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  • Writer's pictureTrishita Khanderia

The Art of the Soft Sell AKA How to Build A Brand Universe

Picture this: The TV from the 90s is back. Chaotic, experiential, exciting, confusing – and it’s by Off-White (with that glitch that we were so excited to escape from!).

Image via SHOWstudio

Imaginary TV, Off-White’s latest digital offering is part art project, part marketing strategy for its SS21 co-ed presentation. As brand visuals move from casual refinement to something raw, this fits in with Tech 2.0, where a more human perspective, mistakes et al, is celebrated.

But why exactly did Off-White launch Imaginary TV? Shouldn’t its IG following and the icon-like status of Virgil Abloh be enough to talk about the new collection?

Yes… and No.

As more and more brands explore digital personalities, having just a product page is not enough. In a time when increasingly people use Instagram as a means to escape, seeing a hard sell can be particularly off-putting. We want memes and trends and music – not another a beautiful shot of an unattainable product worn by an unattainable model. That’s so Vogue 1990.

On the flip side, doesn’t it seem like content is now just another version of the Fast Fashion Factory? All fluff, no substance?

How does a brand stay true to its ethos yet still create something new that is meaningful and exciting?

Introducing the Brand Universe.

If you think of your brand as a planet, its universe forms the living, breathing environment within which the brand thrives. Often, this can be something quite direct – such as music (When Americano At Home was launched, each takeaway parcel came with a QR code of their restaurant playlist. Transformative!). Sometimes, it can be something quite abstract. Let’s take Louis Vuitton’s recent moves, for example.

For a heritage brand, LV is refreshingly contemporary. It isn’t afraid to push the envelope to have that first-mover advantage. Interesting collabs? Tick. Gamification? Tick. Beloved ambassadors? Tick. What’s interesting about the brand is the multitude of the worlds it straddles – they do have to take care of their existing clientele while also creating an environment that will be intriguing for their future consumers. So, while the Fondation Louis Vuitton is still a major part of their universe, so are their latest ambassadors, universal heart-throbs BTS.

Image via Architectural Digest

The beauty of the Brand Universe lies in one simple fact – by having a vast one, we ensure that our brand reaches out to people across segmentsand not just who need to buy here and now.

Wondering how you can create a Brand Universe? Here are a few thoughts that I hope will spark a trigger;

  1. Deep dive into what your brand is – and isn’t

Understanding what your brand’s preferences, personality, and philosophy is a great start.

Say, for example, if you’re a home linen brand such as Eternal Whites, you can explore the idea of fine home living and an ideal lifestyle rather than just focusing on your products. The brand is quite young, yet it has developed a rather robust presence. They have also expanded into a curated multi-designer brand, partnering with others that share their ethos. Here’s a look through the topics they’ve explored on their IG feed – Wellness as a Lifestyle on World Health Day, Coffee from Method Bandra (another new brand that’s part gallery, part gathering space), and Yoga Nidra.

Each expression then solidifies what Eternal Whites is – a thoughtful brand that keeps mindful living at the forefront.

Here are a few questions that will help narrow down your brand’s universe…

  1. Is my brand rooted in the classics or is it trend-led?

  2. What kind of art am I inspired by?

  3. What kind of lifestyle would suit my brand the most?

  4. What drives my brand – beyond product and profit?

  5. Why do my clients like me?

2. Engage with the Arts

While the art of creating does seek inspiration from the arts, it’s equally important that the arts are engaged with when talking about the brand. Why? Well, the arts make us think, feel, behave, act, dream… and that’s key to building a long-term relationship with your clients.

Often, brands look at the Profit line to ascertain growth and success. I’m proposing another perspective: People – Planet - Profit.

A common refrain of Green Marketing when it comes to setting the price, I consider People – Planet – Profit as a way to build a better relationship between your product and your audience, where values are upheld, ethics are uncompromised, and a saga is written. Yes, we live in the age of 140 characters, can anybody ever forget the magic of Lord of the Rings?!

How can you begin engaging with the arts?

  1. Don’t waste your inspiration moodboards! You must have seen some value and merit in choosing that as your starting point – why not use it at your end point? Jodi does this beautifully at the start of every campaign. Not only we gain a glimpse into their creative and chaotic world, we are also transported to a reality different from 9 to 5.

  2. While Instagram rules the roost for brands today, let’s not forget other formats and platforms that pack a punch. Understand the strengths of each platform and create accordingly. For instance, for longform interviews, I love ShopLune’s blog posts on Ladies of Lune, and for beautiful, evocative videos, I turn to Nowness. Harrods collaborated with this LVMH- and Dazed UK-led platform for a menswear collection. Check it out – it’s awe-inspiring.

  3. Don’t stick to one lane – just because you’re a fashion brand doesn’t mean you can’t share inspirations and images from across the spectrum of art, music, and design! Here, the first tip of Understanding what your brand IS and ISN’T comes in handy.

Harrods x Nowness, via Vimeo

Tools I swear by? Artsy, Tumblr, The Red List, TagWalk, Pinterest, Keep, IG Saved.

3. Understand your Consumer

Now that you have a good grip on what your brand is and isn’t, it’s equally important to understand your consumer. How will we make a long-lasting impact when we are not sharing what our consumers are looking for?

Nicobar does this beautifully - right from the onset, they have spoken about how they are a brand inspired by Island Living - if you see, their products are classic, fuss-free, and stylish in their simplicity. Their social media offerings, too, reflect the same - each image, each cocktail pairing, and each Nico Radio update seek to relax and comfort the viewer. As a consumer, I like to view Nicobar’s offerings because they instantly transport me to a holiday state of mind, even when I am stuck at rush-hour.

Nico Radio on Spotify

How can you understand your consumer better?

  1. Understand that you’re not catering to only one kind of consumer. For instance, if you’re a jewellery brand, your primary audience might be women aged 25 - 45 (to hit that Indian wedding market), but their mothers are also the secondary audience as they are often the final decision makers! Make a list of the different segments of consumers you will be reaching out to.

  2. Understand where they consume content - is it Instagram, print magazines, recommendations, or video? You have to then ensure you are present there!

  3. Reach out to your consumers and target audiences via small surveys to understand the zeitgeist. This will help you take more informed decisions.

4. Your Competition has a lot to say…

And you should listen! Keeping an ear to the ground is a must when it comes to creating your brand universe as it helps you be on top of trends.

As you may have noticed, social media is often all about the trends - be it funny Reels, filters, or even AR / VR application. If your competitor is offering something new and different, you should be aware of it - and track it - to ascertain how consumers are reacting. This can help you take better decisions when it’s time to launch something new, something experimental of your own.

5. Stay Curious!

Don’t fall prey to a winning algorithm – there’s always something more you can do. Here’s a few to engage your senses…

Bottega Veneta’s new digital magazine “Issued By”

Image via WWD

“Your Loss of Senses” by Olafur Eliasson for Louis Vuitton

Image via Architectural Digest

Amrapali’s Museum of Jewellery, Jaipur

Image via CN Traveller

Gucci’s $12 sneakers

Image via Fizzy Mag

LotaIndia’s first Indian CGI influencer @rajivnotrajeev

Image via LotaIndia

  1. Don’t be afraid of Tech – even if you’re a small brand, there must be some engagement you can try. I personally loved Mumbai Gallery Weekend’s filter when it released!

  2. Try to engage the audience’s senses – Aural Branding is being recognized as a MAJOR trend. Can you collaborate with a musician to create a track for your brand? That’s one idea in the bag.

  3. Have fun with it – as soon as you truly understand your brand’s persona, creating content will become easier, trust me. It’ll become second nature.

How will you build your brand’s universe?

I would love to hear your thoughts and questions, if any! I’m at @trishitakd on IG.

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