Every Business Has an Origin Story: A Lesson in Branding

Every Business Has an Origin Story: A Lesson in Branding

I went through it myself at a time before Sub Rosa was what it is today. Think about it: these are the building blocks of every thriving community. We had been involved in a similar conversation not too long before with Absolut Vodka, whose management felt the company had missed out on the “premium vodka boom.” Apparently this premium boom was a phenomenon in a number of sectors. Absolut, like Levi’s, had stuck to its price point and dropped to a midtier status, losing market share to the new entrants. Our job was to make sure that once they had people’s attention, there would be have something to act upon and a real reason to care about the brand. But somehow the company had lost its grip. Levi’s had begun making jeans in 1853. We wanted to find people who were embodying that spirit of progress and hard work and pull them into a new conversation, one that celebrated their sense of craft, of making things, of the integrity that comes from doing that kind of work well. After a few weeks of development, we had created a program we called Levi’s Workshops and sent it off to Erik and his team. We knew we were going into the unknown, like the gold panners of the nineteenth century, and similarly we knew something about what we’d find but not everything.

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“We’ve lost our way.”

I’ve heard this from clients countless times. And it’s no wonder people are saying this: today’s businesses have to evolve very quickly because employees rarely stay in one job for their whole careers and technology is growing so fast that it’s a constant battle to keep up with the next new thing. The stress can be overwhelming. I went through it myself at a time before Sub Rosa was what it is today.

Often the best way we inspire our clients for the future is when we connect them to the most indigenous part of themselves, to understanding why they were founded and why they are still here.

We help them reconnect by exploring their:

Origin story: How it all began.

Language: Your shared lexicon.

Traditions: How you engage your community and acknowledge milestones.

Purpose: Your reason for being.

Think about it: these are the building blocks of every thriving community. Whether in a tribe, a religion, or a corporation, these four building blocks are what provide meaning and create the connective tissue that forms a lasting foundation from which to grow.

A Tradition In Denim

At a meeting with a Levi’s executive, he told us that the company had missed a major opportunity by not participating in the “premium denim boom,” and it was now suffering both reputational and financial challenges. The “premium denim boom” had occurred when a number of high-fashion brands entered the market and began selling $200-plus pairs of jeans. During that time, Levi’s had maintained its traditional price point of around $39, and as a result, its jeans had acquired a low-end reputation and were considered less chic and no longer fashionable. The company was experiencing a significant sales slump.

We had been involved in a similar conversation not too long before with Absolut Vodka, whose management felt the company had missed out on the “premium vodka boom.” Apparently this premium boom was a phenomenon in a number of sectors. In the 1980s, Absolut was a top-shelf vodka. But in the 1990s, competitive vodka brands such as Grey Goose and Ketel One came onto the market with a more premium-priced product.

Absolut, like Levi’s, had stuck to its price point and dropped to a midtier status, losing market share to the new entrants. Ultimately Absolut found a way out of this by creating its own specialty, limited-edition lines, such as Absolut Brooklyn, created in partnership with Spike Lee, and premium-crafted versions such as Absolut Elyx, which was sourced and distilled in a manner designed to compete with other premium vodkas.

Levi’s needed a strategy to help it overcome a similar challenge. They had hired Wieden + Kennedy, a wellknown and successful advertising agency, to help rejuvenate the brand. Their campaign, which would later be known as “Go forth,” was being shot by a famous fashion photographer, and it would draw on inspirational imagery and language from well-known American authors such as Walt Whitman and Jack Kerouac. It would depict a new era of American nostalgia, and it was sure to capture attention. Levi’s wanted our help in turning that attention into action.

Our job was to make sure that once they had people’s attention, there would be have something to act upon and a real reason to care about the brand. This is the sort of integrated, complex challenge we love to solve, and we first began by focusing on the brand as we knew it. The company made denim and sold jeans (primarily) at a modest price point. They had…

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