One company I've had the privilege to provide Strategic Brand and Creative Direction to was Land of Nod, a Crate&Barrel Company. I recently (well yesterday) interviewed Michelle Kohanzo, who is now their Managing Director, and asked her about this "law of attraction" I write about in my upcoming book. I thought she was a perfect candidate to talk about this subject since she was someone who has been with Land of Nod since the beginning. For more about the subject of "laws of attraction" (Like Forces Attract, Chapter 8) you'll just need to wait till the book comes out.
Q: Michelle, you were there almost since the beginning. Can you tell me a little about that?
A: “I wasn’t there at the very beginning, but close. I was the tenth employee [now 200] and I was hired right when Land of Nod moved into their first corporate offices.”
Q: Who interviewed you for the position, and was it easy to pick up on the vision of the company?
A: “I interviewed directly with the owners. I saw that the owners of Land of Nod were clearly driven and passionate. They were a little quirky—dressed in jeans and music band t-shirts. They asked me a bunch of questions that were all over the place. They didn’t specifically communicate their vision, but you got the sense that they were passionate and had big plans for the company.”
Q: When you thought about working for Land of Nod, what attracted you?
A: “I wanted to work for Land of Nod because I was passionate about the company. Salary was not a driving factor. I was working for Crate&Barrel, and I wanted to work for a smaller company—a place I could help build. I wanted a job where I could make a difference and felt like I was making an impact on the organization.”
Q: Looking back and knowing what you know now, could you have stayed with the company if you hadn’t been passionate about the brand, the company, and why Land of Nod was on the planet?
A: “No, absolutely not. I’m 100% sure of that.”
Q: Did some of the brand focus/passion/identity get lost through the years of day-to-day?
A: “As I look back, I now see that one of the of the biggest challenges Land of Nod had as it matured was, the brand was never articulated at all. You either got it or you didn’t. You either understood it or you didn’t. Those that understood it were successful, and those that didn’t were not. That became problematic the bigger we got.
Q: Did having an HR department that managed the hiring process dilute the building of a passionate team.
A: “No they haven’t. We’ve only had an HR department for the last 6 years. The person who heads it up was our customer service manager, someone who has been with us almost from the beginning and married to someone who has been here from the beginning—'a lifer.' HR posts, reviews and screens the candidates. All of our department heads do the actual hiring and final interviewing. They make sure they hire someone that’s passionate about what we do and how they are going to contribute to the company.”
Q: How important is it that the CEO (Managing Director in your case) contribute to the direction, focus and propagating the essence of the brand?
A: “It is absolutely critical that the CEO [or president] be the brand champion. I think that there is no way the brand can flourish if it doesn’t start from the top. It needs to be a top priority one-hundred percent.”
Q: I’ve been seeing the implementation of your brand refresh and creative direction FORGE provided out in the wild. It seems like you’ve implemented most of our recommendations. How’s that been going?
A: “We’ve had an amazing customer response to the brand refresh. We've had many direct messages from our customers specifically complimenting us on how much they liked the changes. However, it took longer than I thought to see that translate into dollars. From the time we started doing brand research to seeing it affect our bottom-line, it was about three years. Sales now are steadily growing, and we’re reaching a wider customer base. And that’s due to everything we did; great assortment, great products, great branding, strategic marketing, strategic promotion, social media, PR. Everything is important. You need to do everything well. It all needs to come from one brand voice.”
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about branding?
A: “I think most people fail to realize that a brand is not something that you create once and you never need to touch it again. It’s something that needs constant attention and needs room to grow and evolve as much as it needs to stay consistent. It’s very complicated—staying true to your roots all the while continuing to push it forward, be relevant and modern. It’s not something you create one time and maintain in this perfect little bubble.”
A special thanks goes out to Michelle Kohanzo from Land of Nod for taking the time to do an interview with me. She's one busy CEO, mother and wife. I'm sure I'm way down her list of priorities, yet she made time to talk about branding. The information above was from a recorded interview conducted on March 12, 2014, from 2:00 to 2:45 pm EST via phone.