Understanding the importance of brand identity is crucial for all business owners and those working in marketing. Though each industry moves a bit differently, expressing and maintaining each unique brand is something all companies have in common. This can be intentional and unintentional depending on how much strategy is at play. Still, the big difference is always in what the brands are saying.
At J&R Marketing, we focus on ensuring that each brand has a voice that speaks compelling information to the correct target markets with perfect pitch and tone. We know that brand identity is a little complicated to explain right away, so we thought we’d show you an example in action through this segment of our ask an expert series. We’re excited to share insight from Tom Patterson, the founder and CEO of Tommy John, an up and coming brand disrupting the men’s underwear industry. Don’t worry, we’ll try to keep things brief. 😉
This image is provided by Tommy John.
As the leader of a quickly growing men’s underwear company launched online, Tom has a uniquely modern understanding of the importance of how a brand communicates. The site offers professional yet casual messaging focused on the comfort, affordability, and sleek design of the products. Not only does the messaging speak the right words, it also appears the product itself communicates this all on its own and has peaked the interest of an exciting new investor, Kevin Hart. The famed comedian discovered the brand at a Nordstrom’s while on tour and hasn’t looked back since. He’s even worked with the Tommy John team to codesign a collection.
This image is provided by Tommy John.
So, what types of insight can Tom Patterson offer to the rest of us wishing to learn more about brand identity? We pulled the best questions we asked and discussed so you can hear directly from him.
Marketing in today’s world needs to be purposeful and direct. How important is having a unique brand voice?
It’s incredibly important to have a unique brand voice. Men’s underwear is a very crowded space with both heritage and up-and-coming brands. That said, we believe the other brands in the category have a tendency to come off as unapproachable and non-relatable. At Tommy John, we strive to be as authentic and relatable as possible. We say it like it is and talk about real life struggles guys have with their underwear like bat wings, wedgies, and adjusting.
What’s one thing you learned during the process of creating a name for yourself, brand image, and persona?
I learned the importance of being authentic and creating a product that solves an unmet need. That’s really what we do at the end of the day. All our products originate from solving problems I’ve had personally with my clothing. We find that consumers desire credibility from brands. They want the product to live up to their claims.
This answer really hit home to what we do at J&R Marketing. Numerous times throughout the month, if not week you’ll hear our CEO Joe Russo explaining the importance of solving problems as not only what makes J&R different, but what successful businesses must do to set themselves apart.
This image is provided by Tommy John.
Disruptors are innovators in a respective industry, often times offering a new value network or even creating a new market. Do you consider Tommy John a disruptor? If so, what makes you different?
Back in 2008, I was a medical device salesman frustrated with the the fabric, fit and functionality of my undershirts. I wanted to find a better solution, so I created one. I designed an undershirt with a longer, tapered design and submitted it for a patent. We have the only undershirt on the market with a patent for a stay-tucked undershirt. And that’s just the undershirt, all of our products are designed to uniquely solve problems. Our underwear has a no-wedgie guarantee, our socks will keep your feet cool and dry and are designed to never fall down, and our essential tees are unshrinkable, wrinkle free and never pill. So yes, in short, I do consider Tommy John to be a disrupter in that we are committed to solving the problems men face with their underwear and apparel and using humor and relatability to tell our story.
Innovation, disrupting and solving problems – the strategy seams/seems (couldn’t resist) to repeat. With a goal of trying to help up and coming entrepreneurs how would you recommend someone find an industry to disrupt and what actions are crucial starting out?
Find something that you can make better, something you’re passionate about, and just do it. Don’t conform to industry standards. I had no background or connections in clothing design nor manufacturing, and to this day I believe that was my greatest asset. I was able to find new, more efficient ways to get things done. I asked questions and challenged processes that most people in the industry follow on autopilot. There will always be a million reasons not to get started. Ignore them. I didn’t want to be the coulda, shoulda, woulda guy. I never wanted to wake up one day and wonder “what if?” It’s important to take that first step forward and just do it.
How do brands get consumers to care about a product, or even perceive the need for that product?
Make a product that solves a problem or an unfulfilled need in the market and get people to try it. Before I took my first meeting with a retail buyer in 2009 I made her gift her husband and all male colleagues Tommy John. When I arrived, she had already received resoundingly positive feedback and was ready to put us in 3x more doors than initially discussed.
It’s also important to educate your consumer in authentic and relatable ways. Our first commercial, The Big Adjustment, went viral with over a million views within the first 5 days of its release. The commercial spoke of the uncomfortable truths about male adjustment – something all guys can relate to, and all women have witnessed. We showed them that there was a solution in a funny and entertaining way.
Once you have a product or service, branding, and a business plan, what are some tips for successfully coming to market?
That’s when the real work begins. Commitment and resilience will be your most important assets. Stick with it, work hard and do whatever it takes to secure that meeting, or to hit that goal. It will be worth it in the end.
Studies have shown that 50% of new businesses fail to last longer than 5 years. What allows for longevity in a competitive market?
One reason for our longevity in this competitive market is our approach to slow and steady growth and following your gut. Your gut never lies. We made the decision not be reliant on VC funding because we wanted to grow at our own pace and maintain control of the business. Too often people get caught up in evaluating the business by its valuation and allowing things to distract their focus. Large funding rounds can’t secure longevity in the business. Instead, it’s important to perfect your product and understand your customers first.
What’s the largest challenge for a startup and how do challenges change as you grow?
I believe the biggest challenge is to stay true to your vision despite the consistent pressure otherwise. As you grow, you get presented with more and more opportunities. Partnerships, funding, expansion into other categories, etc. People will always be pulling you in a million different directions, but as the founder you are the gatekeeper and need to be incredibly selective in what makes sense for your business in the long run.
How do you maintain consumer appeal, while also working toward appealing to a wider consumer base?
We maintain consumer appeal by producing quality products. From inception, that has been our primary focus. Every guy should wear underwear… so it’s about making the best product available, making it accessible to the masses, and continually innovating. As we grow, we are maniacally focused on
maintaining that same level of quality in every product we produce. We also listen to our customers and learn about what they are and are not looking for.
Does every successful brand need a spokesperson? Are advocates the way of the future in terms of marketing?
Absolutely not! Each brand just needs to have an established and authentic vision. To be honest, I was very hesitant to bring Kevin Hart on as an investor in the company when he first reached out. I was worried that his celebrity would dominate the branding we’ve spent years cultivating. It wasn’t until Kevin sat me down and said “I don’t want this to be Kevin Hart’s brand. You’ve already built a big, respectable, and credible brand… I just want to be part of it. I want to help you grow.” He explained how much he loved the product and respected the brand as it is. His hustle, determination, understanding and genuine love for the product and brand made me reconsider.
Receiving praise from a celebrity and having a spokesperson as large as Kevin Hart speaks volumes to the brand that Tom Patterson created. More importantly, that Kevin wasn’t pitched to join a company to help grow it, he reached out to be apart of a brand and product he believed in.
Branding and building a brand doesn’t have to be complicated and if we were to sum up our conversation with Tom; the focus on solving a problem and not following trends is a great takeaway.