News & Insights

Building a Brand in Today’s World


Last month, we hosted a private dinner in San Francisco with a select group of our portfolio founders and media contacts to have an intimate conversation about being a values-based consumer brand in today’s world. We want to share with you some high-level takeaways we found interesting and applicable for all consumer brands today.

Brands today must stand for something.  Values and authenticity are more important than ever for consumer brands. Customers feel affinity with brands whose values align with their own.  While distinct or controversial views may alienate some, having a values-based foundation can reinforce authenticity of the brand and foster an emotional relationship with customers who identify with a company’s values.  Living by these values will spur organic social chatter, word-of-mouth referrals and brand evangelism.  Values matter just as much internally. Employees increasingly want to work at companies they are proud of and that represent their own values orientation.  Values and culture fit are not the same; values are not partisan and come before even the brand’s mission statement as guiding principles for its view of the world and its place in it.

New brands have an opportunity to build around values from the very start. It’s extremely challenging for an incumbent to pivot and attach to “values” as they become a trend. For example, incumbent beauty brands are experiencing this when it comes to clean products, color shades, and model types, yet the message is not landing as customers can find it disingenuous. Building values into the DNA of the company from day one is a real asset for brands today.

Go back to cult marketing tactics – businesses that are reliant on paid social media marketing won’t last. It’s all about building a customer ground swell for a brand through authentic engagement.  It’s about organic growth.  Instagram, Facebook, and Google are asserting monopoly-type control on their platforms and keep making customer acquisition costs (CACs) more expensive.  In addition, the large amounts of VC dollars flowing into the Google and Facebook platforms are putting additional pressure on CACs.  Brands are being forced to diversify to a broad set of channels – including earned media and old school offline marketing tactics.  Putting growth and customer acquisition at the whim of a platform’s algorithm or pricing is not a winning strategy for consumer brands today.

Brick and mortar is still important. Experiential retail can bring life to a company, be a valuable source of customer feedback, and activate the base around specific events and marketing campaigns.  Retail today is different and requires founders to think about making their stores “instagrammable” in addition to optimizing for sales per square foot.

Media advice: a success story is not enough of a hook. Journalists receive hundreds of pitches a week. Lead instead with your brand values, new product, surprising insight, new demographics being served, unique customer engagement or community efforts to stand out in today’s press cycle.

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