Baking in Values in Your Brand

John Roescher and Alex, co-founders Handsome

“To me, marketing is about values.

This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world.

And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is.

So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”

— Steve Jobs, founder of some company

It’s a sunny day in Austin, Texas. I’m sitting down on one side of a beautifully carved wooden table, and can see the rush-hour traffic pass me by. It’s 5PM in East Austin, so of course there’s quite a number of bikers that pass by the glass-windows.

On the same side of the table is John Roescher, co-founder and CEO of Handsome, which he describes as a digital agency that can “think, make, create, and hack everything”.

If you’re thinking that’s a rather broad statement, John agrees.

“Yes, for some people, that can be a little ambiguous. We are concerned with designing and defining consumer experiences for brands — the entire user experience.

That means designing and building new mobile app products, in-store experiences new businesses, and transforming businesses for the digital world.”

Now, there are a LOT of companies, from Austin to timbuktu, doing the same. Yet, why is Handsome one of the most well-known design agencies in Austin?

It can’t be just because it opens it resources to local organizations, from fresh2design to 3 Day Startup, or that it’s cool enough to host the official SXSW Interactive Launch Party, or that has clients such as Facebook (no, I’m not adding a link to Facebook).

The Handsome office. But, more emphasis should be put on that lady’s killer shoes.

Here why Handsome is successful and well-known: All of Handsome is designed and built around a core set of values, which in turn influences it’s branding, community engagement, strategy, product design, and even office space.

By values, I don’t mean a listicle of adjectives that the leadership team said Handsome would shout from rooftops — “5 VALUES WE MUST SAY WE HAVE TO SUCCESS AS A COMPANY” — in order to be perceived as a forward-thinking company.

In this case, it’s much deeper; values are why Handsome does what it does, why everything seems coherent across their digital and physical presence, and what consumers remember when they interact with the company.

So, what are these values?

Or more accurately, what’s the value most important to the company and its team members?

Being Handsome.

Is that superficial? John argues it’s not, because while appearances matter, it goes deeper than just looking pretty. It’s about how they do things — in a handsome manner.

“Where people have generally been successful, and I don’t mean financially necessarily, is when they were handsome, when they cared about the way they were presenting themselves, the way they communicated.”

Handsome cares about doing everything a certain way, from the small details such as the immaculateness of the bar in their office, to the minimalist (some would say underutilized) aesthetic of the office, to the websites and applications they design.

It goes back to the beginning.

Handsome started because the founding team believed in designing online experiences in a different way. A couple of designers and developers, who had known each other for a while, came together, not because they wanted to work together around a tested business model, but because they saw customer expectations around digital experiences were evolving beyond the a-website-is-not-an-experience model.

Technology was becoming an integral part of people’s lives, and it was becoming important that brands created experiences for their consumers. In this case, handsome experiences.

What do YOUR customers associate you with?

Stepping away from this particular example, think of a few brands you are aware of. What do you associate them with?

Chances are, what they do is only a small part of your perception of them. Nike doesn’t sell just sports goods, it sells personal excellence. Apple doesn’t sell just computers of all sorts, it sells technology you can call beautiful.

If you already have an accurate answer, kudos. You’re way beyond most brands.

If not, send over an email to your 5–10 top or most engaged consumers, offer them a small giveaway, and ask them for candid feedback. Some questions you could ask them:

  • What words come to their mind when they think of your company?
  • What interaction did they have worth your company that cemented that association?
  • Why do they think your company does what it does, beyond generating revenue?

Before you go and do that, here’s a few local Austin companies I do associate certain values with:

What are some companies you feel embody a certain set of values?

If you liked this post, listen to the rest of John’s interview on the Austin Fire Show: iTunes + Soundcloud.

If you hate this post, vent at me @rmhayat.

Or maybe just tell me you liked it. I can’t tell you what to do.


Baking in Values in Your Brand was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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