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Michael Yuasa of Antarctic Agency: “5 Things You Need To Do To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand”

Burnout is inevitable in business; it’s important to work smart and pace yourself. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and find great people to work with who can support you and your business. As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had […]

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Burnout is inevitable in business; it’s important to work smart and pace yourself. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and find great people to work with who can support you and your business.


As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Michael Yuasa, Executive Creative Director and Founder of Antarctic Agency.

Michael Yuasa is a creative powerhouse set on reimagining the possibilities for non-profit and cause-based organizations. His primary focus is leading creative direction, digital fundraising strategy, and intelligent web development for leading charitable brands.

Ever ethically conscious, and laser focus on elevating communities in need, Michael has had the pleasure of working with organizations including The Ronald McDonald House, Compassion International, The New York City Commission on Human Rights, God’s Love We Deliver, and SAGE — an advocacy organization serving the elder LGBT community.


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

Ioriginally started the Antarctic as a record label in 2005 in Seattle, Washington, mostly throwing shows for bands I really liked and releasing records. Our shows were becoming successful and brands started approaching me about working with us. The next thing I knew, Antarctic was acting more or less like an advertising agency, helping brands get their message out.

As we started working with brands, I always made a point to try and tie nonprofits into our engagements and redirect some energy to help our community, while also maintaining a business. After working with nonprofits, I noticed right away that there was a major need within the industry to get their message out. Nonprofits and cause-focused organizations have to compete for the same attention that larger for-profit brands are vying for. We also noticed that many nonprofits were having trouble understanding how to get their message out and thus, the Antarctic was born.

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 started Antarctic when I was 22, so I pretty much made every mistake in the book. I think one of the biggest mistakes we’ve made over the years is moving too fast and sending out marketing communications without proper proofing and review.

One incident that comes to mind is sending out an email newsletter to Vitaminwater’s customers about an upcoming event only to follow-up with another email apologizing for the typos. That also contained typos and finally, the third email was typo-free. The newsletter took three tries to get right, embarrassed the heck out of us, and left the client thinking we were illiterate. I was 22 at the time.

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

We focus exclusively on helping nonprofits and cause-focused organizations communicate their message about their services or advocacy. That sets the Antarctic apart from other marketing agencies. There are specific language and organizational structures behind nonprofits that impact how they operate.

One of my favorite campaigns we created was called, “Refuse to be Invisible,” for SAGE (Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders). SAGE is a national nonprofit organization that supports LGBT seniors with housing and social services. The campaign ran during World Pride 2019 in NYC and featured a group of LGBT seniors, beautifully photographed by Ari Seth Cohen, (https://www.instagram.com/advancedstyle/) and asked people nationwide to sign a petition advocating for a federal policy to protect LGBT seniors. (will send screens of the campaign)

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

Currently, we’re rebuilding the Leslie-Lohman Museum website which I’m really excited about. The new site will definitely enable the museum to raise more money for its programming and make it easier for people to find information about their hours, exhibits, and events.

During the current Covid-19 pandemic, we’re helping a lot of nonprofits that are providing essential services with their outreach and fundraising efforts. We’re offering pro bono digital ad management to ensure they have funds to respond to the crisis. One nonprofit in particular is God’s Love We Deliver that provides meals to people who are too sick to cook or shop for themselves. Given the crisis, they’re providing shelf-stable meals that will keep for a week in the event that home delivery is curtailed.

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?

Brand marketing is about elevating your brand in the mind of the customer and encouraging them to choose your brand over another based on name alone.

Product marketing is about creating awareness of your product and how it’s different or better than a competing brand. Product marketing is also focused on drawing attention to the features that make your product unique.

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?

It’s definitely important to build your brand as a company or organization if you have the resources to do so. Brand building is a long-term investment where people know your name and what you stand for. Alternatively, if you are just starting out in business, I think you could take a slightly different strategy and focus on your product and what problem it solves in the marketplace. Then, build your brand as you diversify your product offerings.

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. Clearly articulate what problem your company is solving in the marketplace
  2. Clearly articulate what your brand stands for
  3. Define what your company does and most importantly, what your company does differently to set it apart.
  4. Make your customer or donor the hero of your brand story
  5. Position the founder of the company front and center. It’s important for customers to know who’s behind your brand.

At the Antarctic, we always make a point to encourage the organizations and brands we work with to make their customers and donors the heroes of their brand stories. One big mistake companies make is always talking about themselves instead of their customers/donors and the impact their participation makes.

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?

My favorite example of brand building is Virgin, which is owned by Richard Branson. Richard has taken huge risks to build the brand which has enabled him to open multiple businesses in different sectors under the Virgin banner. In 2004, Virgin created a charity arm, Virgin Unite, that actively engages with challenges taking place around the world, such as ocean pollution and the political situation in Venezuela.

Advice: take risks and put yourself out there. Your business will only grow if people know about it.

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?

I would say the measure of success in brand building is a potential customer choosing one brand over the other when all they have to go on is the name of the company and two similar products.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media has definitely made it easier for brands and organizations to communicate with their communities. We use social with Antarctic to make direct asks and also to create two-way conversations with our community.

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

Burnout is inevitable in business; it’s important to work smart and pace yourself. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and find great people to work with who can support you and your business.

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. 🙂

In the current climate, it would be a global plan coordinated amongst the nations of the world to plan a response to the next pandemic and find a cure to Covid-19. If you asked me a month ago, I would have said global pollution and ensuring our earth’s ecosystems are managed in a sustainable fashion.

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

Get a mentor! Oftentimes in business, you feel stuck and if you surround yourself with experienced leaders, chances are they have faced similar challenges and can help you plot a path forward — even when you don’t see 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 a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin. I love how he ties business and helping communities in need together. “There’s so much to be said for Branson’s PR work. It’s infamous. He expanded the branding conversation and took it out of a pretty rigid corporate setting. He reminds me that branding is a landscape to get innovate with, and I plan to do exactly that.”

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram:

@antarctic.agency

Or follow my personal twitter account at @michael.yuasa

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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