What's your Brand Ethos?
It's the branding that comes through you
In the two months since launch, our Hearty project has grown from tens to hundreds and now into the thousands of members. We’re starting to hear comments about our app “in the wild” of social media and cocktail conversations, and we regularly reach out to members to get their feedback and ideas. Last week, three different people, unprompted told me they enjoy “the ethos of Hearty.” They went on to say that our community feels friendly, fun, intimate and made up of people who are behaving well together.
It was great to hear this, but that word—ethos—got stuck in my brain. I’ve been in the marketing profession for over 20 years and that’s not a common buzzword. According to Wikipedia, Ethos is a Greek word meaning character “that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology.”
Hearing that word got me doing a little searching into the soul of Hearty to understand the choices we’ve made that are coming through in a way that is part planned and part surprising. I thought it would be fun to share the deep thoughts and gut instincts that got us to where we are so far.
The Strategy for Ethos
Every new brand or business must carve unique space out in people’s minds, and this should be approached with as much strategic planning as possible. A lot of what people feel about Hearty comes from analysis and decisions we made months ago.
First, we studied how professional networking and cooperation happens today—and we heard and felt a great deal of frustration. It’s hard to find people to hire or make referrals; it’s hard to know who to ask, and “connections” are weak at best; and despite countless ways to communicate, many requests for help go unanswered. This led us to see the need to create a business that brings true relationships and mutual support to the forefront.
Second, we looked at how people are motivated. Some network founders, such as LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, think that you have to pick "one of the 7 deadly sins” to build a winning business. That’s Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride. In his case, “LinkedIn is greed.” That may be a path forward for some.
For Hearty, we choose to look at the way people help each other in business today, and decided to focus on the motivation of reputations and social capital. While “greed is good” in some ways, humanity is also programmed to win through mutual support. It makes us innately happy to help a colleague, both in hopes of “putting a favor in the bank” as well as the pure pleasure of making a difference in someone’s life. Trillions of dollars in social capital motivation is generated through favors today—what if we could make this system work better?
Finally, you can create your brand ethos by picking a competitor to serve as a foil for your efforts. In our case, we look at LinkedIn from time to time in making decisions—not as much around product strategy, but mostly in brand approach. For Hearty that means bringing a fun, friendly, non-corporate, community feel. People sense this naturally when comparing to the dominant, legacy player that has to be fairly generic to “scale.”
A key point is that the best emerging brands don’t spend time directly comparing themselves to the leaders. Google didn’t do ads saying it was 3x faster than Yahoo! And Red Bull never said it tastes better than Coke.
It’s Mainly Personality…Yours
While a lot of thought and conscious planning goes into startup branding, more than you would expect comes from the personality of those building it. This is our baby. We chose to launch this project because we want this for ourselves and our friends. We’re building the world we want to live in, which makes our decisions come quick and from-the-heart.
I’m convinced that when you build from the heart with pure intent it comes through in all the decisions you make and how your audience perceives your brand. People are really good at sniffing out B.S., and there is so little genuine passion in most marketing efforts that it stands out when you finally get a glimpse of it.
It’s easier to build something you’re passionate about, but you still have to work to bring out this best self. Whenever I sit down to write our weekly member email or craft a daily social post I pause to pump myself up with our spirit a bit. I’m reminded of a standup comic who described his approach of “finding part of himself that’s unique and amping it up 10x when on stage.” It’s still you, but you need to be a little larger than life sometimes.
Build from your Best Self
Last week I heard some first-hand stories about the growth of one of the leading social platforms on the planet. The Day 1 focus of the founder was to build the largest possible network—by any means necessary. That included massive spam, encouraging spam by others, and teasing opportunities and connections that never materialized. It was a great return on investment for early employees and shareholders, but today’s users feel used. The spams keep on coming. After all, it’s in the founding DNA.
It’s an unfortunate outcome for this and other social networks that we’re getting used to experiencing today. What was once full of potential got turned toward the dark side. Fortunately no one has a monopoly on our attention, and the sins of the early fathers of social media can be corrected with the next generation. That’s what drives us at Hearty.
Thanks for playing with us!