Five minutes with Travis Stratford
Managing partner and co-founder at integrated brand agency Case, Travis Stratford has a portfolio in user-centric brand experiences for beauty, lifestyle and wellness brands. He discusses design and storytelling for social-first brands, while giving guidance on maintaining relevance in the digital age
How do you create a powerful user-centric brand?
Set the highest possible goal for strategic insight. Think about the choices consumers have in the marketplace and the distinctive assets of your brand; the problems it is best equipped to solve. Ask yourself what your target consumers want the most, what are your competitors having the hardest time delivering, what can your brand most credibly deliver to the target.
At the same time, don’t rely entirely on what consumers say they want most. Look at their behaviour, and then ask yourself why. Dig deeply into the reasons behind their behaviour and uncover important wants that they never even realised they had. There are tools to help you achieve that. Stay ahead of the marketplace and the competition.
What is the best way to tell a brand story?
The best social content is more than storytelling, it’s actually ‘story-doing.’ People use social to activate their lives. To make your brand part of your consumer’s experience, it must give them something new to do. Provoke a new pursuit, give them a tool for sharing, introduce them to a new community, anything that transforms a message into an experience means that you’re moving from telling to doing. It builds stronger relationships between the brand and the audience itself.
What is the best way to engage an audience?
Use empathy. At Case, we found that addressing consumers’ wants and desires with a touch of prestige branding can elevate any brand, but the transparency afforded by social provides an opportunity to take this to the level of brand empathy. The real-time dialogue that exists between the consumer and the brand means the latter can reveal more about itself: vision, culture, beliefs, purpose. And vulnerabilities as well – willingness to learn, for instance. Vulnerable traits can help humanise brands and allow consumers to empathise with them. And empathy leads to the strongest, most enduring bonds.
How important is it do ‘adapt or die’ in the digital age? How can brands thrive in this context?
Social platforms give brands the ability to learn from their consumers. And, when we turn highly targeted users into advocates, they become our best salespeople. But there are risks that can hurt the brand reputation, and they can hurt the people behind the brand as well.
There are ways to avoid them. First, get smart and don’t fly blind. Make sure you know how social platforms work and use them to your advantage. Then, get organised. Be prepared with strategies to handle a crisis, and hire a social agency you can trust.
Last, get involved. Moderate all social forums and make sure employees comply with policies. Make the most of targeting techniques so that you reach the right people on the right platform. The best social agencies help their clients do all these things, to embed their brands in the hearts and minds of the people who will love them the most. It’s well worth the risk.
What has changed in your profession in the past 10 years?
Obvious business efficiencies come from digital technology. Our business processes are faster, better and cheaper through knowledge-sharing platforms, from the most high tier ones like Asana to Google Docs. The consumers we target with our partner brands also see the effect of speed in their lives. For them, this translates into new expectations and, sometimes, impatience. We must consider this every time we create content and leverage social platforms to create consumer dialogues with the brand. Even dialogue has changed so much in the past few years.
Within that context is the rise of influencer-led brands. Influencers can have an impact on the performance of a brand at levels that have never been measured before. That’s why many new products today start with the vision of an influencer – one who already has a point of view, a loyal community, and access to resources.
Last, all of these factors lower the barrier for entry and have led to the rise of startups. This results in a social landscape that is at once richer, more diverse and crowded with over-choice. It’s great to see new products reaching 'bulls-eye consumers’ almost overnight, but it’s also challenging to see start-up brands lose focus and fizzle. The social-first brand survivors have an authentic point of view, they keep being highly focused on their values.