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What is driving your business forward: a question of community and purpose
Written by Pauline de Villiers Brettell
The last two years of pandemic procrastination have at best been a period of reflection, and in other moments, a time of just coping, of creative highs and more than a few business lows. There have been echoing conversations about the need to pivot, the need to recreate and to reimagine, but identifying what changes are the right ones for you, and how to action them can be difficult.
The old cliché of not being able to see the wood for the trees springs to mind, as our online lives are full of advice, trends, and killer ten-point business plans for a sign up…so where to start when looking for that creative answer to driving your business forward into 2022?
The first point to be made, is that there is no blueprint – there is no cookie cutter solution that is going to work for everyone. With this in mind, there are however a few key areas to think about, along with some practical examples of how other businesses have used them to their advantage. Looking at some clear examples might remove some of those trees and make your path clearer…!
None of these brand strategies and points are ground-breaking, or about a complete change of direction. They are rather about nuance, and about looking carefully at your skills. The skills that are already in place, but possibly just under-utilised, and it is about getting them out of the shadows and putting them in place to drive your business forward.
Responding quickly to the changing mood during the first lockdown, one of the brand strategies in the plans for an independent jewellery brand Black & Sigi was to expand its range with “Make your own friendship bracelet” kits. These kits were very well received.
Being one of the first brands on the market to cater for the need of connecting friends and families together through a meaningful activity, and with a tangible, personalised product they made together, Black & Sigi has managed to capture new audiences and customers by only using social media as a marketing channel.
While we often hang onto the mantra that “less is more,” there is a point to be made for more-is-more. But it should be noted that when we talk about expanding in this context, it is not about simply throwing more stock onto the shelf, or more copy at your blog, it should be a more curated response based on an understanding of the shifting sands of the marketplace.
When the mood of the market changes as rapidly as it has over the past two years, it might be appropriate to look at what you are offering your clients or your customers and then identify something new, something extra that you can offer, an opportunity based on this shift in mood or mindset.
Now more than ever is the time to look critically at your skills and at what you are offering your clients. Identify where the questions and conversations with clients lead you, because in many cases the answer is in the question, if you just know where to look.
Interior designer Lynlea West went through that process. Like many of us, as life suddenly got introspective under lockdown, it was first about treading water and simply making sure the business survived, and then for Lynlea, it became about transformation as she shifted from Interior Design to teaching and sharing her design skills.
“It was a light bulb moment for me. I love sharing my knowledge even as much as I love interior design, ‘Create your Home Vibe’ was a labour of love but also a huge tech learning curve, a learning curve which has continued from that time!”
Over the course of the last 18 months Lynlea has pivoted from being an interior designer with a straightforward online presence via her website and Instagram, to being a tutor and teacher whose business is moving swiftly towards being fully remote, giving her a freedom that she didn’t have pre-lockdown, simply by identifying her key strength and USP as a creative, and expanding on that.
Artist Katherine Soutar was presented with a similar solution, as one of her brand strategies to pivot in this new direction. She has been able to integrate this into her creative business plan to the extent that it has potentially freed her up to take some new paths; “Diversifying into online tutoring and support with the support of the Artshack has been great and I would love to expand on that. So has live performance drawing/drawing for online storytelling. Neither of which may have happened if not for the pandemic.”
Both of these brand strategies have captured the zeitgeist of the moment which is about community and sharing. The sharing of knowledge, skills and creativity has become a clear trend moving forward into 2022. Lockdown has changed people’s habits and made them reassess their priorities, and many of these shifts, like remote working, are clearly here to stay.
The power of joining forces can never be underestimated, but it does need to be done with careful consideration, as it is important that the collaboration is a natural fit and should drive your businesses forward. It might simply amplify your voice on social media, or it might be more production and sales focussed.
The power of collaboration is not always about numbers, it can also be about community. A good example of the power of collaboration is the Hettie and LK Bennett partnership. These brands both had common elements to their stories, so collaborating was a good fit and amplified both.
Part of the difficulty in identifying the correct creative brand strategy for your business is that there are so many platforms, and there is the sense that we should all be on all of them. Social media has taken on a life of its own to the point of being overwhelming. The best advice I have had when looking at a marketing strategy was from my friend and colleague Lizette Watts at Nomads & Co who advises to keep things simple.
For Lizette, marketing and plotting your brand strategies should be a pleasure not a chore, so simply choose the platform you like, the one you enjoy scrolling though with your morning coffee, the one that gives you pleasure rather than performance anxiety! (What a relief…no more agonising about the fact that Tik-Tok leaves me cold!) Find your medium and do it well, that way your voice will resonate, and you will in turn find a community. Because that is essentially what social media is all about for a creative business, it is about finding your tribe and building your brand, it is about positivity and community.
One creative company that has succeeded in community building is the online paint company Lick who have essentially used lockdown and the resultant social shifts, to take the business onto a whole new level.
“In the short time since its launch, Lick has completely shaken up this sector, by re-thinking every step of the customer journey from inspiration to decoration, for the modern digital-native consumer and professional decorator”, says OMERS Ventures Managing Partner, Harry Briggs.
So, what did Lick do in practical terms that smaller creative businesses can takeaway…
The most important thing they have done is build a community. They have created a growing community of decorators (185,200 strong), an inclusive community from first-time home decorators to grand-designers and influencers, everyone has a voice on the Lick pages and that has become the driving the force within the brand.
“Already we’ve helped make over 30,000 houses feel like home, listened to our decorators and launched new categories and product extensions, built a superb 38-person strong team bringing in expertise from FarFetch and Charlotte Tilbury, and planted enough trees to cover over 72 football pitches and removed the equivalent of 122,504 plastic bottles from the ocean. In short, our curated offering and unique approach to content are bringing a fresh look to decorating.”
One of the key predictions moving into 2022 is that consumers have become more purpose driven than ever before. A change that was trickling down pre-pandemic, but fast forward to 2022, is now in full flight.
Whether it is to support local business or to shop more sustainable brands, these are choices that are being made daily by consumers. This is good news for smaller independent brands as it can be what sets you apart. When it comes to integrating this into your business strategy it is all about making sure that purpose is at the heart of production.
A good example of this is Shiv Textiles who is telling a story that is so clearly purpose driven and integrated into the literal thread of the business. The purpose is clear, and it is easy for the customer to get onboard in a variety of ways.
Following on from finding your purpose, it then needs to be communicated with clarity. That, in turn, takes us back to the one of the key points that is a constant refrain on platforms like Estila when providing encouragement and checkpoints on this journey of building your business strategy. It all comes back to the BRAND and telling your story.
Moving into 2022, it really is the power of storytelling that can set a brand apart. One of the best examples of successful storytelling as a marketing tool, and one of their brand strategies, is that of Paynter – they tell a story every step of the way until the consumer becomes part of that story by pre-ordering and buying a jacket.
One of the most important brand strategies of 2022 gaining traction is the importance of networking. This becomes key as people move to more online and remote models of working – that shift will mean that networking models will need to move as well, where in fact does this networking take place? Go back a few paces to social media – your social media platform choices become important as some are better for networking than others.
Forbes has predicted that networking will be a key trend for 2022 as businesses embrace partnerships to adapt and thrive. Which is again essentially what Lick has done on a grand scale and what each of us is doing by simply engaging in this conversation within the Estila community.
Looking at common elements across a broad range of successful creative businesses, along with the trends that are emerging about community and networking, a key element is also learning to identify strengths and, on the flip side of that, weaknesses. With the demands and expectations on small businesses building, a key strategy can simply be to get help – an often-underestimated facet of networking.
Whether that is deciding to invest in some professional images of yourself as an essential part of the brand, hiring a PR, handing over blog content to someone who can tell your story, or someone to do your accounts. A growing and strong freelance community is another interesting offshoot of the last two years of remote working. People are choosing to stay working remotely while focussing on a core skill. There is a huge creative community full of resources out there to be drawn on.
A strong advocate of this is Annie Manson who runs the successful cookery school Annie B Spain. With a business that relies completely on tourism, she was presented with some potentially overwhelming obstacles over the last two years.
“I became like a rabbit in the headlights – the challenge was to keep the dream of tourism alive on social media and to keep my name out there. Getting help with social media has worked. Invest in PR, it’s worth every penny if you find the right PR expert in your field.”
As with so many things, Covid-19 hasn’t necessarily changed business strategies, as much as it has sped up the dynamic. A lot of the issues facing small businesses, on or offline, were already there, bubbling under the surface, but suddenly we were hit with a global pandemic and…well things changed, quickly, and we have all been forced to become a little more creative on the business front.
And that essentially is the backdrop to this conversation looking at creative brand strategies because that is what it is, a conversation. This is not a paper with definitive answers, but rather about putting down a few thoughts, looking for creative business ideas, and importantly talking to other small and creative business owners who have actually come up with an answer that has worked for them, and hoping, that out of the conversation, you can find a spark, a thought, and idea that will help in moving forward with your own creative business solution.
Pauline de Villiers Brettell
Pauline is a designer, writer, and curator of the website Tea in Tangier. When she isn’t researching and writing content, you can find her scouring the souks and working with artisans in Morocco sourcing textiles for clients and designers around the world.
Follow Pauline: IG @teaintangier
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