We recently caught up with Jack Huang, the co-founder and CEO of EC1 Capital Portfolio company TRULY Experiences to talk about brand. TRULY is an online marketplace for buying luxury experiences as gifts. These range from wine-tasting evenings to luxury holidays - and for the really adventurous… spaceflights.
Selling this diverse set of luxury items to demanding customers at top end prices is no easy task. TRULY must deliver on service, user experience and inventory at all times and according to Jack, at the very centre of all these efforts is their brand.
The first point Jack makes is “it’s not what you say it is, it’s what your customers say it is,” which may seem obvious once written but it makes the point that a company’s projection of it’s brand isn’t all that important if it doesn’t align with a customer / users perception of that company.
So in light of your brand being what your customers think of you, TRULY’s philosophy is that the key to branding is “fulfilling a customer promise at whatever the cost at every touch-point... and being extremely consistent.”
The concept of “brand” is vertical agnostic. It could be about originating luxury experiences, providing an enterprise level communications platform or delivering value in commerce. But what is true of all good brands is that they live up to their promise. Jack uses the example of budget supermarket Lidl as a good brand, “they live up to a brand promise: to provide decent food at ridiculous [low] prices.”
So a great brand in any vertical or sector is simply the perception that a company or service always lives up to what it promises its users or customers. At TRULY they want “customers to see the logo and just think that something extraordinary is about to happen” and that, Jack asserts “is really not about cute fluffy images or witty taglines.”
Given that a brand is about much more than simply coming up with these cute images and taglines that are so often associated with branding, where does a company start it’s brand-building from?
Jack says it comes from the company’s “purpose and belief”. For example TRULY’s belief is that it “helps people create and share happiness through extraordinary experiences.” This is a carefully considered statement designed to differentiate TRULY from its competitors and in doing so give the company direction.
Essentially TRULY’s brand is informed by their purpose, which they in turn apply to everything they do, thereby giving them the best chance of being perceived by their customers as they want to be.
When starting on brand building, or when assessing your brand, Jack urges any entrepreneur to delve deep into what the purpose of their company is, then polish that into a clear message before making it the driving force behind everything they do - marketing, sales, product etc.
Like we said, it’s about much more than cute taglines, taglines have to mean something.
“Constantly communicating your brand” is something that a lot of branding experts will say and it’s clear that TRULY take that to heart, both externally and internally; “it’s how you hire, how you train, how you motivate, how you deal with every single product decision and how you deal with every single customer interaction. There are no shortcuts.”
For example, as part of the onboarding of every new hire someone on the team takes them for a branding session where they lay out in detail what TRULY’s brand stands for, what they promise to customers and how they deliver on those promises. It’s such a key part of the onboarding that Jack normally does this himself.
The same approach of ubiquitously applying branding to operations is taken when deciding on inventory for the site. “We’ve had to turn down several Michelin-starred restaurants” says Jack, “not because they weren’t good, but because they didn’t quite align with our brand and customer philosophy - and their customer interactions show it.”
In the end it's easy to see why there's this rigorous application of brand in everything they do. It's something that every entrepreneur should take to hart and as Jack articulates it as well as humanly possible:
“Because” says Jack, “either you’re fulfilling your customer promise... or you’re not.”
The benefits of brand building - customer loyalty, referrals, premiums etc. - are widely covered by a thousands of others so we didn’t spend time on it here. However, if you want more information on what was discussed above, Jack recommends the following two sources.
ZAG - The Number #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands. Marty Neumeir.
This book spent 93 weeks in the top 10 of the NY Times bestseller list and starts right at the beginning of what a brand is in terms of it’s origins, development and execution.
In this classic Ted Talk, watched over 21 million times, Simon Sinek shares his view on how best to communicate a brand or idea, well worth a listen…