Our co-founder shares her thoughts on what separates brands from businesses, what it really means to grow a community & whether influencers can be a shortcut to overnight fame.
This month’s edition of Bedroom Business is all about brand building. Sahil and I always jokingly say, when people ask us how we split our roles at MyMuse, that he’s built the business and I’ve built the brand. This is, of course, a crude categorization– in true startup fashion, we both do everything, and one can never really separate the idea of business and brand. One cannot exist without the other. It’s a symbiotic relationship that marks the most successful companies in the world. But are all businesses brands? The answer is definitely no.
Fundamentally, running a business means having your ducks in a row. It’s about making sure your business model is sustainable, profitable, and scalable. It’s a daily practice of structuring and restructuring teams, balancing balance sheets, and making sure the train is running on time. Creating a brand, on the other hand, is far more intangible. When I think of the world’s greatest brands, the giants come to mind– Apple, Nike, Coke. These brands are the first phenomenal businesses that could not exist without exceptional products, clear demand, and a deep understanding of how to cater to consumers globally. But they’ve transcended being businesses, and as brands have fundamentally changed culture, captured people’s imaginations, and embedded themselves into history.
So then, what makes a great brand anyway? To me, it’s first about having a mission or purpose that transcends selling products. For Nike, that purpose is defined as “bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” But Phil Knight quickly realized that every person could be an athlete in their own way, so Nike’s purpose surpassed this definition into one that today touches the lives of millions of people across the globe– regular folks like you and me, not just world-class athletes that inspire.
Once the purpose is established, everything stems from there. It’s an unseen hand that guides your product strategy, your positioning, your consumer engagement. Building a brand means trying to go above and beyond for your user, whenever you possibly can. It doesn’t necessarily mean having massive budgets– It’s the simple, small things that touch people’s lives in a real way. Early on at MyMuse, we realized that our mission was to help people feel good about themselves, by making intimacy easy, approachable, and fun for them. This goes beyond products, because for so many people, they’ve never had the right resources or dialogues in their lives to help them understand that sex, pleasure, and their bodies aren’t something to be ashamed of.
So we thought the best way we could help people (whether or not they were our consumers), was through creating relatable and reliable content that talked honestly about sex and intimacy. Before we ever launched our products, we started a newsletter. At first, it felt like we were talking to thin air, but slowly, people started subscribing and sending it to their friends. The inklings of a community began to form. It began simply– once a month, I would write a newsletter just like this. People would send in questions and feedback, and often said that these mini articles were eye-opening. From email, we then looked to Instagram, and then YouTube. Today we even have a home for all our original content. As our team has grown, the content remains something we invest heavily in. It’s allowed us to connect with our users in a way that feels real and impactful.
For every brand, connecting with their user looks different. It could mean hosting offline meet-ups, creating a collectible item, or starting a Reddit chatroom. But in today’s digitally connected, hyper-social world, people often mistake likes and views for real connection. It’s the influencer syndrome. Don’t get me wrong– I love influencers, and when leveraged correctly, brands working with creators can garner phenomenal results. The problem comes when you try to use them as a shortcut to building a real community. Many small brands when starting out put all their marketing budgets behind these ‘big collaborations’, paying ridiculous sums of money for single posts that just mention their brand. But what’s going to happen in 24 hours after that post? The impact vanishes into the void of social media.
When we started MyMuse, we were bootstrapped, and also clear that we couldn’t just piggyback off of people who had built their own communities over many years. Instead, we looked at creators who were small and starting out, just like we were. We worked with nano and micro influencers who had small but engaged audiences, and were actually excited to create content with us. Our followers didn’t grow overnight, like some of the other D2C brands that started at the same time as us. Instead, we decided to be patient and grow our community bit by bit– a sustainable approach that has proved to be more fruitful in the long run.
In a nutshell, there is no shortcut to building a successful brand. It’s a never-ending pursuit, a constant evolution, and a perpetual feedback loop between brand and consumer. In this short article, there are dozens more aspects of brand building I haven’t covered– everything from customer delight, to product experience, to design and language. There are hundreds of moving parts, and unfortunately no single right method to building a great brand. For anyone aspiring to build a brand themselves one day, the most important advice I’d give is this: First, find your purpose, always stay true to that, and always put your consumer first.
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