cottage branding-purpose

Let’s take the next step in our branding journey together. No, no, no don’t even try to start thinking about logos, names, or even product yet. My word, we are hasty impatient creatures, aren’t we? Well, I know I am. I rushed into all those fun, fancy parts of branding wayyyy too quickly when I first got started. I paid the price when I looked back with something far below enthusiasm on my beginning stages of branding.

We’ve already explored the importance of authenticity, which requires a great deal of self-knowledge and awareness. The next step to extend outward from the core of authenticity is purpose (though you could probably switch those around if you wanted to).

Thomas Merton wrote this, and there is no way I could say it better:

If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.

Let’s not talk for a moment…let’s allow that to saturate our brains.

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I might paraphrase Merton’s words like this:

If you want to identify my small maker business, ask me not what my style is, or what materials I like to use, or how my logo looks, but ask me what I am making for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from developing fully the purpose I want my business to serve.

All the outward, visible, physical aspects of branding and marketing should extend from this central point. Allow me to give you a non-maker-related example.

I think we can all agree that one of the most recognizable, respected, and successful brands out there is Disney. Well, Disney’s purpose statement isn’t to “make the best animated films”, it is not to “be beloved by kids and adults alike”, it isn’t even something lofty and dreamy like “inspiring imaginations”. It is simply to “make people happy”. You can see this unattainable purpose in everything they do, and it drives them to excellence and a cohesive brand that we all know and many of us love and even trust.

How can you define this kind of driving, cohesive purpose as a way of establishing your brand?

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I reached out to one of the best makers out there, Teresa of Debrosse (find her on Instagram here) to find out her thoughts on this question. Teresa’s branding is at once urban, cozy, and full of hope and joy. Her style is evident at every turn, yet it is her purpose that really drives those branding decisions. I asked Teresa, “How has having a clearly defined purpose driven your brand? What has helped you define your brands purpose?” Here is what she had to say:

My small business started the moment I stepped into a post-earthquake shelter in a quiet corner of Haiti, filled with 67 orphaned children. Their resilience was as evident as their smiles were contagious, but their needs were greater still. As a sustainable solution, I started a handmade knitwear brand named after one of my favorite little ones, DeBrosse. 15 percent of all sales are set aside to help fulfill basic needs like medicine, formula, and school supplies at our two partner orphanages.

It never really was about building a brand, but simply learning a story and then designing a way to write us all into it. Every decision then maps back to the children. Will this collaboration honor them? Will this Instagram post be a fair representation? Is this new collection of scarves made with excellence that I feel comfortable attaching their name to it?

It also defines my biggest decisions too, as the business grows and is ready to expand. This year, as a more proactive approach to orphan care, we are investing in mothers. The lack of job opportunity forces many Haitian women to leave their children as orphans. With a bit of nervous idealism we asked, “What if we taught these mamas how to crochet, and offered them jobs?” We kicked this venture off in August, and had the privilege of hiring Kathia DeBrosse, the mother of little DeBrosse himself.

As time passes, the story develops but the focus remains the same. I want to love people well with what I have been given, and tell the stories of those who often go unnoticed. Today, not only does your purchase still support the very children that the shop was inspired by, but now it provides a job, stability, and dignity to Kathia, a woman who has been wildly underestimated for far too long.

Re-read it, and re-read it again. Take your time, I will wait.

This is what I mean when I talk about purpose driving branding decisions. Each Instagram post, finished product, and business decision stems from Teresa’s core purpose.

Teresa is an amazing example of both purpose and branding to all of us, and I appreciate her contributions more than she knows.  Her story does not have to parallel ours; admiring what Teresa is doing does not mean that we all have to pursue a dream of growing micro-economics in third world countries. Explore and establish your own purpose, grow it from that core of self-knowledge and authenticity!

To help you do this, I encourage you to put some thought into the following questions (again, I have provided my answers not as a way of giving you a pattern to follow, but just to provide you with an exemplar of the kind of thinking I’ve done on the topic):

What do I want my small business to accomplish for both me and my customers?

In other words: why on earth would I want to start a handmade business? For Teresa, it’s all about providing for the needs of orphaned children of Haiti. For Naturally Nora Crochet, the answer is all about love and simplicity. I have a deep passion for living simply and slowly and teaching my family to do the same. Establishing my business has allowed me the chance to live that out in a very concrete way, stepping out of a full time career to pursue a maker business and be with my family. Expressing love with handmade crochet is also a huge part of my purpose. Making and giving handmade is like writing a poem for someone-it is deeply personal and emotive.  This purpose extends beyond just my own little tribe.  I often pray through the making process, putting the words of my prayers for the person for whom I am creating into each stitch, even if I don’t know who it is for yet. The core of my business is pattern writing. Writing patterns rather than selling finished products allows me to focus more time on family. It also provides my customers with a chance to make their own slow, simple moments, rooted in love for those they create for. I want my customers to pick up a pattern and know that they can accomplish it. I want it to feel peaceful, simple, and provide a moment to slow down and create something lovely, for themselves or a loved one. Naturally Nora Crochet’s purpose statement is “To encourage and love others and to model simplicity through crochet.”

In what concrete ways can I achieve this purpose?

This is a question we will explore in detail over the next weeks, but is worth answering in a more general way first. I accomplish this purpose through designing and writing patterns, writing here on the blog, and images and reflections on social media. Each pattern I design, blog post I draft, or photo I post grows from the roots of the above purpose statement. I must ask myself: is this going to encourage? is this going to show love? is this going to model simplicity? does this reflect the excellence necessary to draw people into the cozy little Naturally Nora Crochet family?

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If I can answer these questions with a big, hearty “YES!”, I share it. Simpler said than done, I know. Now, the less intuitive and more visible aspects of branding come into play. There are many different “looks” that can accomplish a “yes” to my above questions. How do you decide which is right for your small business? Let’s talk more about that topic next time, I think we’ve got plenty to think about for today!

Visit the first post in the series, focusing on authenticityKeep in touch for the next four topics, coming to you throughout October, on Focus, Logo, Design, Images, EDIT: AND Packaging, including contributions from more incredible makers (no spoilers!)

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6 comments on “cottage branding-purpose

  1. This is a world of information,I never had a clue about. After really absorbing and I am now writing down,as many thoughts of my style and passions. I understand about how having favorite designers and thinking I will make it,and its not my style and loves.Beautiful but, just not me. I cannot thank you enough.This is a guidance for me,and teaching to reach inside and see who I am about? So awesome.I am going to work on this and keep following up with the rest of the branding.

    1. Oh, my goodness! Thank you so much! I am thrilled that this resonates with you, Sonja! -Nicole

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