If you start your own business, and especially if you choose to name the business after yourself, you will soon be responsible for a team of people. As the profile of your brand grows, so too will your public image…. And as all of these things collide, it is sadly a fact that some people will try to find things to talk shit about you. I am writing this post because, in the early years, I had more people than I would like say something after meeting me along the lines of, ‘Oh, we thought you were such a bitch before we met you! But you’re actually really nice!’ Ummm, errr… thanks…? (Insert confused / stunned emoji face here).
These backhanded compliments made me question the way I was communicating publicly (through social media, brand comms, media interviews etc). Now, before I continue, I want to mention that my intention for the SAMANTHA WILLS brand was and always has been a ‘down to earth’ brand: approachable & kind, with polished product, imagery & execution. Most brands push an element of ‘aspiration’ – from their imagery, to language, to collection stories. All brands have an element of aspiration for eg. LOUIS VUITTON sells the aspiration of luxury luggage to go with your luxurious travel. Everything about their comms is premium (as is their product & price point). RALPH LAUREN sells the aspiration of the American dream: yachts, ranches, classic cars... You get the picture.
So I set out to add an element of aspiration to the SW brand. Not to the extent my friends Louis & Ralph were doing, but with more of a focus on jet set travel, bohemian nights and luxe adventures. In hindsight, I nailed the aspiration element by telling that side / story of my life, but what I failed to do as a down to earth & approachable brand was talk about the blood, sweat & tears that went into getting to that point. I consciously left out my sense of humour & commentary. I was only posting images & telling one side of the story in interviews which, as I said above, is fine if that is what you want your brand message to be (premium, untouchable, exclusive). I mean this in a strategic way, and most luxury brands execute this beautifully. But that wasn’t what the SAMANTHA WILLS brand was in actuality. It was ALL about the customer, how they wore the product, and it was about communicating with them on a personal level.
In my bid to make the company seem much bigger than it was in the early days, even though I was doing all of the social media myself, I posted it in third person to make my story seem more exclusive & more premium in order to make the brand seem more aspirational. But what I was essentially doing was creating a disconnect with people. When I finally worked this out, and embraced my message & story authentically, that is when I saw a boom in the brand’s growth. I reverted to posting in first person, adding my self deprecating humour, and sharing the back story of how I got to where I was… It was when I truly embraced the actual story (still with polish & aspirational elements) that people started resonating with it, and the brand grew exponentially. I wasn’t not telling the truth initially, but I was only revealing a small snippet of the whole story, which wasn’t that relatable to people. The fact was, I wasn’t selling LOUIS VUITTON products or price points, I was selling SAMANTHA WILLS jewellery, and the best way to sell SAMANTHA WILLS jewellery is to be the most authentic version of Samantha Wills. To be honest, this was a bit of a relief! All of a sudden, I started connecting with our customers on a much more personal level. I was still the exact same person I was the whole time, but I needed to communicate who that was better. So I did. I loved it, customers felt more included in the brand & we grew together.
So, in addition to telling an authentic brand story, here are my takeaway things to be conscious of (so as not to have people think you’re an asshole):
AUTHENTIC ASPIRATION: What is your brand’s aspirational lifestyle? Is that 100% authentic to YOUR lifestyle? If it is, then great! Are you portraying this in its most authentic way? Because if not, people will see straight through it.
BE MORE POLITE THAN YOU NEED TO BE: If you are the namesake of a brand, people will have pre-assumptions of who you are. From my experience, no one thinks you are nicer than you actually are before they meet you so be more than just polite. (It scares them on the upside, give it a go!)
HELLO, IT’S ME!: ALWAYS introduce yourself. ALWAYS. Even if someone is holding an event in your honour, introduce yourself to everyone you meet. Assuming anyone knows your name is obnoxious.
WHAT'S MINE IS YOURS: If it is your brand, NEVER use the term, ‘My Brand’. If you are a solo operator, use the term ‘The Brand’. When you start employing staff, use the term ‘Our Brand’. (Additionally, ask your team to use the term ‘Our Brand’. Most people out of respect will say ‘Your brand’ but everyone you bring into your company plays an important role, so they should have ownership also.)
GIVE BACK: Help others. Everyone has to start somewhere. Be kind to those starting out & remember where you came from. Unless you were born in a LOUIS VUITTON crib, you probably had to hustle for where you are. Remember those people who where shit heads to you? Don’t be one of those people.
BE INTERESTED: As your profile grows, people will want to meet you. Given this privilege, make the assumption that they are probably nervous. Ask them about themselves, this will not only ease their nerves, but it is the polite thing to do. It’s not all about you, never forget that.
BE GRACIOUS: As a brand founder, you need good people around you to help you realize your dream. Think of that for a second – People are working to help YOU realize YOUR dream. This is very gracious on their part, spending the better part of 40 hours a week making your dream a reality. Be gracious to them, in recognition, in the media, in life.
Some of these may sound like basic human politeness, and yes, they are. But as your brand grows, and more eyes look to you, don’t give anyone any reason at all to say ‘Oh, we thought you were such a bitch before we met you! But you’re actually really nice!’ ;) – SWx