and focused on our mission. Failure was not an option, and I’m so proud of how far we’ve come.

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 with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Sophia Amoruso. I read Girl Boss, and think she’s the coolest. I loved her story and am so inspired by her and everything she’s created.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can follow me personally at @Atay732 or on our Playa Bowls Page at @PlayaBowls

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