Hashtag That Sh*t

By Rebecca Layton Gunter

Nine-and-a-Half Things I Learned My First Year At A Brand Strategy Agency

It’s been just over a year since I stepped into the role of the (#1est) Number Two at a company hanging up its Web Design hat and trying on ONLY Branding Strategy for size.

For more than seven years, Sisarina has been helping entrepreneurs and small or mid-sized companies look really great online. Eye-catching designs that popped off the page, balanced by smooth navigation, and punctuated with engaging copy. The coordinated marketing materials would get a similar makeover, creating a seamless presentation. (I wasn’t a member of the Sisarina crew back then, so I can brag all I want.)

Sisarina’s Chief Inspiration Officer, Melanie Spring kicked ass at what she did, but it didn’t stoke her inner fire. What really fanned her flames of inspiration was helping her clients boil down with clarity who and what exactly they were – either as an individual entrepreneur or as an organization. Getting everyone on board to think and talk about the company in the same way. Helping them distill a crystal clear purpose, voice, values.

And that was a beautiful thing. Because once this linchpin of business strategy clicked into place, big things started happening for her clients. People and brands grew, and they grew fast.

I hitched my wagon to Sisarina just as that transition was taking place. The second person onboard this ‘New Thing’, a nimble agency hyper-focused on brand strategy, design thinking, and business acumen. A badass Boss Lady at the helm. Influencing organizations of all shapes and sizes to be more themselves and, as a result, get better customers, partners, and crew members.


Fall is a time of renewal from my perspective. More resolutions than New Year's, more regrowth than Spring, Fall is full of rebirth.

Maybe because most of us have gone straight from Kindergarten to workin’ man, September often feels like life’s ultimate reset button. If you’ve been on vacation, you’re back. If you’ve got kids, they’re (finally!) in school. If you’ve been hustling all summer, you’ve got a moment to breathe.

And so, it was fitting that I came to work here in September of last year. Sisarina was in her newest iteration, and I closed the chapters on a 5-year battle/journey with my own version of entrepreneurship. Last September, I dove feet-first into one of my great loves: Marketing.

I’ve always been fascinated with marketing. How can the efforts of a few creative folks influence large groups of people how to think, to feel, to act?

Advertising and product placement just has a way of sticking with you, at least when it is done right. Scores of people can migrate from apathy to advocacy after seeing a particularly compelling commercial. Companies can persuade thousands of graduates to dream about working for them using what seems like “the cool factor,” but in actuality was a highly coordinated orchestration of branded processes.

I had no specific industry education, experience, or a resume bursting with experience. But I wanted to soak up what Sisarina was serving with a biscuit.

It is from this unique position that I can share what I have learned about branding in just twelve short months. I didn’t take a single marketing class in college. I’ve never worked at a marketing company. (Heck, I’ve worked in restaurants for most of my adult life.) I only knew what I knew in my gut: marketing just means all the things that you can do to turn people onto your project or product.

When we live “on brand,” good things magically show up: the perfect clients, the perfect staff, and the perfect opportunities.

What I learned at Sisarina, however, is that branding is the code of conduct we all abide by. The words we say, the pictures we use, the way we talk on the phone: our very aesthetic.

After one year, here are my branding nuggets of wisdom. Let them influence and help you kick ass on your own professional journey.

9 ½ Things I Learned While Working at Sisarina:

  1. #BrandingIsAFeeling. You can’t see, smell, taste, or hear it, but you sure as shit can feel it. The financial services company that gives you peace of mind. The shoe company that makes you stand just a little bit taller. The grocery store that inspires you to live healthfully. The cable company that makes you feel like a chump.

    In the modern business arena, it’s not enough to hang out your shingle. There are too many other companies with the same brilliant idea, and they’re all making the same claims: quality, service, excellence. You have to turn that shingle into a sparkle – stand out from the crowd.

    Think about yourself from a brand perspective. Pique the interest of the kind of people you love working with, selling to, or talking about. What feelings do you want to evoke in other people: thrill (Mini), connected (Facebook), philanthropic (The American Red Cross)? Start there, with a simple truth, and shape your every action toward the goal of generating that feeling. Every. Single. Time. That’s branding.

  2. Culture is an amalgamation of everything you and your crew say and do. Most people recognize the importance of culture. But do they know that it’s something each and every person on your team must contribute to, and contribute often? If “positivity” is part of your culture, then your entire crew has to show up with bells on. No snarky bitch sessions in the conference room. No talking smack about a customer or project on email. 

    It’s not easy to keep up this kind of commitment to a healthy culture. It takes a lot of effort from everyone involved. Sometimes we have bad days, and that’s ok. But for the most part, a healthy culture requires constant commitment to the standards you’ve established as a group.

    Expect your culture to shift and evolve as you grow. The key to longevity is reinvention. Just make sure everyone is on the same page and contributing to the overall wellbeing of your company culture. #onbrand

  3. Only 20% of what people say about you is online. You may think the good ol’ days are gone – back when drawing the curtains was all you had to do to deter nosy neighbors. We get a sense that we’re all living in a fishbowl nowadays. Social media and consumer-driven websites have businesses hanging their hats on online reviews and star ratings.

    But in reality, it is exactly like the old days. When people have an experience with your brand — good or bad — they will tell their friends. And those friends will tell their other friends. And so on and so on...

    You can’t necessarily predict (or overhear) what your clients or crew members are saying about you, but you can help guide the conversation. How? By taking meticulous care to ensure every touchpoint is on brand - from the way you answer the phone to the way you motivate your staff. #WordOfMouth

  4. Be super effing specific about who you are, what you want, and what makes you special. Most of your competition will be running up and down the beach, with signs and bullhorns, shouting at anyone and everyone who will listen.

    Instead, you should be the lighthouse, consistently shining your light for all the world to see. You are not just any lighthouse, but a very specific lighthouse. And the ships that you guide safely to harbor are very specific ships. Make sure you are lighting the way for the right vessels.

    Be absolutely sure of who you are (purpose), what you want (position), and what makes you special (values). Only then will your lighthouse will be tantalizing to your ideal clients and employees. #MyDifferentiator

  5. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Look around you. Do the people around you — at work and at home — inspire you to up your game or bring you down? Do they make excuses or make things happen? Does bad luck seem to follow them around or do other people call them the lucky ones?

    Surround yourself with people you look up to. Seek out folks who have something to teach and make a habit out of giving back. Align yourself with friends and colleagues who are getting shit done.

    This may be the most understated tenant of branding, and one of the most impactful. Simply being in good company can improve your quality of light. #notguiltybyassociation

  6. Work is a helluva lot more fun if you believe in magic. Sure, it may sound corny or cliché - grown-ass women showing up to professional networking events and waxing poetic about magic on podcasts, but magic is absolutely real – all you have to do is choose to believe in it.

    Magic takes many forms, especially in the realm of business. For instance, say you attend a networking event and just happen to sit next to someone who can help you find a coder for your new app. Or perhaps you discuss in a staff meeting that the team desperately needs a corporate sponsor and you suddenly get an email later that afternoon from an old acquaintance who just happens to work at a company that can help you. Or maybe you answer a call and get interviewed on the spot for a radio interview about your expertise – purely because the three people before you on the reporter's list didn’t pick up the phone.

    You can write it off as a hocus-pocus, voodoo ‘chick thing’, but I am here to tell you that magical things happen every damn day in business – if you’re open to it and willing to see them. #ClapIfYouBelieveInFairies

  7. #manifestthatshit just means to set a goal and then concentrate all of your resources, time, and talent on making it. Want big things to happen for you and your project? Manifest that shit!

    Of course, it’s not just lip service. It’s a way of dedicating yourself to your goals in a way that doesn’t sound as saccharin as “reach for your goals!” Go after a specific, achievable, and timely “brass ring” and be relentless in your pursuit. Align all of your efforts towards making it happen and it totally will.

  8. As much as being an entrepreneur rocks, being an intrapreneur rocks way harder. If you are exhausted, uninspired, down and out, or just not feeling it, it’s OK to quit your own business, blog, or whatever project that has you wracked in guilt. I hereby give you permission. It fact, it’s really not that bad.

    Most of us get caught up in our own story about who we are and what we bring to the table. We’re out there selling it, over and over, every day. There’s such a stigma about small businesses failing that we dig in our heels and refuse to be a statistic. That kind of commitment to something that no longer makes you happy is absolutely exhausting.

    Entrepreneurship isn’t for everybody. And it’s not necessarily “the answer” if you hate your job or your industry. If you’ve tried it and it’s stealing your soul, quit. Right now. Call me, I’ll talk you down off the ledge. Then bring your already-awesome skillset to another business and work for someone who has an awful lot to teach you in a subject that actually interests you. Put your entrepreneurial spirit to work there and watch magic happen. (See, I told you it was real.) The relief will be exponential and you will transform into someone you didn’t even know you had in you. #TeamPlayer

  9. Be such a dope soul that people crave your vibes. Instant brand ‘stickiness’, job security, and business longevity shows up when you are 100%  yourself (as a person or as a company.) People can’t get enough of you.

    Be the biscuit company that consistently delivers insanely craveable products and has tons of fun doing it. (I paid over $15 for a braised chicken biscuit sandwich last week, just because I needed those delicious dope vibes in my life.)

    Be the crew member that everyone hopes is at a meeting or manning the phones, because they have so much good energy that you leave every conversation feeling completely stoked about the relationship. You do you, and do it well, and you won’t have to seek out new work, it will come to you. #CompletelyCraveable

     9 ½.  Build your own cool kids club. Instead of trying to woo customers with slick ads and tempting giveaways, build a club. Crossfit, Diet Coke, Subaru,Trader Joes, they all started a club their members can cultivate. Their members all see these brands as part of their identity, their DNA. And they’ll hardly ever seek out a new way of exercise, a different go-to beverage or car, or a new favorite place to stock the pantry. In fact, they will induct new people into your club as often as possible. Just ask anyone on the Paleo diet or Whole30! (teehee) If you build it, they will join. #KoolKidsKlub

Manifest that shit!

There it is! Nine and a half-lessons learned at a brand strategy agency has transformed the way that I see and do business. These golden nuggets of understanding reveal significant things about the way that people seek out other people to work with, buy from, and forge relationships.

Tell me about your own “Adventures in Branding” on Twitter @rebeccagunter_ or in Sisarina’s private Facebook group “I Rock My Brand,” a curated group of kickass entrepreneurs, managers, and all-around awesome people. If you liked this article, you can listen to Sisarina’s quirky crew talk about this kind of stuff and more on the Adventures in Branding Podcast.