Storytelling is essential to brand success. Humans are social creatures and, as Tyrion Lannister so eloquently points out in Game of Thrones, story is the thing that unites all of us, regardless of background, education, ethnicity and life experience. Story is universal.
As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Kelsey Specter.Kelsey is a brand strategist, designer, entrepreneur and digital nomad. She is the founder of Wild Side Design Co. and several other companies spanning from e-commerce retail to financial markets. At 18 she traded college for adventure and bought a one-way ticket to Brazil with $600 to her name, where she ended up starting a business (and another, and another…) She now spends her days conjuring up new business ideas and breathing magic into them in her dreamy little São Paulo studio.
She has been named to the Top 40 Brand Designers of 2019 by bestselling author & icon The Brand Stylist, Fiona Humberstone, and her designs have been featured in best of design showcases on Divi Design Showcase, Mindsparkle Magazine, Awwwards and more.
Kelsey is a lover of adventure, open skies, and the 1970’s because she’s a flower child at heart (and because of the music, obviously). Her mission is to help the trailblazers of tomorrow, those determined to challenge the status quo, make a difference in the world, work and adventure on their own terms, and live to do what they’ve been told is impossible.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, this is best answered over at least a glass of wine but I’ll give the brief version! Basically, when I was 18 instead of going to college I bought a 1-way ticket to Brazil with $600 dollars in my pocket and a dream of making an adventure for myself. It was pretty scandalous at the time because I had graduated first in my class and was expected to take that traditional path of college, a “stable” career and so on but it was important for me to prove to myself that I could make it on my own.
Since I had no formal training or experience, and no funds to invest in a business idea, I looked for opportunities to make a living for myself from my laptop. My now-husband and I went into business together learning to make websites, mostly through Google and trial and error! We got our first clients by going door to door to local businesses and sending cold messages to Facebook offering web design services. At the time, I barely spoke Portuguese so it was a real learning curve on all fronts! From there, with our first clients we slowly grew the business. But the biggest leap came when I had the idea to create a niche agency for women entrepreneurs to break into the American market, where clients were willing to pay more for the same services we were selling in Brazil. I invested what little money I had left into Pinterest ads and landed my first American clients.
And that’s how Wild Side Design Co. was born!
We slowly expanded our services beyond websites to brand design, where we gained most of our popularity and fame. In the past year we have also delved into brand strategy as we realized that the majority of our clients struggled when it came to positioning themselves competitively in the market; they needed much more than just a new logo!
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This one is pretty embarrassing! When I was first starting with brand design, I had to design logo for a teacher’s blog. We wanted to include an icon of an apple in the logo. The design I came up with was like a cross-section, where you could see the seeds inside and whatnot. However, when the logo when live we got a lot of people saying that it looked like female genitalia! Needless to say, I was mortified and quickly updated the logo.
However, it was a valuable lesson is getting a second opinion on whether or not there may be a different interpretation that you are missing. As an artist, when you look at your own work sometimes you get so caught up in your vision for it that you can forget that it’s other people’s interpretations that matter most. When it comes to branding, a design is only successful if it effectively conveys the message you are trying to get across.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
Absolutely! In the beginning, we had this generic, agency-like feel. There was nothing really special about our messaging and positioning — we had a lot of success getting work outsourcing from other agencies than from businesses directly.
The tipping point came when I had the idea to nichify down and focus on one specific audience, in this case branding for creative women entrepreneurs. And then I took my marketing to the place this audience spends the most time looking for inspiration: Pinterest. This combination really launched Wild Side!
The takeaway is to not be afraid to get super specific with your marketing. Don’t worry about repelling people who don’t resonate with your message — they aren’t the right kind of clients for you anyways. Those who DO connect with your messaging will be 10x more enthusiastic because of how confidently and consistently you uphold your values. Those clients will really feel seen, understood and at home with you and will become your most raving fans.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Actually, yes! I just launched my very first online course, Passport to Pinterest, teaching the Pinterest marketing techniques I used to grow my account from 700k to 7million viewers in less than 1 year. We do a lot of Pinterest management for clients, and I have people asking me all the time for tips or if Pinterest would work for their industry and so on. I wanted to take all that knowledge and wrap it up into a DIY formula that anyone could use.
A lot of people are frustrated with Instagram and Facebook lately and the changes in the algorithm that are making it really pay to play. I’ve always taken a very anti-Instagram approach and have been very vocal about it, and to be honest people have been speaking up left and right and agreeing and engaging with this topic (much more than I ever imagined)! I think a lot of people feel this way, especially those fellow introverts who don’t want to have to take and post pictures of themselves all the time. There’s this huge pressure to be posting about yourself and it’s refreshing to have someone say, hey you actually don’t have to do this, and you’re not alone. It’s kind of a relief!
Pinterest is still a relatively untapped market with huge potential for organic reach, and in my course I wanted to focus on a holistic approach to the subject. What’s lacking in a lot of social media courses out there is the means to actually track results from your efforts. That’s why I decided to cover other non-Pinterest things like conversion tracking pixels, website KPI’s, sales funnel basics, A/B testing and even brand storytelling. I want people to be able to see their Pinterest strategy through from end to end, and that’s more than just pinning X number of times per day. It’s about measuring and tracking your results and telling a consistent brand story across all platforms.
This holistic approach is similar to how I approach all of my client work — everything is interconnected!
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Burnout is very real, especially when you are self-employed. I like to say, you are the last line of defense! Even if you have a team, if something goes wrong you are always the last man standing and the one who has to make things right at the 9th hour!
For me, cultivating an office/work environment that makes me happy is so important. I spent a lot of time living a more nomadic lifestyle, where I would work sitting on my bed or at the kitchen table, so never really had a designated “work” space that was separate from my “home” space. The biggest change for me was when I got a separate office which became my designated work zone and started building my team. I finally got to choose decorations and design the space in a way that makes me happy and excited to work every day. It seems silly, but surrounding yourself with people and things that bring you joy increases productivity and decreases overall stress. Now, I have clearer boundaries between “work” and “play” which were seriously lacking before!
So I recommend, even though it’s tempting to work from home as a freelancer or online business owner with a remote team, to cultivate a “work” space away from home at least a few days a week if possible — even if it’s just a local coffee shop or coworking space.
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?
Great question! In a nutshell, branding is what other people think about your business, the overall story you tell and how people connect to you on an emotional level. At Wild Side, we work a lot with brand archetypes, which is basically the 12 Jungian archetypes as applied to branding & marketing, focusing on universal human desires, needs and emotional connection.
So a skincare brand, for example, may have an Innocent archetype, appealing to our desire for simplicity (the simpler/easier times), our feelings of nostalgia for “the good old days” and/or our emotional connection with values of honesty and wholesomeness. This is the brand story that makes up public opinion. A good example of this archetype in use is Ivory Soap, and you can see and feel these values permeate the brand — from visual identity to photography to voice and messaging. We find that archetypes are a much truer representation of a brand than psychographics are, because they connect us as humans through common values, not just physical characteristics such as age, location or gender.
So if brand marketing (branding) is the story, product marketing (advertising) is just one chapter or excerpt of the story. Each individual advertising campaign should always stay true to the story as a whole, as in not introducing any irrelevant characters or storylines, but has the freedom to express itself as a part of that larger picture. Just like in a book, each chapter has its own mini plot line that fits into the overall story arc. So when we work with brands on individual campaigns, we always make a point to take into account the overall brand story and positioning so we don’t create an inconsistencies, and so we don’t change the overall “story” or perception of the brand in the eye of the consumer. This is what we call being on-brand!
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?
Nowadays, more than ever, consumers are being drawn towards brands with similar values. With so many product options on the market, people are choosing to buy from companies that resonate with their personal outlook on life. the modern consumer is more informed than ever. For example, there are hundreds (maybe thousands!) of options for shampoo. But now, as a consumer you are looking for more than just a hair wash. Now, you are checking whether the brand is organic or eco-friendly, whether it uses recyclable packaging, whether it’s tested on animals or not, whether it contains chemicals like sulfates or parabens, whether the ingredients are fair trade or it’s manufactured in the United States…and so on and so forth. It’s not about the shampoo — it’s about the brand values.
And branding extends beyond just product advertising. It’s about associating yourself with certain values so that you become synonymous with certain ideals in the mind of the client. Whether that’s organic/all natural, luxury/exclusivity, excellent customer service, or being ahead of the trends…by positioning yourself as a brand with a story to tell, you build loyalty with your customer base. In a recent study by Fundera, the results found that 56% of consumers stay loyal to brands that “get them,” and 89% of customers are loyal to brands that share their values. When it comes to retention, customers are looking for more than just a product — they want an experience and a story to connect with on a deeper level.
Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?
This is a great question. We actually get this a lot at the agency, since most of our clients come to us with an existing “brand” so to speak (in most cases, not clearly defined) looking to rebrand. The first question we ask is what the goal is with such a rebrand — what do they hope to accomplish? In most cases, the company started out going in one direction, usually in a pretty generic fashion, and as it began to grow the owner(s) started to recognize a particular audience or niche that showed more potential.
For example, a local boutique may start out selling all kinds of gift items, but as time goes on they recognize that their bestsellers are actually their metaphysical items like crystals, smudge sticks, tarot cards etc. at which point they may decide to rebrand themselves to focus on this particular niche and audience. This is an excellent reason to rebrand, especially when there is actual data to back up the decision. We always recommend doing market research prior to any rebrand in order to test viability.
In general, the main reasons we would recommend rebranding are:
-to better appeal to a specific audience that you are currently not reaching;
-to align with a change in offerings or products that are not aligned with your current branding;
-to build/clarify a specific brand message/story in the absence of one;
-to update/modernize your brand in the face of a changing market and trends;
Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?
Yes, absolutely. It’s much harder to rebrand an established brand, because there is already a pre-formed image or story in the mind of the consumer. They are used to having a particular experience, and to seeing a specific combination of visuals when it comes to the visual identity especially. I do believe in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality when it comes to larger brands.
In “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes”, authors Mark and Pearson talk about how brands that stay consistent to one archetype over time see more long-term success than brands that are inconsistent or flip-flop between archetypes.
Rebranding, when done incorrectly, can confuse the consumer and actually negatively impact your overall brand image. With established companies, when set on a rebrand it’s vital to maintain the essence of the brand and only change the minimum amount of aspects to achieve the desired result. For example, if a company is looking to update or modernize its brand in the face of a changing market, I would recommend a refresh of the visual identity within the parameters of the existing brand — maybe a cleaner version of the existing logo, with a more modern font, etc. The same goes for messaging, colors…the story should always stay the same, with changes being made only to the way that story is expressed to make it more relatable to the changing market and audience.
Only under very rare circumstances would a complete rebrand/repositioning be recommended for an established brand, and that’s simply because you risk losing all the traction and rapport you’ve spent years gaining with your current audience. Unless, of course, your goal is to reach a completely different audience altogether! But again, that’s a case by case basis.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
- Define/redefine your brand values — When it comes to branding, people always think about the visual side of things — logo, colors, fonts, etc. the strategic side is often forgotten because it’s just not as sexy or enticing as designing a logo. However, brand values are really the foundation, the cornerstone of any brand.
- Many of the clients that come to us are actually looking for clarity more than anything — they have too many ideas, too many offerings, too many audiences, and they need help defining the ONE thing, the values that they should focus on. Before spending time and money on a visual refresh, consider focusing internally on your brand values and how you want people to connect with you first. Do you value organic ingredients? Accessibility/affordability for all? Highest quality regardless of price? What makes you stand apart from your competitors?
- Implement archetypes — Storytelling is essential to brand success. Humans are social creatures and, as Tyrion Lannister so eloquently points out in Game of Thrones, story is the thing that unites all of us, regardless of background, education, ethnicity and life experience. Story is universal.
- Our methodology to build brand story is using brand archetypes, because they serve as a framework for human psychology and the universal ways we relate with the world around us. There are only so many kinds of stories, and all of them come back to basic archetypes. Is your brand a Hero? A Lover? An Explorer? A Jester? What story are you telling? We find that just one archetype is often too shallow or one-dimensional to paint a true picture of the brand story, so we always combine two archetypes in a unique blend. The Wild Side brand, for example, is a combination of The Explorer and The Mage, mixing the need for self-expression and the belief in making a dream into reality. More than just a design studio, we take visions and ideas and manifest them into reality for our clients.
- Modernize your logo & visuals — This is the most obvious of the list, and the most “exciting” because it’s the most tangible. When it comes to a rebrand, though, I don’t recommend throwing the existing visual system out the window. It’s important to evaluate what is and isn’t working about what you have now, because it has gotten you to where you are now (so you’ve been doing something right!).
- The new identity shouldn’t stray too far from your current identity or you risk confusing the consumer. Continuity can be maintained most easily through color (if you have a specific color associated with your brand already i.e. Tiffany Blue) and the logo. If you have a logo icon already, instead of starting from scratch consider revamping or modernizing the existing design. For example, when Google rebranded, they kept their color scheme while opting for a new sans-serif logo font to make the brand feel more modern. All in all, they kept the essence while making the brand more relatable for the new generations.
- Tell a story with imagery — This is especially important when it comes to social media. The way brands connect with consumers is becoming more and more visual, as users tend to read less text and consumer more images & videos. If your brand doesn’t have a clear strategy for visual storytelling through photo & video content, this is an opportunity for you to refresh your brand without a whole redesign. Consider ways you can tell a story or evoke an emotional connection through your content.
- A brand I think does an excellent job of this is Spell Designs, an Australian clothing label. They’ve grown their business from a cult following to over 1Million followers on Instagram, and much of it thanks to beautiful imagery and storytelling. Their account showcases photos of women wearing their pieces in dreamy locations around the world, on faraway beaches, sun-soaked European terraces, exploring exotic jungles…each image is a story in itself, and the overall tale is that Spell is a brand for jetsetters, nomads and modern bohemians. Buying a piece is like buying a ticket into that dreamy lifestyle.
- Expand your brand with collaborations — When your brand is well established but you simply want to branch out, maintaining the original while expanding your reach, this is a creative and under-utilized strategy. With the rise of influencer marketing, each influencer has become a brand in and of themselves. They have a unique voice, style, story and engaged audience. By strategically partnering with influencers (or other brands) with specific values that align with or stand adjacent to your own, you can aggregate values and potential buyers to your brand by proxy. A sort of “fan exchange” can take place between your brand and that of your collaborator, while at the same time you expand your overall brand image in the direction of the collaborator’s values.
- For example, I also own an ecommerce brand that sells planners and agendas called Smart Planner Co. Our products are all very unisex, professional and “black and white” so to speak — no frills or fluff. We’ve positioning ourselves as the go-to productivity planners, exactly what you need and nothing more. But, this year we are looking to expand our horizons into some “prettier” products, a more indulgent line of colors and florals for the more artistically inclined. Rather than rebrand our company as a whole, which would undo all the traction we’ve gained so far, we will launch our “limited edition” line as a collaboration with another artist already known for this type of style. In this way, we “borrow” the artistic authority of our collaborator while expanding our audience to their own followers. It’s a win-win scenario.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
One of my favorites in recent history is the comeback of Polaroid. In a time that things that are “old” are suddenly “new” and retro is the new cool, it seems like many brands are trying to fit into this “new vintage” trend. When it comes to Polaroid though, they don’t have to try to be vintage — they are the originals!
With the revival of Polaroid through The Impossible Project and subsequent rebranding to Polaroid Originals, they were able to maintain the true essence of the brand, the retro roots in all of their glory, while making it just modern enough to bring it to the 21st century. They didn’t try to reinvent themselves or to change their story — they simply stayed true to who they have always been, while shifting course ever so slightly to stay up with design trends. And there’s something enticing about being original in a world of so many copycats and spinoffs!
The takeaway from this is to not let yourself be influenced by other people’s opinions, trends and ideas — staying true to yourself and your brand values even throughout a rebrand is essential. What is trendy today won’t be tomorrow, and brands that stand the test of time are those that are authentic to themselves despite the changing tide of opinions around them.
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. 🙂
Some of the greatest value I have experienced in the past few years has been from the cultural exchange of living in another country, of learning a different language from my own. There’s so much richness and wealth of experience when it comes to experiencing other ways of life and thinking. With each new language comes a whole new set of cultural nuances in the way you think and relate to the world. I find that so magical! It opens your eyes in ways you never thought possible.
If I could, I would create a global network and cultural exchange connecting people from all backgrounds, languages, socioeconomic statuses and belief systems. If every person could spend even just a few months experiencing a different way of life, a different set of beliefs and values than those they are used to, imagine what it could do for us as humans. We might find ourselves slower to judge others and more open to hearing other points of view, more accepting of other beliefs because we realize that everyone’s perspective is subjective to their experience.
It does sounds a bit idealistic, but hey, I’m a dreamer!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Myfavorite quote, and I’m not even sure where it comes from, is “one year from now you’ll be happy that you started today”. Whenever I’m in doubt about getting started, or get too stuck in my head about making something “perfect” or waiting for just the right timing, this always comes to mind. A few years ago, I put up a list of free fonts as a graphic on my blog with a quick email opt-in link. I never thought it would be such a big deal. 2+ years later, this same pin gets more than 1M impressions per month on Pinterest and generates nearly 100 email signups per day. I’m SO glad that I put it up when I did, looking back now. So yes, this is absolutely true to my life!
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.