Ep. #846 - Transforming Into A Sustainable Brand
In this episode of Startup Hustle, host Andrew Morgans and Rodrigo Gonzalez stir up a conversation on how to transform your brand into a sustainable one. Our guest is a brand strategist and co-founder of Principium Studio, LLC.
Covered In This Episode
The future is all about sustainability! Whether you’re selling products inside or outside the e-commerce space, businesses are transforming their brands into sustainable ones. Why is this happening? According to the founder of Principium Studio, LLC, 77% of consumers are more inclined to buy products with ethical, environmental, and economic values. If you’re interested to know more about what today’s episode has in store, here are some things you can learn:
- What branding means for businesses
- Things that entrepreneurs should take note of if they want to display their products in-store on big retail brands
- Challenges of brand building
- Importance of brand identity and how to pivot according to your business goals
- Definition of a truly sustainable brand
- How Principium started (05:53)
- What is branding if it’s more than just your logo (07:34)
- How to put your products outside of Amazon and into the shelves of big retail brands (11:02)
- The challenges of building a brand and gaining brand loyalty (17:33)
- Starting points for brand building (21:36)
- Effects of getting your branding wrong and how to resolve it (25:32)
- An analogy of the similarities of consumer targeting between e-commerce and Airbnb (35:32)
- Things to be excited about at Principium (42:33)
- The Climate Pledge Friendly badge for Amazon sellers (50:59)
- What does it truly mean to be a sustainable brand (51:31)
Stay on top of your competition by becoming sustainable. Listen and learn about brand building, brand identity, and sustainability in today’s episode of Startup Hustle.
The ultimate goal of a brand is to become a household name. To have people become part of their cult, or their tribe, or whatever you want to call them.Rodrigo Gonzalez
When you’re in the business of branding, you get to understand a lot of cultures and all that. You know how diverse this world is—sometimes, we like to look at the world from our tiny exposure to what we believe is life. The most interesting thing when you get into branding is how huge and amazing the number of people who believe different things and how they group together.Rodrigo Gonzalez
So when in a sea of blue, just become red. In the sea of red, become blue. Just change and make sure that your change is actually going to be appealable to your target audience. But be different. Be yourself.Rodrigo Gonzalez
This Startup Hustle episode is sponsored by Canva. With its 500,000 free templates, there’s a design for your every need. Whether it’s a sale, a brand update, or a product release post, you don’t have to worry about your designs with Canva.
What’s more? You and your team can collaborate anytime, anywhere through its real-time functionalities. What are you waiting for? Explore what Canva can do for your brand today!
Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Andrew Morgans: What’s up, Hustlers? Welcome back! This is Andrew Morgans, founder of Marknology, here as today’s host of Startup Hustle, covering all things e-commerce, Amazon, and entrepreneurship—really just getting into the stories of the founders and the reasons why they’ve built some of these amazing businesses. Today’s episode of Startup Hustle is sponsored by Canva, where you go to collaborate and create an amazing graphic design for free. Whether it’s a presentation to share an idea, a video to launch your business, or a social post to start a conversation—with Canva, you can do and design anything. Discover the magic of visual communication and how Canva helps you create a lasting impact today. Visit http://canva.com to learn more. I listened to the origin story of Canva on How I Built This podcast. Her story and, I think, her boyfriend that helped her build it is really amazing. They’re really just starting out with yearbooks and turned something into a billion-dollar company, which is Canva. And made it attainable for all of us to be able to design and create. It’s really awesome. So http://canva.com to learn more. I’m really excited about today’s guest. We’re gonna be talking about how to transform into a sustainable brand. He was talking before the show. We’re always getting to know each other a little bit. We’re just talking about. He’s like, I don’t know if there’s that much about myself I feel like sharing. He just wants to talk about e-commerce. But I’m gonna help. Help him get into a little bit of his origin story, Rodrigo Gonzalez, coming out of Clearwater. Welcome to the show. Yes, it’s a pleasure to have you. I used to live in Clearwater myself, so we were just chatting about some of the nuances that is Clearwater. I’m sure it’s an amazing place right now.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Thank you, Andrew. Thank you for having me.
Andrew Morgans: Coming into summer, so you guys, you’re going to have a lot of fun. I just moved there in the last six months. Let’s talk about you—your life. I think we talked about, you know, Latin America being part of your heritage as well. I don’t know all of the origins behind that story, but I’d love to go back as far as you’d like to share. Maybe before you got into e-commerce, but were you in corporate? Did you always know you were going to be an entrepreneur? What was your family life like? Just share with the audience a little bit about yourself so that we can get to the point where you created this brand.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Sure, absolutely, yeah. I always said that my life is very boring. But, you know, maybe somebody will find it interesting. I was born in Mexico.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: I have a diverse family. My ancestry is Lebanese-Mexican-Spanish-French, so I’m just all over the place. My family, I have family all over the world.
Andrew Morgans: Okay.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: I think that I always wanted to create. I’m always on the creating side of things. My background is in business. I studied business. I studied philosophy. And then, I worked as a business consultant.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: [I worked] as a quality manager for about twenty years ago. I came here for a wedding. One of my cousins was getting married. And there was a guy that I met at the wedding, and he offered me a job.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: So I have been here since then. Then I found the love of my life and got married. And the next thing I knew, I had two kids. I am married to a graphic designer.
Andrew Morgans: Okay.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: She is a really awesome graphic designer. She studied in some of the top art schools in Los Angeles.
Andrew Morgans: So you’re working where at that time when you guys met?
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Well, when we met, I was working as a quality manager for a company. Some corporate car company, but I obviously had always wanted to find something. I found it very easy to find weaknesses in companies and solve them. That’s basically my strength. How to streamline and find better ways to run a company. So then, in 2016, when she got pregnant with our first kid.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: She quit her corporate job, and she had been working there for 11 years or something. And she started freelancing. At that time, I was working for a consulting company.
Andrew Morgans: Okay.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: And then she started all this. She’s just started getting Amazon clients at that time. I didn’t even know anything about Amazon. I go to a shop on Amazon. I just didn’t know it was actually a way to generate money.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: So we started getting interested. She started getting all these Amazon sellers trying to get logos from her package design. She has a very strong background in print design, packaging, and stuff like that. That’s how I started getting into Amazon, and all of a sudden, I became an Amazon seller as well.
Andrew Morgans: Did you start with wholesale? Or did you start bringing your own products? What was your first move? Private label? Okay, you started with a private label.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Private label. That’s how I started. So she started getting a lot of clients just out of word-of-mouth. And all of a sudden, I saw the opportunity. She was having a really hard time dealing with that many clients. So I jumped in and used my skills, and we made it into a business. In the beginning, we were doing listings. You know, lifestyle photography. We were doing anything to do with listings plus content. You know everything, right? So we used to go to conventions and all that kind of stuff.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Then, when the pandemic hit, I was living, at that time, in Vancouver, Washington. Just right above Portland. It became really difficult to do lifestyle photography because of all the regulations they had there.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: So we started moving away from photography, and we started getting more into branding because that’s always been . . . our strength is branding. So when I say branding, it’s not just the name of your company or your logo. A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or company, right? It’s not what you say it is; it is what they say it is, right? So branding entails a lot of stuff, not just the design.
Andrew Morgans: Right.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: That’s only one thing about branding. That’s the face of the brand, right? So Nike is the logo; is the colors; is the photography style; is the slogan.
Andrew Morgans: The slogan. The history.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: But when you get more into branding, it’s also the way you position yourself, right? So Nike positions itself for athletes—as this inspirational company—then is the messaging. So we started focusing on branding. And now, basically, that’s what we do. We do branding. We are basically the company to go if you want to gain brand awareness, brand loyalty, [and] brand enthusiasm. We work mainly with seven- and eight-figure sellers or, sometimes, even startups. No Amazon startups, more like the venture-backed type of startups.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: And this started because we started seeing that a lot of Amazon sellers, when they get to a specific point, [they] say they want to reach out [to] Amazon. Because Amazon might be the best platform to get started.
Andrew Morgans: Yep.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: A great platform to become [a millionaire]. But it’s so hard to become a mainstream brand on Amazon, right? It’s really hard because the customers are not your customers. They are their customers.
Andrew Morgans: Um, yep.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: So when companies are trying to move away from Amazon, or not necessarily move away, but reach out beyond, like trying to establish their website. Try to get the following base. It just becomes really complicated for them, and they hire companies marketing companies and marketers. Unless they actually do it properly, but when they do marketing, they sometimes forget about the proper research that goes into creating a brand that actually is gonna connect with the target audience. So that’s basically what we do. When people solve that problem, when people are trying to reach out beyond Amazon, they’re trying to sell their company. They’re trying to expand their influence, so we help them as a branding design consultancy studio to get to that goal.
Andrew Morgans: Let’s talk about some of the nuances. Because you know my knowledge is in a similar space, right? And let’s talk about some of the nuances that are different from even a D2C product. Or a product that’s on a retail shelf versus a lot of products that start on Amazon. For me, what comes to mind is packaging, right?
Andrew Morgans: We can sell a product on Amazon in a brown box—getting started. You know, a private label or being a big seller in that way, but that box is never going to sit on a retail shelf as it is.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Yeah, that’s right.
Andrew Morgans: D2C is its own beast altogether, but that’s one of the things that really stands out to me. The difference between an e-commerce brand and a retail brand is, a lot of times, the packaging and investment into that. What are your thoughts on some of that? You said your wife’s background was around package design and things like that. How important do you think that is in regards to creating a sustainable brand on or off Amazon?
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Packaging. Yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: So when you’re trying to reach out to, let’s say, Costco [or] Target, you don’t want to sell on their website. But you actually want to sell on their shelves. They’re gonna look more than just your packaging. They’re gonna look at a lot of different things, and that’s actually why we are getting into sustainability. Because if people really want to reach the shelves of Target/Costco, you know Costco works a lot with sustainable brands. We’ll get into that.
Andrew Morgans: Yep.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: So let’s start with this first. When you sell on Amazon, you don’t need an amazing brand strategy to be successful. I mean, let’s just be honest. Because you’re using the Amazon brand, and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand.
Andrew Morgans: Um, yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Because when they move away from Amazon, they are like, “Oh, I don’t understand why I’m not selling so well. And I’m hiring this marketing company and so forth. You know, on Amazon, I’m the number 1 seller in all these different categories.” And we say, “Yeah, but you’re using the Amazon branding effect. That means when people go on Amazon, they don’t go there to buy from you.”
Andrew Morgans: Right, they trust.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: They think they’re buying from Amazon. Even when they’re buying Nike issues, they still think that they are buying from Amazon. Because Amazon has created this brand trust directed to consumers—how to spoil consumers with same-day shipping and easy returns and guarantee. Whatever you’re going to get is going to be good, or you can just return it and get something else.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Reach out to companies like Costco and Target; you have to have a well-established brand. You have to have a correct . . . it’s not just about your logo again. But let’s say your packaging has to be consistent. The colors of your packaging have to be consistent. The messaging of your company. Target is not going to accept something that just looks okay. It’s going to accept something, especially if you’re trying to sell shampoo in Target well. What is going to be your angle? How are you special? So if you just sell an “okay” product that I can find somewhere else, there is no reason why Target will choose you over others.
Andrew Morgans: Right? But this is something I see over and over and over again. If you want to be carried in Home Depot. If you want to be carried in Target. If you want to be carried in Walmart. If you want to be carried in Kroger or Whole Foods. A lot of times, they’re looking to your online sales before they’ll take you in-store as well. So http://target.com or http://homedepot.com, I know for a fact, they’re like, you know, sell in our marketplace first. Ah, which is, you know, http://target.com or http://homedepot.com.
Andrew Morgans: Well, that’s how they’re now making buyer decisions on what to carry in their store. That’s where the questions come in—of your packaging and all these kinds of things. But have to do a good job. Telling that brand story, or why your product is the best shampoo, or why they should have you online, even off Amazon, to be picked up in stores. That was something that Amazon did first with Vendor Central . . . they were bringing in brands; all the big brands, onto Amazon in the early days. They didn’t make them actually learn e-commerce. They were just buying. Making human-to-human relationships by saying, “Hey, we’ll buy a million dollars of inventory and POS bringing those products in and shipping them on Amazon.” That’s why the customers are confused now because it’s changed from that. But Amazon said, “Hey, we’re not going to do all of the work anymore like we used to. We need you now to figure it out. How do you send products in, how do you do photos, and how do you list them. You need to list them yourselves and all these things.” Well, a lot of other retailers and marketplaces are following suit with what Amazon did. Why? Why should they have the manpower to do that when they can get these brands to do it for them?
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Yeah, absolutely. They are going to look at your online sales. But they are also going to look at your following, and here’s the most important thing.
Andrew Morgans: Just something. I’m finding something. I’m finding as I look to brands that are expanding.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: If you have okay online sales, but you have a huge social media following . . . and you have an engaged following; that’s going to be a key factor for them to decide if they should take you in. We have seen it with several companies. It’s not so much of how popular you are, but if you have a lot of engagement with your social media, people like you—people like your story.
Andrew Morgans: Yes. I think if you focus.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Yeah, of course. You have a very good . . . I mean, provided that you might have some product that doesn’t sell anywhere else, and it’s a great product. So yeah, but I’m just talking about the average Joe, you know.
Andrew Morgans: Honestly, brand building is the hardest thing to do in business. So regardless of channel, I think brand building is the hardest thing to do. It’s what everyone tries to do. It’s what everyone wants to do. Amazon sellers are probably the exception; they didn’t have to do that in order to be successful.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Right.
Andrew Morgans: But for as long as time can go back, brand building has . . . or having a brand has existed reputation. Before, it was a business reputation. In everyone’s mind, if anyone’s looking to say like, “Hey, who should we pick?” They’re gonna pick the company that’s standing out on their own without a lot of help. [The one] that’s got the big social following—that’s got the good product reviews. Why should they take risks based on a conversation when they can look at what the market is deciding. You know how they feel about your brand and what you’re creating.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Right? Exactly? There is a lot of . . . especially nowadays, where we have a lot of everything, right? We have a lot of options for everything. We know if we need a spatula, I mean, how many spatulas can you find on Amazon? But nowadays, when you understand the potential of what branding can do for you and your company, you will understand that people no longer buy from brands. People join brands. Right?
Andrew Morgans: Yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: If you’re an Apple person . . . they get an iPhone. It’s not like they just buy an iPhone—they join Apple.
Andrew Morgans: On both. I’ve got an Apple Mac right now.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Right? They joined the group of people who have iPhones. If you wear your Nike shirt, you join the brand, right? You joined the brand. You’re representing the brand. You agree with what they pitch to everybody. The messaging and the whole thing.
Andrew Morgans: Their messaging; like all of it.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: The ultimate goal of a brand is to become a household name. To have people become part of their cult, or their tribe, or whatever you want to call them. That’s the ultimate, right? Because getting recurring customers is 80% cheaper than getting new customers. So people buying from you, again and again, is the power of branding. Some people are really good at actually creating that, right? So people don’t need anybody. Their messaging is great, and the marketing company picks them up. It’s easy for marketing companies to advertise to these people, but that’s not the same for all brands.
Andrew Morgans: Yep.
Andrew Morgans: They’re authentic. They’re community builders, right? Exactly.
Andrew Morgans: I want to ask a couple of questions. A little bit more practical questions. Before we do, a reminder that today’s episode of Startup Hustle is sponsored by Canva. With Canva, you can design your ideas with ease. Get inspired with 500,000 free templates in a rich content library that help you and your team achieve your goals. Sign up and start designing for free at http://canva.com. Let’s think about this practically just to give people a little bit of an idea of how this plays out. You’ve got a product. Maybe you’re a VC-backed startup, but let’s just say you’re an Amazon seller. You’re like, “I’ve got some products [and] I’m moving the needle. I see sales grow in my account. I’ve sourced some great products. I’ve got the keywords. [I] must be doing something right. I wouldn’t be selling. But I’m ready to start thinking about building my brand. Maybe competition’s gotten cheaper . . . lower their prices.” That’s why you need to build a brand. Maybe you’re trying to expand off of Amazon [so] you want to build [the] brand. And they come to you, Rodrigo, and they’re saying, “Hey, help me get started—like where should we start? I don’t even know.” You know what those first conversations are like. What are you looking for in those sellers that make it an exciting project for you? Let’s just share some of the insights around those early conversations.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: The first thing you always do with companies is to know what their goal is, right? Because every company has a different goal. Depends on what they want to do and where they want to be in five years from now or 10 years from now. But each one is going to take a different path. People just want to sell on Amazon. They want you to grow their product line and create several brands. We help them with their visuals because Amazon is more about the visual. The owners usually have a pretty good way to describe their product and their content and so forth. But the first thing you always do with building a brand is finding out what the goals are. From there, we move to the next step. But what is the purpose of the brand beyond the monetary purpose? Okay, because that’s really important. What’s the purpose of the brand beyond making money? Beyond just hitting the bottom line, right? Let’s say that recently, we were getting a company that makes shampoo for dogs. It was a shampoo kind of soap for people, right.
Andrew Morgans: Okay.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: And then, they were also advertising it for babies. Later on, they said that it also worked for dogs. Do you see where the problem is? Their sales plummets, right?
Andrew Morgans: Okay.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: So they came to us, and we say, okay, good. What is the purpose of your company? What is your passion? Why did you create this company? Is it for dogs, or is it for humans? Because you can’t have both. You have to be very well-defined in your positioning, right? So if it’s for humans, you can’t target [both] babies and adults. You know it doesn’t work. No one is going to pick that up, right?
Andrew Morgans: Yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: [The] person who created this brand was a mom. She actually did it for babies. And it was a great product. So I said, well then, let’s forget about the adults. Let’s just target the baby niche. [It] is a huge market.
Andrew Morgans: Babies.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: You don’t need to have adults. The baby niche—there are tons of babies being born every day, every minute. The second thing is the purpose of the brand. Every time you start defining that, what brand strategy does it just focus on? It’s all about focusing on what you do, what you want to do, and how you’re going to do it. And then, we need to see because there are a thousand baby brands selling, so how can we divide the market? And figure out what the best positioning is for you? And [how you can] further your niche to the minimum viable market, right? The better you’re going to do as a brand because, honestly, you don’t need everybody to sustain your brand. You just need a little, tiny portion where you [can] still be able to serve quite a few people to be able to become profitable.
Andrew Morgans: I think that’s great. I’ll share a little personal story that’s kind of . . . one of my first lessons in branding. I was gaining popularity here in Kansas City, and an entrepreneurial community, the startup community, [are] just getting involved in networking and things like that. It was flattering, but at the same time, it kind of made me upset a little bit sometimes. I own an apparel brand called Landlocked. So I have Marknology, my Amazon agency. That’s what I do all day, every day, but I have an apparel brand named Landlocked. And it was also doing well, and I would get noticed around town as the “T-shirt Guy.” Okay, so you have the t-shirts, you have this? Oh yeah, they’re super cool. They’re amazing. Yeah, and I hated it because I was just like . . .
Andrew Morgans: I’m doing so much more than that. I’m doing some really cool stuff on Amazon and e-commerce. This is what I’m passionate about. This was super cool [but] I don’t just make t-shirts. You know what I’m saying.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: But . . .
Andrew Morgans: It’s not that they’re getting you wrong. Or they’re not reading enough. Or they’re not getting it. Or they’re not researching my posts enough. Or to understand what I do. It’s that my messaging must be off, right? I’m doing a lot of different things. They’re all great. But what I wanted to be known as when I was trying to get my startup. If anyone’s trying to sell on Amazon; if a brand’s going to Amazon; if a manufacturer is going to Amazon; and they’re in conversation around Kansas City, I wanted my name to come up in the conversation. So if I were doing my job well, they’d be, “Oh, I know someone’s doing Amazon and in the city. It’s Andrew at Marknology.” Well, I can’t have that, and I’m the t-shirt guy at the same time, right? So I took a step back and said, “Hey, why is my messaging coming across this way? Is this what I’m promoting the most? Are these the most visual things that are standing out there?”
Andrew Morgans: Content-driven with text. I just started looking at it from a bunch of different angles. And realized, okay, my personal brand needs to be my personal brand. And then my companies need to be split off into their own social media. Having their own messaging and getting more niche in each of those ways. Before long, I really started hitting some momentum, and referrals were picking up. Everyone knows if there’s someone that needs Amazon, it’s Andrew at Marknology. But it took me a few months. Hearing those comments, like something’s off with my messaging; something’s off with how I’m positioning myself, and then to go back to the drawing board and make changes. I don’t know if that resonates with you, but I think a lot of people can. You know you have to put ego aside if you’re the creator yourself. It’s a lot easier when you’re just managing someone else’s brand. To be neutral about it and not feel emotional. But when it’s your own brand . . .
Andrew Morgans: Really have to put ego aside and say, “What is the market telling me? What is the data telling me about my products—of my brand? What are people feeling whenever they come in contact with my brand instead of what you think they’re feeling?” I think you started off our conversation with that and the importance of it. But if you’re trying to create a sustainable brand, I think it’s really important . . . so you can pivot. And I think you can change once you have a brand in place. Okay, so you see this all the time with music artists. You know they’ll be known for one thing for ten years, fifteen years. Get a big customer or a big fan base. And then switch to rock music, or to something completely different than what they were doing—folk music or something, and they’ll still be successful. That’s because they built trust and a following and a brand at first—very specific. And now that they’re at that level of success, [they] can try some of these different things. But at the beginning, I don’t think you should be trying humans and pets and babies and all those kinds of things. You need to stick with one kind of get-known-for-that, and then you can build on that. What are your thoughts on that?
Rodrigo Gonzalez: This is sure. Yeah, that makes total sense. You always have to be. People will remind you of one thing, and that’s true. You know Michael Jordan was a great golf player, right? But we don’t remember Michael Jordan as being a great golf player. We know him, but he was the king of basketball.
Andrew Morgans: Yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: But you know that’s just one of that. An example, when I ask you what does Sony mean to you? Do you think electronics, right? Okay, well.
Andrew Morgans: Sony electronics.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: But it’s not like something specific. They have screwed up their branding. You know it’s an example of what you’re not supposed to do . . . into music and movies and cameras and computers and keyboards and TVs, and they are all over the place.
Andrew Morgans: It’s broad, right? I think TV.
Andrew Morgans: Keyboards. Yep.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: And now they what? What are they good? What is it? What is it [that] they do? What I do know is that they do great cameras. To me, Sony means cameras because that’s what I use. But at some point, they had their VAIO, which was the laptop that was the coolest thing ever back in the early 2000s.
Andrew Morgans: What are they known for? Don’t know.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Okay, so what does Apple mean to you? It’s computers. It’s iPhone. It’s very simple, right? So, yeah, sure.
Andrew Morgans: Let’s talk about that. Can we jump in there and talk about that kind of Apple comparison. I think you’re saying a lot of people: whenever they choose, they’re one or the other. Apple or PC, there’s no mix. Well, I started out building computers when I was very little. I’m 35 [now], but I think I was like eight or nine.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew Morgans: I was building my first computers with my dad, and Mac wasn’t a thing. So you built desktops, plugging in these ports, and getting the frame. And PCs were how I got my start . . . if you go to school, you go to school with PCs. For all of these things, you had to have a PC computer, and still the case in a lot of jobs. I was devout, you know, I didn’t want Mac. I didn’t have an iPhone; I didn’t have a Mac computer. But as I changed to being an entrepreneur and a content creator, because you have to create your own media company, a lot of times within your business, to be able to produce content at a high level . . . or you hire an agency or a firm to do that. But for me, it was a lot cheaper to build my own team and become my own media team. Well, as I’m kicking out podcasts and Instagram posts and tweets and all these kinds of things where we’re becoming a branding agency as well. Mac beat PC in that regard. The connectivity. What are they known for? They’re known for ease of use and connectivity. Everything working really well together. So maybe I can’t customize my phone, my Android, and take it all apart and do all these open-source things. But what I needed was my time; it started mattering more to me, and so was efficiency. And ease of use became what I needed, and Mac stood out for that. So I think, just to bring that home and why I use both . . . as my needs changed, I looked to the brand that solved for those things and then I went there.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Yeah, absolutely. And listen, I’m going to give you an example. Let’s say that I make a dressing for a salad but also make chemical products for cleaning. Would you really feel confident buying for me? You know, it’s dressing for salad. But you know that Clorox owns Hidden Valley, right? So Clorox makes Ranch, but obviously, they sell it under a different brand.
Andrew Morgans: That’s how you separate.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Completely separated. Clorox makes cleaning products, and Hidden Valley makes dressing for salad. And they have completely separate messaging and completely different companies. That’s why, if you want to be selling things for dogs and babies, well, you’re going to have to create two different brands for that. But each one with different messaging; each one with different positioning; and never mix them because people will remember you for one thing.
Andrew Morgans: Right.
Andrew Morgans: I see it with my friend group. I see it with a lot of people. You know, I’m also in short-term rentals and property management. I wanted another business in Kansas City as well that works in that area. So Airbnb. Yeah, I’m all over the place. Rodrigo Gonzalez, I tell you . . .
Rodrigo Gonzalez: You are a serial entrepreneur.
Andrew Morgans: Marknology is my bread and butter. But Airbnb and short-term rentals are a lot like e-commerce, right? You take great photos. You design a great product. And you have a great brand. Everything is booked online—automation—reviews, messaging. It’s just like another marketplace. Really, the difference is that the products are homes.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: That’s great.
Andrew Morgans: Right? You know I’ll talk to my friends about this place. Okay, it’s cool, but the bedrooms are small. I think a lot of times, they’re thinking through their frame of reference, like would most people assume . . . like, “Would I move here? Would this place be good for me?” Whenever in branding or marketing, you start to realize that’s not always the case. You can’t just see it through the eyes of Andrew, right? Whenever you’re designing something for every home, there’s a different customer out there for that home. It could be a single dad with a daughter . . .
Rodrigo Gonzalez: But . . .
Andrew Morgans: Needing a small 2-bedroom room but needs to be within a certain zip code. It could be three college roommates. It could be a solo guy or woman that just wants an office as their extra room. So the size of the rooms doesn’t matter. What you really start realizing is there are so many different customers out there. So you have to figure it out. In my Airbnbs, I actually have three models, and this is something I’m working on right now. I have a very high-end, high-dollar amount per night in nice areas of town. Very luxurious, very premium. Like probably the homes I would live in, just like your standard home. [It’s] two bedrooms [and] one bath, or three bedrooms [and] one bath. Something more like a residential neighborhood kind of place. And then, I have more of like a hostel. Which is the hostel kind of model, which is like four or five rooms. You just rent out the room, and then there’s common space. It’s three different customers. So I’m running one business, and I have 3 different customers. We’re trying to diversify and test and see what works and what doesn’t.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: This is right.
Andrew Morgans: As I’m looking at pricing; as I’m looking at messaging; as I’m looking at amenities and what’s included; I’m really trying to learn each of them. And I think that, at times, I’ve been really good at hitting each kind of customer market. At other times, I’m applying broad changes that don’t work that way, and it needs to be very specific and really change. That’s a problem I’m working on right now—getting the messaging and the content just a little bit better for those customers that I’m selling to with a different model. Thanks for letting me share that. But just another real example, a real-life example of messaging and trying to get it right. You know you’re not selling the same thing to everyone. There are different customers at all different levels.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Absolutely, yeah. And you touch up on Airbnb. Airbnb is a very interesting business model because they have two different target audiences. One is the people who rent. Two are the renters.
Andrew Morgans: Yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: If you see the promotions, the first thing they started to do was putting most of their marketing into targeting the millennials. Because usually, it’s the millennial target audience who wants to rent houses. But then, they ran into a problem, and there were not that many renters. So, right now, Airbnb, if you see all their ads—it’s called, I forgot the name, but it’s called “made possible by.” You know the renters, right? The people who are offering their houses. This is all they’re doing right now. Because they probably don’t have enough people. It’s just an interesting story.
Andrew Morgans: Interesting. Yeah, I think a lot of other companies have caught in regards to, like hotels and apartments. And VCs and forward-thinking equity firms and hotels that, as they have open rooms, they’ve been like, “Oh, we used to have the policy to say we’re competing with that.” And then, they’ve started out with the homes by Hilton and these boutiques that are more like an Airbnb than anything else. So it’s created some competition in the market, much like on Amazon. When you first started on Amazon, it was a blue ocean. You could just get in there and sell, and it was super easy. You didn’t really have to do much.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Yeah.
Andrew Morgans: Now, you have Chinese sellers undercutting your pricing. Well, how do you compete with Chinese sellers? Well, you have American branding. You have localized branding. If you’re going to Germany, you need to have localized branding in Germany. It is a completely different customer, so these are the things like . . . with any new innovation . . .
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Absolutely, yeah.
Andrew Morgans: There’s a time to be first, and it’s easy. It’s kind of just like, you’re there first, and you’re winning. But ultimately, it comes back to the same basics of just being super-efficient, doing very well with your branding, your storytelling, and your follow-up—your customer retention. You know that’s a move in Airbnb right now, which Airbnb kind of owns your customers as well. Similar to Amazon, it’s on you as a host running fourteen–fifteen properties to say, “Hey, how do we collect our customers’ information? Maybe, even locally, in the apartments or the homes, so that we can message them again and get them coming back similar to any other model?”
Rodrigo Gonzalez: To live them.
Andrew Morgans: You can see there’s a lot of learning to take into Airbnb if you’ve done one or the other. And understand how it works. But I wanted to say to your comment about the millennials, as a host, as someone running an Airbnb business. It helped me get through my early years of entrepreneurship. I’d rent out my place and stay at my sister’s house or my friend’s house to be able to make a few hundred dollars that weekend and get by.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Well.
Andrew Morgans: Because when I started on Amazon, there weren’t a lot of people looking for Amazon help. Honestly, it was very new. But the millennial customer really understood how Airbnb works. They were good at it. They didn’t ask a lot of questions. They just boom—they were trendy. They were savvy. They’re tech-friendly. They knew what they were doing. As they expanded, as Airbnb has gotten more popular and more well-known, they’ve started to go to an older customer and a younger customer and not non-millennials, which is smart. But what they’ve started to do is, now, as a host, we deal with a lot more customers that need more education. They’ve never checked into a house with a keypad on the front door, managed their own streaming services, or been in the kitchen looking for stuff where it is. So the millennials were kind of trained very well, and it was an easy business to run when they were the customer. But as the customers got bigger, it’s really created challenges for us as hosts.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Interesting. Yeah, very interesting.
Andrew Morgans: Whenever we’re sending out emails or instructions, we have to be way more detailed. Maybe start labeling things at the house; a different strategy. And I could tell story after story of brands on Amazon where they think they have a certain customer market. They get data back. They get customer data back, and they’re like, “Wow, our customer is actually like 30 years older than we thought or 20 years older than we thought.” So you start changing the way you’re approaching everything, either to get that younger customer you wanted or start speaking to the customer you already have.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.
Andrew Morgans: Yeah, sorry, a little bit of a rant there. But I get excited about the subject, and it’s a very challenging thing across almost any business. Whether it’s your personal brand and Amazon brand, retail brand, or a real estate brand—we deal with a lot of the same challenges.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Absolutely, every business.
Andrew Morgans: Let’s wrap up. What’s something that you guys are super excited about doing at Principium? What is something that you guys are working toward that you’re excited about? Or something to share with our listeners that are looking to get started on the branding route?
Rodrigo Gonzalez: When you’re in the business of branding, you get to understand a lot of cultures and all that. You know how diverse this world is—sometimes, we like to look at the world from our tiny exposure to what we believe is life. The most interesting thing when you get into branding is how huge and amazing the number of people who believe different things and how they group together.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: It’s so exciting to take a brand that has no personality, who is confused.
Andrew Morgans: And . . .
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Just like when [you] see someone who doesn’t have a well-defined personality. It’s hard for you to connect with him, right? Or her. It’s kind of like [an] introvert, and he doesn’t really know who he is. So when you give a personality to this person, a boy’s story, you start getting a little bit more. That person starts becoming a little bit more interesting. And it’s not any different for brands. We love to take brands that are confused about who they are. Are confused about what their goal is and just give them these personalities. The voice, their face, and see the results, the conversions speaking up, spiking up. People engage with them for the first time on social media. We work mainly with e-commerce brands, but we also take chiropractors. We have worked with dentists. We have worked with lawyers. That’s what happens when you’re in the branding business, and it’s very exciting to us. To work with diverse aspects and try to understand their target audience. And how they shoot position and give them a different angle, right? Because sometimes, I don’t know, but when I go to Amazon, and I start going through company after company, people start copying each other. Everything looks the same.
Andrew Morgans: Name.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Do you go to the gym? Okay, so supplements, right? Everything looks the same, right? And then there is this one company called Ghost, which is a new company. They just go completely different. I haven’t seen them.
Andrew Morgans: Yes.
Andrew Morgans: Yep, but their Amazon listings look horrible. Okay, cause I reached out to them on Instagram. And I’ve told them, “I love your stuff. I love your product. It’s in my cabinet.”
Rodrigo Gonzalez: They didn’t start on Amazon.
Andrew Morgans: But your Amazon listings look horrible. We need to have a conversation. I’m not sponsored. I’m just shouting them out. Yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Yeah, no, they’re great. I mean, they have a great product, right? But they came, and they went completely the other opposite. So when in a sea of blue, just become red. In the sea of red, become blue. Just change and make sure that your change is actually going to be appealable to your target audience. But be different. Be yourself.
Andrew Morgans: Yep.
Andrew Morgans: I love that advice. I think it’s something that it took me a really long time to learn as a person. I was raised in Africa and lived in a Hawaii missionary family. I grew up in Africa when I was 16. So, I think growing up abroad does give you . . .
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Wow . . .
Andrew Morgans: You have to learn how to adapt to, let’s say, American culture or a different culture. If you’re an immigrant, I think that, in some ways, makes you think differently about messaging and frame of reference. And that there are all different kinds of people instead of just being how you’ve always grown up or seen.
Andrew Morgans: So it does give us a level up in regards to seeing how many different parts of the world sell and buy differently. To give you the ability to kind of step outside and sell to Mexican Americans here.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Right.
Andrew Morgans: And targeting Mexican Americans with maybe some Spanish messaging. Maybe a product that’s very popular back home, that you’re trying to sell here. There are so many things you can do in this country alone to speak to the different types of people here. That’s a lot of fun. I could talk about this subject forever because I learned I love e-commerce in general. I love all of e-commerce. But I saw an opportunity to be different and focus on Amazon in the early days before anyone was really doing it. This is a way to be different. This is a way to stand out in e-commerce. I think it’s going to be important. I took a risk. And it’s turned out to be a big marketplace. I’ve grown along with Amazon. How can I be different? And then PPC and all these things mattered. And what I saw [what] was missing was branding in the Amazon space. There’s a huge lack of it. I hope a lot of people have copied or copying my work . . . Honestly, I saw a video come out locally this week here in Kansas City that I was pretty sure they were copying a video I made. And is promoting with one of my brands. They say imitation is flattery. [It] is still annoying, but when you’re looking . . . it’s not about having one great idea. I think that’s the difference. That’s what I like about branding and helping people’s stories come to life. We’re always working with something different. We’re always trying to take a new spin, a new angle on it, and see it from a different way. And say, “Hey, how can we tell this story a little bit differently? How can we do the photos a little bit differently?” There’s a product that we have that’s very similar to a lot of other products. It was kind of a big challenge I gave the team. And I don’t want to say what kind of product it was, but if you were to search it, you would see a whole bunch of brands and products. It was one of that kinds of trends for Amazon, and how do we stand out? Almost everyone’s main photo was exactly the same. So many times, I talked to sellers that were like, “I used to be the only one. I was killing it, and now there are so many copies of me.” They’re struggling. It’s like, well, we have to continue to be innovative. So this product was actually called a Comfort Hero, and I just had this idea of standing out, like let’s do cartoons.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Have right.
Andrew Morgans: Okay, like let’s do this hero—this animated superhero for comfort. It would be like a kind of spin instead of traditional photography and all these kinds of things. It didn’t cost us that much more. But it was in a subtle way, across all of our messaging, trying to create this fictional hero that we could then use to sell the product. And it’s kind of fun and engaging, and they worked out really well. But that was like a real outside-the-box way of just saying, “Hey, we have to be different. How do we stand out.? How do we be blue and everyone else is red?” Thanks for letting me share.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Absolutely.
Andrew Morgans: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I love what we do, and I can tell that you do too. And it really comes across that way. You know, some people are operational. It’s like they can source a product really well. They can be super organized. They can outsource all their VAs and be super-processed and have SOPs. But a lot of times, those people that are really good in that area lack the ability to be creative and think outside the box. So that’s where you need help. That’s when you need to go find someone that’s creative. Other people are naturally really creative, and they create a brand, and they go viral on social media without hardly trying. Well, those people are typically the people that need help being organized.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: This is [interesting].
Andrew Morgans: It’s a lot of fun figuring out exactly what people are trying to do. What their needs are—to help them create a sustainable brand.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: That’s absolutely well. That’s why, sometimes, it’s very hard to find how we can do [something] different. Here is one thing that you can utilize to become different. And this is how to become a sustainable brand.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: I don’t know if you, [or] the very few sellers in Amazon, have realized that Amazon is rewarding brands that are becoming sustainable. And they’re actually getting a badge called Climate Pledge Friendly.
Andrew Morgans: Yep.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: And if you look at those badges, at the products that have those badges, they are best-selling products. Almost every single one. They are number five in the black category number.
Andrew Morgans: Yep.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Nowadays, being in the 100 on Amazon, it’s like you won the gold pot. The reason why is because the world is moving towards becoming a sustainable brand. Now, what is a sustainable brand?
Rodrigo Gonzalez: It’s an ethical brand. It’s a brand that . . . whatever you’re doing, you’re focusing, identifying, integrating environmental, economic, and social issues into the operations of your business. And that’s what sustainable branding is. You are choosing to have packaging that is recyclable. Choosing to have a company to make your product not only recyclable . . .
Andrew Morgans: Your bags are recyclable, or your inserts are recyclable, or yeah, okay . . .
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Non-MSG and more food, right? No MSG. That’s also sustainable. That’s also considered to be sustainable. Every brand is different. Every product is different. It is hard to tell how well everybody recycles. But that’s not the only thing people can do.
Andrew Morgans: True.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Pretty much everything, even the boxes of Amazon, are recyclable. But there are different things. For example, Dell is using now, to produce their products, I think 90% of renewable energy from solar panels. Starbucks is using water conservation in the way they produce their coffee . . . reusable packaging, and they are doing a lot of reforestation.
Andrew Morgans: Yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: But there are brands out there in Amazon . . . It’s very simple, yet it’s very complex. It takes time to become sustainable. But you know it’s something you have to add as part of your future goals as a brand.
Andrew Morgans: It takes time.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Here’s why consumers are four times more likely to purchase from a company with strong values. 77% are concerned about the environmental impact of the products you buy.
Andrew Morgans: Your values. Yeah.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: 60% rate sustainability is an important purchasing criterion. Right now, the main buying force in America is the millennials. Right behind us is the Gen Z that are coming. This generation is much more environmental, a word that even millennials . . .
Andrew Morgans: Yes.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: In a few years, if you’re playing the long game, not just the I’m-gonna-sell-for-two-years-and-just-leave or whatever. But if you really want to grow outside Amazon, becoming a sustainable brand is the way to do it. Amazon is already gonna reward you. You’re gonna have free publishing . . . just because you say that you find a way to cut cost on your production by using 85% less water. You’re going to get free press. There are so many things that you’re going to get as a reward for becoming an eco-friendly brand. And people like these brands, and the figures I gave you are from a Shopify recent survey. So it’s not just like, you know, whatever. This is real.
Andrew Morgans: Yep.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: Real figures. When people come to us, sometimes they’re like, “Okay, we’re trying to find an angle. How can we become more? How can we gain some momentum among people to buy from us?” We always say, well, let’s find what angle . . . sometimes, just adding some eco-friendly part into your messaging and positioning is going to make a huge difference.
Andrew Morgans: Messaging can . . . it’s all about it.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: It’s very simple, yet it’s very complex. Because you cannot just grab some packaging and just make it. Pull your bottle of . . . say that you’re an eco-friendly brand. People will pick up on that; it will backlash pretty badly on you. It’s really important for people when they are becoming sustainable to be very transparent. For example, they want to get these badges on Amazon. It’s called the Climate Pledge Friendly badge. You have to provide third-party certification that your product is, in fact, sustainable.
Andrew Morgans: Yeah, this is good. And we’re coming up on time. So I have to round this out. But we’re talking about how to build a sustainable brand. I think that’s an amazing angle, and brands are doing the right things. They’re just not using it impressively, or they’re not using it in their story. It’s about finding those things about businesses. We’re working with second chance workers where they do a lot of their hires are people coming out of jail or prison. And help them find work and assimilate back into our society. And that’s a huge thing. It’s an amazing thing, so we’re working with them to kind of subtly add that into their messaging. Where people can’t understand what they’re doing back for the community, that they’re buying from . . . I think that’s an amazing thing. I can’t wait to help that story come to life. But I got around us out here as we’re coming up on the hour. And, once again, a big thank you to today’s episode sponsor, Canva. With Canva, you can work together from wherever. Get on the same page as your team with seamless real-time collaboration while you design today.
Andrew Morgans: Explore and start designing for free at http://canva.com. Rodrigo, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. I’m sure this won’t be the last time we connect. Yeah, thank you so much for your time.
Rodrigo Gonzalez: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you.