Expert Advice

Branding Q&A with Kristen Knape of David & Goliath

October 2, 2020
4 min read

How do you effectively tell your brand’s story? That’s one of the big questions that gets Kristen Knape, associate head of strategy and director of philanthropy at David&Goliath, out of bed every morning.

Below, Knape reflects on the experience and shares additional advice on why focus and purpose might be the foundation of any great brand.

You say that your forte is helping a business “create focus.” What’s your advice for a small business owner who might not be sure what to focus on yet?

It’s always remembering why you got into it in the first place. Typically, when I work with brands, it’s about remembering the passion behind why they exist and bringing that back up to the surface. For new companies, it’s about not getting distracted by what you think people want. It’s amazing how often like-minded values transcend yourself and embed in other people. The focus needs to be on passion.

That was a big piece of advice in your Hello Alice AMA.

Yes! One person had an ice cream sweetened with dates. We went back and forth about how that’s an amazing story by itself. That can be the story. Another person was talking about these natural supplements that were created over decades in Eastern medicine. They were wondering if they should dim their light and focus on more Western philosophy. Why? Your story is so fascinating! The purpose is more about their own truth, and thankfully right now, purpose is so popular.

Did you notice any other themes?

It seemed like a lot of people were interested in two things. One was redirecting how they should market their business amid COVID. The second thing I heard was how should I be speaking to people in this climate? Should I tippy toe or lean into it? I’m referring to everything from women’s rights to political conversations. In some ways, it’s difficult to choose. We could really have a long conversation about that.

I’m sure the answer depends on the brand.

It depends on the brand yes, but what’s probably more important is who your audience is. There was this woman I spoke with who had an energy drink. She thought she was really different because it’s such a masculine industry, and she was concerned about leaning into the women’s rights discussion. Personally, I would go all in. Because of the truth of who you are — you are creating a product for women — why wouldn’t you talk about women having a voice? She had every right to be in that space. But you have to look at both sides. You have to ask who cares and so what? Who cares who you are talking to? You have to look at both.

Many business owners assume they know their customer. What are some strategies you recommend for testing those assumptions?

I’m a big believer in not just looking at your direct audience but also looking at culturally what is happening in your life. A lot of brands get into trouble talking to themselves when they’re talking to the consumers.

For example, I work on a CPG, and I saw their segmentation study. It was all about how customers ate their food. Was it on the go? For family time? That type of thinking. But nobody is picking up your food thinking, I am this product. It’s not like people walk around saying, ‘I’m a chicken person!’ They’re way more complicated than that and don’t define themself in those ways. So we took a step back and developed profile work. We basically created a profile around that in relation to what matters. We talk to them as a health-conscious person and describe why that matters and what else matters. It’s about that larger context.

With the pandemic, has anything fundamentally changed about how companies should position their brands?

We’ve been doing a lot of exploring at our agency. It’s understanding how people’s need states are changing. You have to look at your consumers. People are not as social as they once were. If you’re a brand focused on the social dynamic, how does that change? You might need to reposition yourself as a household product or service. This isn’t ending anytime soon. But one thing we are trying to promote is don’t abandon your story because of this crisis. You came into the market with a reason for being here the first place. Try to stay true to that original purpose.

Many brands have social causes like eco-consciousness as part of their core identity. From a branding perspective, are those companies better served by preaching to the choir, or should they use it as a way to change hearts and minds?

I think typically you start with your base that is most likely to purchase you. At the end of the day, someone who doesn’t care about global warming — you’re not going to convince them. That’s why I think Method is such an interesting brand. They are better for the environment, and they have a beautiful aesthetic. You might pick up the Method just because it looks good in your kitchen versus just leaning all in.

Basically, your overarching advice is to remember your passion and your purpose.

It’s really true, and it sounds so simple! You’d be surprised how many brands abandon that. Even big brands get bogged down with meeting the numbers and supply chain. That’s why we want to make sure brands are living their purpose on the inside. It’s so important to get people motivated. Employees who understand the purpose of the brand are more loyal, engaged, and excited to come into the work.

Do you have any other insights to share from your experience with the Hello Alice community?

I mentioned this, but I was really impressed with the true concern for what’s happening in society and how each company can help it authentically. The flip side is that I was always hearing comments like, ‘Will I rub people wrong?’ I feel that with big brands, too. It was cool to see these conversations happening at these very scrappy, just-starting-out businesses that care about their societal impact. That inspires me.

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