Dissecting the DNA of a Stellar Brand
If you’ve been around for a hot minute, then you’ve likely heard me preach that good branding is more than skin-deep. It’s more than a good name. Much more than a pretty logo. Truly standout brands are built from the inside out, infusing every facet of the company’s marketing with a strategic focus on the customer.
I host an intensive, 8-week brand incubator that teaches creative, product-based entrepreneurs how to drill into the very core of their brand to discover what makes their product collection unique, and then we dip that freshly minted core into layer after layer of strategy in every facet of brand development. To borrow a line from Willy Wonka: It’s the branding equivalent of creating an Everlasting Gobstopper.
Many of us think of a “brand” as the visible aesthetics of a product or company. It’s the iceberg that we see protruding above the water level. But if we dive beneath the surface, we can quickly see that the mass of the iceberg sits beneath the water, sight unseen. This large mass is where the real strategy comes in; the piece that peeks above the water is simply the visible indication of all the goodness you can’t initially see.
Brand development- when done right- is strategic, methodical, and deceptively simple. I thought it would be fun to dissect a solidly-built brand to understand how it’s crafted a focused dialogue that has deep resonance with their target customers. One of my favorite examples of branding done right is Juniper Ridge.
Juniper Ridge was founded in 1998 in Oakland, CA. They’re creators of liquid soap, perfumes, incense, smudge sticks, and more. The brand is inspired by the great outdoors, and I lovingly refer to Juniper Ridge as “the ultimate hipster bath + body brand.” They’ve grown an audience of 64,000+ Instagram followers, and the products can be found in hundreds of stores across the U.S.
But why is Juniper Ridge so successful? I think they do five critical things and they do them exceptionally well. Let’s dissect this brand together…
1. Juniper Ridge has niched-down to target a very specific customer.
The company has no interest in being all things to all people. Their demographic is fairly young. Largely male. Adventurers. Campers. Hikers. Lovers of the outdoors. They don’t mind getting dirty, and they likely drink whiskey. They probably like motorcycles and chances are good that they prefer vintage models. It’s a thin slice of the population… and that’s the point. They’re not worried about your grandmother, or Beverly Hills princesses, or teenagers. Juniper Ridge knows precisely who they’re pursuing, and they pursue them with both focus and passion.
If your ideal customer sketch looks something like this >> women, aged 30-60 who need time away to take care of themselves >> then we need to talk. That’s not going to cut it. Though it seems completely counter-intuitive, the trick is to go narrow, not wide. As you narrow your audience, you make yourself more irresistible to that audience. And you need to crawl into the heads of this specific audience to understand what makes them tick on an intimate level.
2. Juniper Ridge has positioned that customer as the hero of their brand.
There’s a key mental pivot that successful brands must make. It goes something like this…
your brand >> the sage mentor
your product >> the tool
your customer >> the hero
Simple, eh? But the results of truly making this mental shift are profound. The aim of every brand is to feature their customer as the hero of the story. Your brand is helping them step into a more fulfilling version of themselves, and your product is the means by which they accomplish that evolution.
So what do Juniper Ridge customers want? A life that’s brimming with adventures and great stories. Look carefully at how they create their products. Analyze the visual and written stories that they craft around those products. Scrutinize the packaging. Peek at how the brand gives back to specific philanthropic efforts. Peep their social media and watch how the stories play out there. Discover how they invite customers to take part in the product creation. Without a doubt, Juniper Ridge customers are the heroes of the brand!
3. Juniper Ridge has created unique, meaningful differentiation around their products.
Bath and body companies are a dime a dozen these days. But Juniper Ridge isn’t your average b+b brand. From their site:
We formulate Wilderness Perfume by distilling and extracting fragrance from wildflowers, plants, bark, moss, mushrooms, and tree trimmings that we harvest on the trail. All Juniper Ridge products are 100% Wildcrafted and produced using old perfume-making techniques including distillation, tincturing, infusion and enfleurage.
A hundred years ago, all perfumes were made this way. Today we’re the only ones who handle every step of the process ourselves, from beginning to end. These formulas vary from year to year and harvest to harvest, based on rainfall, temperature, exact harvesting location, and season. The exact formula depends on what we find in the wind, a conversation with the living, wild ecology.
We’re building a new fragrance grammar of the American West. Every Juniper Ridge product has a harvest number stamped on it. Look up your product’s harvest number on our site to see photos of the plants and our fragrance extraction techniques.
No, seriously. These cats take what can best be described as a 70’s creeper van (the kind you warn your daughters not to park next to in darkened parking lots) and they take the staff on camping trips, where Juniper Ridge collects plant materials and distills that material on-site in the van as they sit around the campfire.
And then they craft richly textured stories of the adventure for each trip, carefully stamping each product with a number that traces it back to that story. So their customers can interact with the site to relive the epic adventure that birthed their products. They go so far as to epoxy the bottom half of their “Field Perfume” bottles and roll them around in the soil of their harvesting locations.
A bit quirky? Absolutely. But this is pretty brilliant stuff.
4. Juniper Ridge has evolved into masterful band of storytellers who create a unique brand experience.
The brand crafts powerful stories, both in words and in pictures. For example, consider this snapshot of how the team winds down the day on one of their harvest trips…
Running the still takes about two hours, at which point we’ve already started the campfire again and are grilling up some burgers. Somebody busts out our old friend, the whiskey flask, and the jokes parade in kind. The plants we gathered today didn’t yield enough oil to make an actual product, but that’s okay with Hall, who’s getting philosophical as he digs into his burger. “I think everyone needs to be part of something bigger than themselves,” he says. “Religion does that for some folks. For me, wilderness is my church, and the trail is my ritual.” Damn straight, Hall. Pass the whiskey.
And images from those trips often show Hall (Juniper Ridge’s founder) crawling along the ground collecting plant material and inhaling it so deeply that you could swear he’s huffing it. Don’t believe me? I respectfully sumit this as Exhibit A:
The tales are rich and vivid. Infused with personality. And the images capture the nuance and vibe of the experience. Note the gritty nature of that photograph. Behold the beanie. Pay attention to the dirty nails and the wild earth behind him. Every drop of this is intentional.
5. Juniper Ridge has raised the bar to present a quality, consistent brand aesthetic.
Finally, Juniper Ridge stays true to the aesthetic they’ve developed for the brand. The logo, fonts, and color palettes are thoughtfully designed and consistently used. Even the tape that seals the shipping boxes is branded, strategically reflecting these key elements and creating a visual tag of sorts.
The packaging design is also true to their core: glass (rather than plastic) is used whenever possible. Much of the secondary packaging is bio-degradable. Until the company scaled up to its current mondo-sized iteration, the bottle tops were embellished with fallen limbs to harken back to their “interacting with nature” core.
And the product photography? Swoon. Crisp. Well-styled. Beautifully executed. The selected props reflect the lifestyle that Juniper Ridge customers are interested in pursuing. You’ll see wood, rocks, moss, candles, campfires, pine sprigs, and hiking boots used as props. Each inclusion is deeply intentional, and no detail is too small. Above all, this story must be conistent in order to build trust. And trust is the currency of the modern economy.
Well played, Juniper Ridge. Well played. May I humbly suggest hopping on their mailing list and perhaps making a purchase for yourself so you can see how the company carries that unique experience all the way through to product delivery?
You, too, can take a page from that same playbook. To be clear: I’m not suggesting that you create the ultimate, outdoor-inspired, hipster bath and body brand. Nor am I advising that you begin distilling essential oils in a van in the woods or start rolling your products around in the dirt. That’s been done (and done well), but you can absolutely put your company through those same paces to discover what makes your products unique, who you truly want to sell to, and how to communicate your brand’s full value in a compelling way to those people. That’s’ what brand development is all about!
Want a sage hand to guide you through that process?
A cheerleading squad to keep you motivated?
A structured system to ensure that you do it right?
That’s what Brick House Branding is all about… and I’d be honored to help you raise the bar on your brand development. Enrollment closes tomorrow for the very last semester of 2017. Reserve your seat now, and we’ll spend September and October working side-by-side to discover how to make your brand matter to the people you want most.
I’d be honored to help! If you have a question about how Brick House Branding works or whether or not it’s right for you, then reach out and say “hello.” My team would be happy to answer your queries and clarify how BHB works.
P.S. All images courtesy of Juniper Ridge, who retains the copyright.