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An Alternative to Building a Great Brand

This post was originally shared in our email newsletter on April 29, 2024.

Like many teenagers, my middle and high school years were marked with repeated attempts to persuade my parents to subsidize my adoption of the latest fashion trend. (Where I grew up in France, the apparel brand Quiksilver was the gold standard for twelve year-old boys for many years, which is pretty funny to reflect on now.)

Upon seeing the outlandish price tags, I distinctly remember my father repeatedly bemoaning, "it's all branding."

My father held a lot of contradictions in his thoughts on consumerism and capitalism, but his dismissive comments taught me early on to seek where value was being added to the price of goods. There was also an implicit suggestion that we should focus our attention on the functional attributes of the goods (the quality of materials used, etc.) rather than the marketing content that goes with it.

Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate some brands for whom I have developed a sense of trust. Ultimately, every company has a brand, whether or not they choose to invest in it. As Merriam-Webster puts it, a company is an “association of persons carrying on a commercial enterprise” whereas a brand is an “identity conceived of as something to be marketed or promoted.”

In other words, the company is where everything happens—and the brand is its outward appearance.

When we first started Keap, I confused what it meant to “build a brand” and to “build a company.” This is a common mix-up. A couple years into the project, our point of view shifted.

It’s meaningful to have a nice looking façade, but I see building a façade without a functioning home behind it as an empty endeavor. And yet with the globalization of supply chains over the past few decades, most of the companies we buy from are in fact mere façades . One could argue that the problematic success of e-commerce giants like Temu is removing the veneer, and showing us the raw reality of what we’ve been getting served (with the addition of even more blatantly manipulative and addictive inducement features ).

Nowadays, many teenagers aspire to be a brand themselves or feel socially pressured to do so. It’s a tragic state of affairs that we would be motivated to work on curating an external perception of ourselves rather than growing our whole selves—and it is fully a reflection of our current social media era.

I do believe we are nearing the end of that era —especially for young people . As we enter the next stage, I am hopeful we’ll see a new generation of entrepreneurs emerge, aspiring to build great companies: whole companies that serve a purpose, and align their internal culture with their external marketing.

What are some great companies, large or small, that you have learned to love? Just send me a short reply to this email. I'd love to hear from you.

Have a great week!

— Harry from Keap, Steward-Owner

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