I never quite appreciated podcasts. I did a few podcasts and had people say they really wanted to come work for SY, felt more comfortable with us, and that our values spoke to who they were. They’d heard me on the podcast and decided we share values. People can judge your character in a more natural setting when you share yourself. Attracting great talent is easier by doing events and interviews that project your personality and values. Especially important with people working from home, it’s good to have a tangible connection.

As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Andrew Witkin.

Andrew has always had a passion for business and branding. He founded StickerYou in 2008 after an inspiring trip to California where he noticed the important role that stickers played in LA life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After working for big companies, enjoying being entrepreneurial within them, and acting on what you thought were good strategies to build a business, you get your own idea for something the world would embrace. Some entrepreneurs get impatient not seeing certain ideas unfold in a larger company and think it’s important to pursue this idea.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As we entered the digital era from the print media era in the early days of StickerYou, we had many brides ordering party favors and wine labels. We thought we wanted to tell brides more about SY, and went to a bridal magazine with a circulation of between 2 and 5 million. We ran a really nice ad with an insert containing a coupon code. The results were abysmal. Our worst uptake in promo code usage — maybe six brides used it. You can do beautiful ads in traditional media, but I’m not sure that many people buy magazines anymore. We find digital to be quite successful, but traditional media did not perform well. Working with bride bloggers got far more clicks.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We just seem to matter a lot to our customers in terms of what they order from us. Intangible concepts like cloud computing are hard to get a handle around, but with all these physical products such magnets and really cool holographic stickers, you hear stories about how our products really help our customers. Decals make your office a unique place, labels help a new item sell, and so on. We feel like the custom product we’re making really matters. And it matters for our business to see how our work resonates. Tangible things have a more meaningful importance.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We just launched product visualizations where customers can see samples in front of more options than solely against a white background. What’s really cool now is they can press a visualization button within the editor to see the product in someone’s hand, see decals on a wall, or a tattoo on someone’s arm, and get a greater sense of how it will actually look. We consider it a good step toward augmented reality.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

On the brand level, it has to do with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — on the lower levels, what is the immediate need of a person, the fundamental, daily necessities to get by? Product advertising is selling people something more fundamental to their immediate needs. If someone needs stickers, then advertising speaks to those needs, but it’s a one-and-done interaction. If a person really wants to feel unique, we can run a brand ad about expressing yourself. A brand ad needs to work on that ongoing, pulsing purpose, the need to express yourself higher up on the pyramid. These two forms of marketing complement each other. Discover early on whether you need a pure-play product or a brand ad.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

We say to ourselves, people don’t always know what they need. If you can run brand ads that speak to a high purpose, it will resonate with people on an emotionally truer level than the immediate need to solve a problem. If you want to attract people very early on to your brand, our brand ads go a long way to setting an emotional connection between what you stand for and what makes other people tick. It gives them comfort over time that the brand they work with stands for something they relate to. You forge a natural — as opposed to a transactional — relationship.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

  1. I never quite appreciated podcasts. I did a few podcasts and had people say they really wanted to come work for SY, felt more comfortable with us, and that our values spoke to who they were. They’d heard me on the podcast and decided we share values. People can judge your character in a more natural setting when you share yourself. Attracting great talent is easier by doing events and interviews that project your personality and values. Especially important with people working from home, it’s good to have a tangible connection.
  2. It’s important that everyone in the company understands the good and bad in the customer experience. If your staff understands the essence of the company, they do a great job expressing what your company stands for. So much of the company is shaped by your customer experiences. The more we share the full picture of what our company does well and poorly, the more we can use those insights as guideposts of what to improve. That makes a much better company that customers would trust, where people see you celebrating the things you do well and try in earnest to improve what you haven’t done well.
  3. You may not hire everyone that’s passionate, but you, as a brand overall, should be passionate about what you’re doing. We try not to just hire a smart person who is unemotional and difficult to get to know. It’s harder to believe that person. Passionate people are authentic whether positive or negative, and when they’re expressing themselves, it’s infectious. It resonates for your brand and helps attract people. Passion starts at the top and is important to getting people to trust you.
  4. Put your money where your mouth is! We’re investing a lot of money into creating a state-of-the-art facility to make our stickers, and our headquarters is designed to encourage cooperation. Lots of comfort, color, and stimulation. As the world goes virtual, even if people only come once a week or once a month, we want magic to happen when people have meetings and come to work. We want people to cherish that time. With so many companies going virtual, we think having something physical where people can congregate and create great work will make people want to stick with us as a company. Show that your headquarters, small or large, mean something, and create a great environment for your staff.
  5. Many of the best ideas for our marketing showcases come from our customers and how they use our platform to create great custom products. It’s the truest sense of authenticity: showing people what customers have done. Even if the products are a little raw, that’s truer to people’s experience. We love showcasing our customers’ successes in our marketing.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Apple has been the gold standard because much of their marketing and the essence of the company has been about making the product unbelievable and showcasing the cool way people experience it. They show that all the fine details make them excited about their products, and how that creates a celebratory environment for their customers. They’ve set a high bar that a lot of companies try to reach, and it was great to see them use stickers on their products in their marketing.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

A promising sign is when you’ve got people talking about you and sharing your content without being paid; and where people advocate for you and share their experience with you. If you get enough of that, you’re going to be a pretty successful company.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Social media helps crowdsource, especially as younger people do their searches, canvassing their friends. You want advocates, because if they like and share your brand, that can be really authentic; we try to create great content for social outlets.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Get a lot of sleep, stretch in the morning, eat healthy foods, and surround yourself with people you like and who like you. People who will tell you how you’re doing, personally and professionally. People have go-go-go business plans and will let five to seven years go by without a way out. You want to keep healthy and give back to society, which is very fulfilling and makes some of your business issues seem trivial. Even if it’s not successful, you’ll be healthier. Healthy stress is good, so give yourself challenges and work hard, but balance that with what will keep you invested long-term.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could enact any change, it’d be promoting better diets and eating right on a global scale. Health, both mental and physical, relies much more than we think on having the right diet and sleep! And that starts with making sure everyone has fair and easy access to food, and to the right food. That’s something that could really do a lot of good in the world — just eating right!

But that doesn’t have a lot to do with StickerYou or what we can provide. Here’s a quick story: I used to ride to work on the subway, and I’d ask people “if you could have one free sticker right now, what would it be?” I found a lot of amazing answers — and I realized how everyone loves stickers on some level. If we could get everyone in the world to wake up one day with their own personalized sticker, it would spread a lot of joy.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Every ten years I try to watch Lord of the Rings to hear Gandalf’s quote, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” What matters is what you do on the journey, not the destination. How do you conduct yourself on your journey?

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’m reading Andre Agassi’s book “Open,” and have been very impressed with it. I’d also love to meet Brad Pitt or Jeff Bezos.

How can our readers follow you on social media?



But the best way to stay updated is through the website — https://www.stickeryou.com/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Andrew Witkin Of StickerYou: Five Things You Need To Build A Trusted And Beloved Brand was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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