“Brand” can be a tough concept for business owners to get their heads around, Red Slice founder Maria Ross told attendees at breakout session “Evolve Your Brand” at The New York Times Small Business Summit. “Your brand is more than your logo,” Ross said. “It’s the core and essence of your company.”
As with everything in the world, change is inevitable. Brands, particularly those that hope to thrive and expand over time, also must be prepared to evolve, Ross and fellow panelists said. “All kinds of changes” — in the economy, in trends, in your customer base, in your community — “can signal that it’s time for you to rebrand” your business, as two panelists found.
“You really have to develop something in this day and age that’s authentic and solves a problem no one else is addressing,” said Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint, who did just that with her line of zero-calorie water naturally flavored with fruits and vegetables.
The water was a hit and made it onto plenty of store shelves, but many customers were finding it impossible to fully replace soda with it — something that was a major goal in founding the company, Goldin said. What she discovered was that “some people just need the fizz.”
Although beverage industry experts cautioned against expanding Hint’s product line to include carbonated water, saying “fizz is dead; don’t add carbonation,” the company ignored them, and Hint Fizz is doing great, Goldin said.
Founder Katrina Markoff combined her personal passions and talent for blending spices with chocolate to create a story-based line of artisanal chocolate that became popular so fast, Wal-Mart Stores was knocking at her door begging for a bit of the action. Fearing she would dilute her brand and alienate its luxury-focused customers, Markoff said, she turned Wal-Mart away more than once.
Then Markoff got an idea for another chocolate concept that would be a departure from what she was doing with Vosges. When Wal-Mart said it could afford the risk of a new product, a partnership was born. To her surprise, the brand took off with Wal-Mart customers and Vosges’ original customers, Markoff said.
Next came a line of chocolate bars called Wild Ophelia, which is described as an American road trip through chocolate and includes flavors such as beef jerky, sweet cherry pecan and smokehouse BBQ potato chips.
The connection between all of Markoff’s lines is storytelling and a connection to her personal interests, she said. “Really, anything that I’m interested in, I try to weave into my business … It’s very very personal.”
Markoff’s advice to other business owners who are looking to evolve: “Exploit the niche you’re in, and really tell your personal story.”