● Companies that don’t invest in branding won’t exist in 5 years.
● Tomorrow’s spenders come back again to companies driven by purpose, not by profit.
● Advocacy marketing is quickly becoming the most impactful part of a brand strategy.
● Focus on building a tribe of like-minded individuals to be successful.
Jenny Sidorova Career Journey
Jenny has a wide-ranging background in luxury retail, mass distribution, and most recently, skincare. Her path has taken her from different cities to different industries. After working as a Customer Relations and Sales Representative for Louis Vuitton, she decided to enroll in the esteemed Institut Français de la Mode, where she ended up graduating with a Masters in Management of Fashion and Design.
Following this, she worked as Franchise Sales Manager and Assistant Project Manager of International Development at Estime before becoming Manager, Product, and Design at Elie Tahari.
In 2012, Jenny moved to New York to work again at Louis Vuitton, this time as their Digital Marketing Manager. She left in 2014 to join Walmart for three years, first as Category Marketing Manager for their apparel and jewelry department, before becoming a Content Marketing Manager.
In 2017, she joined L’Oréal to become their Global Content Strategy Director at the Active Cosmetics Division in the Global headquarters in Paris.
The importance of investing in branding
When I think about my experience, I feel like I’m currently at a tipping point in my career. People starting in content marketing today would follow a very different trajectory than mine. When I began, there were no true experts but nowadays, content marketing is massive.
Even though my niche is content marketing and strategy, I feel like the word content has become a little dirt in recent years. It’s sort of everybody and nobody’s job.
Instead, I like to refer to it as brand building expertise. After all, that’s the main purpose. It was a real “Aha!” moment when I understood that content strategy is just the brand marketing strategy.
Branding is the key to success. Companies that don’t invest in branding won’t exist in 5 years’ time. And what I mean by branding here is good old-fashioned storytelling. That thing makes customers feel when it comes to a brand!
Despite this, I find that companies are still investing in branding last. They don’t appreciate the importance of building a strong, well-known (and much-loved) brand. Many companies still think about the marketing budget last (after the product, the production, etc).
When smart companies, think about Marketing at the same time they conceive their company, if not even before. This is thanks to the visual world we have lived in for several years now, and that only continues to accelerate (thanks Tik Tok!)
My branding expertise has been strongly shaped by the evolution of digital over the last couple of decades. Despite the uptake in digital-first strategies and channels, I rarely think about “offline” or “online”.
If a brand is doing its job right, the customers are thinking in terms of messages and stories, not channels. You need to take a holistic, cross-channel approach to content and branding to see the best results.
2 things that make a great brand
The best brands I know have 2 things in common:
1. Have a purpose
What does your company stand for? This has become really important over the last couple of years especially. I’m obsessed with Generation Z because if you can market to the new generation, you can capture the older generations too.
To a certain extent, people don’t care what you sell anymore. You could compromise on product quality (not saying that you should!) if your brand stands for something strong.
You need to be connected to people’s values and beliefs. Tomorrow’s spenders think about these things and they’ll come back again to companies driven by purpose, not by profit.
2. Build Trust
You can compromise on product quality if you stand for something strong (again, not saying that you should!), but at some point, you’ll need to deliver. This goes far beyond just producing reputable products.
Building trust these days means that your brand operates in a way consumers appreciate. You’ll quickly lose trust if clients find out you use sweatshops to produce your products or your carbon emissions are astronomical. If modern consumers are parting their hard-earned cash with you, they want to ensure that the way you operate doesn’t contradict their values and beliefs.
Trust is incredibly important for advocacy. I believe that advocacy marketing is the only marketing companies should invest in. How do you get people talking about you and referring you to their friends and peers? If every customer refers you to even one of their friends, soon you’ll attain a massive following.
Transparency as the key to demonstrating purpose
Transparency is great to prove that you’re doing the right things. But to communicate your purpose and trustworthiness on a larger scale, invest in marketing and branding from the very beginning.
It’s one thing to do the right activity and another to communicate this effectively to your customers.
3 steps to build a purpose-driven and trustworthy brand
There are 3 crucial elements you can’t ignore:
1. Leadership belief and buy-in
Build purpose and trust from the top down. Executive buy-in is the most important step. Without it, you’ll struggle to make long-lasting changes within your company or feel like you’re constantly pulling in one direction while those in charge are pulling in the opposite one.
It’s really hard. Both Louis Vuitton and L’Oréal are incredibly traditional, product-focused businesses, so it can be difficult to fundamentally shift their organizational values and suddenly make them purpose-driven. The funny thing is both companies go to great lengths to take purpose-driven actions, but you would not know by their communication strategies.
Sometimes, you’ll work for companies where such a radical identity shift is virtually impossible. But it’s still worth working towards creating a fresh brand image-driven around trustworthiness and purpose.
2. Play the long game
People are often laser-focused on immediate return on investment (ROI) and miss the longer-term gains. Branding is not a short-term bet. You need to get people to understand that advocacy, brand image, and content strategy are as important as what you are selling. These areas require significant long-term investment.
I get slightly frustrated when people expect an immediate ROI from content or branding efforts. Patience is a virtue – don’t ditch strategies if you are not seeing any results short term.
If you do, you’ll only end up confusing your consumers even more. Pick a strategy you truly believe in five years down the line and stick with it. A concrete example here is social platforms. Don’t invest to be poorly present on 5 social channels, get it right on 2! That’s just one example.
3. Set up the right structure and team
Very often, those in charge of product development are also in charge of these products’ marketing communications. The risk is ending up with something too product/inward-focused. Marketing a product’s features is fine, but marketing a product within a brand’s overarching image is always far stronger and effective.
In every team, you always need someone who thinks about the entire brand experience. Ensure having a consistent, clear message in every single thing you do.
I believe in using something called the “Tribes methodology”. The strategy stipulates that people from your tribe (those who share a similar belief system and background), will eventually connect with your brand because you both share the same values.
There are a few steps to put this methodology into practice. First, consider the brand as a person. What is its personality? What are its values? Once you have these things figured out, use tools (like social listening) to find people who share similar values and personalities aligned with your brand.
Keep tabs on these types of people going forward. Make sure you know what sort of things they’re interested in, their likes, and dislikes. If you see any large-scale shifts in their behaviors according to new trends, apply that in the brand too.
This is not something new or something I can take credit for creating. The proof is that many great brands like Red Bull or Patagonia to name just a few already apply this strategy. The question is how to adapt it to your organization as a one size fits all model would never be effective.
Working in tandem
Product, marketing, and engineering all need to work together for a true impact. This is something developing over the past few years. I was shocked how late in the game marketing was taken into account.
I think that marketing should be involved right from the very beginning of product ideation. Just as we need to think about our consumers holistically, we need to think about products too.
What purpose does this product serve? How does it fit into our overall brand vision? How does it communicate our purpose? What does it make consumers think of our brand?
If the answers are unclear or they contradict our brand identity, these products probably shouldn’t be developed.
It’s a nightmare trying to market something that contravenes your brand identity. It’s virtually impossible. For that reason, the engineering, product, and marketing teams have to work in tandem with each other. If not, you’ll all be pulling in different directions.
I found this to be true in L’Oréal. Marketing was too often just a bolt-on, an afterthought, and that was making everything so much harder.
Glossier as an inspiration
I have a lot of respect for Emily Weiss, the CEO of Glossier. They launched right at the time when Instagram was gaining in popularity with the launch of Instagram Stories (so organic at the time) and put user-generated content at the heart of their brand story.
The company developed hashtags like #ITGTopShelfie where celebrities and “normal” people show you their bathroom shelves and give you beauty routines and tips.
Soon, they had millions of people around the world taking part. They were building something bigger than themselves, a culture where women around the world are all getting together, giving each other tips and tricks. It felt like a true community while the company was in the background.
Instead, it lets users and admirers alike foster this wonderful sense of togetherness. By connecting like-minded people, its tribe suddenly developed out of nowhere. Now, Glossier is valued at over $1 billion, so clearly they did something right!
This shows that marketing can sometimes be slightly confusing. If you told a bunch of old-school business leaders you will get women around the world taking pictures of their bathroom shelves, and as a result, increase the beauty products sales, they would’ve laughed you out the door.
Glossier’s model was copied and certainly might not generate the same success if launched today, but they knew how to capitalize off of Instagram’s user behavior and organic (at the time) Stories product and put UGC at the heart of all their brand and company efforts, and it paid off!
As we are often so headed down in our jobs, we forget to take inspiration from what’s outside of our comfort zone. I want to be the person who reminds people of what’s going on outside.
The way forward
That’s the beauty of my career, I don’t know, and I never know ahead of time, but somehow I always end up exactly where I should be. Today, I’m still taking some time with my daughter who was born last October. My gut tells me that I might be heading towards an innovation department in a multinational company with strong values, which include profit but also employee well-being.
For example, I personally am not a huge fan of Tik Tok, but I think it’s super important to understand why it’s so key for brands to know how it works and how to appeal to Tik Tok users (on and off that specific platform). But I might also just end up taking on a smaller company as a Head of Marketing. The beauty of my expertise and career is that I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out.
A brand is so much more than its products. It’s a culture of sorts. And if you can create a strong culture, you can achieve anything.Jenny Sidorova, Global Content Strategy Director at L’Oreal