The Top 3 Mistakes Every New Brand Makes

The Top 3 Mistakes Every New Brand Makes
JUNE, 2018
Brand Strategy
Last week, I shared the story of how Shea Moisture, the very first haircare brand I used on my naturally curly hair, lost sight of their customers in a wide-net attempt to grow their brand.
Today, I want to share with you the top 3 mistakes most new brands make that lead them down a similar path of destruction. The only difference is that in the startup world, there’s not a cushion of cash to fund a comeback. In many instances, committing one of these mistakes causes you to no longer be in business.

It goes a little something like this ..


I know so many entrepreneurs who go into business to solve their own problem at first.  Your children have eczema and suffer daily with dry skin so you create a handmade, natural moisturizer for them. It works and you decide to share it with your friends. They love it, which gives you affirmation that this one solution has the power to become an entire collection – one that you can sell. You package it up, brand it with your favorite colors, scent it with your favorite smells, name each moisturizer with your memories, and share with the world the story of how you did it all. Loads of other moms flock to your pop-up shop to learn more. Looking down proudly at your investment, you see the reflection of all of your hard work, late nights, and financial sacrifices. You successfully launched a business, but for some reason you and just a few of your friends are the only ones buying.


You decide to take that collection online and see if the web responds better. It took you awhile to figure out how to set up your digital shop, but you did it! With the help of some trusted friends and the (expensive) hiring of a website developer, your moisturizers can now be purchased from anywhere in the world. Your homepage has a picture of you and talks all about the process you underwent to create each product. It talks about your ingredient inspiration, your children, and your solution. The language on your site even sounds the way you talk. All of your brand messaging is a reflection of your family and how you communicate. As a final gesture, you ask your closest friends to help you select imagery to go on each page of the site. It’s finally done and once again, you’ve told everyone.  Within a week, you’re receiving traffic to your page (and not just family and friends!). You’re excited because business growth seems to finally be approaching. People come to visit your new shopping destination on opening week, and sadly within seconds, leave … without purchasing a thing.

You ask yourself, what am I missing?


Final attempt. You tell your team it’s time to go big! This itty bitty collection of perfect moisturizers for dry skin is now for everybody. From now on, you decide to stop specifying who your moisturizers can help. Moving forward, these handmade mixtures can cure anything. More importantly, they can be used by anyone. Your web developer gets the order to remove all skin-specific language on the site. You take down the story of why you began and the healing benefits of your dry-skin-saving ingredients. The marketing strategy from here on out is one of inclusion, because maybe in the beginning, you were being too “limiting.” The wide net is cast and you anxiously await the sea of fish to come in to buy a collection that’s now for everyone.


Your bootstrapped brand is now stagnant. You’re stuck. Out of cash and out of a single idea as to why such an amazing product line won’t sell.

“The only way to get people to come to your website, stay there and shop around is to captivate them with messaging that resonates with who they are, not who you are.”

Now, maybe you’re not in the business of handmade moisturizers, but I bet this story has a few parallels to your own brand building journey.  I’m almost positive that if you’re reading this message, you’ve made one of these core mistakes in the past or are currently making one right now as I type:

Mistake #1: Building & Branding For You & You Alone

This is where the founder of this cute little handmade collection went wrong. She created everything for her brand – from the names of her products to the scents in each mixture – around her own preferences. She never once considered how the market would respond and what the people actually buying these products would want.

Mistake #2:  Not Knowing Who You’re Talking To

If your brand sounds the exact same way that you talk, we have a problem. Sure, you may be part of the target market, but you are not a total representation of it. The only way to get people to come to your website, stay there and shop around is to captivate them with messaging that resonates with who they are, not who you are.  You have to know who your brand is talking to.

Mistake #3: Being All Things to All People

No brand can be all things to all people. It’s simply impossible. This is where Shea Moisture got caught up and where most brands make their final attempt to stay in business – opening up the marketing floodgates. There’s a reason why business plans require that you write down the problem you solve and who exactly you solve it for. Too many young brands suffer from the fear of limiting themselves, so they attempt to position their brands to serve everyone. This just can’t be done. Being something to your people doesn’t mean others won’t buy; it just means that the people you created your brand to serve will know that you are FOR them. And in return, they will buy from you.

.      .     .

All of these mistakes boil down to the fundamental first step so many new brands skip when trying to build their businesses – getting to know their customer. 

Your customer is who shapes your branding, your communication, and your entire marketing strategy. Are you building your business around them?


Learn how you can get to know your customer and avoid these top brand building mistakes HERE!

Written by: Amber Williams
Master Brand Storyteller & Founder of PunkyFlair

Don’t Be Shamed Like Shea Moisture

Don’t Be Shamed Like Shea Moisture
JUNE, 2018
Right around 7:45 PM Tuesday night, I was in desperate need of a deep hair conditioner. It was one of those beauty emergencies that I didn’t believe could wait until the next day. I headed to Target.
Once there, I turned down the aisle where the natural hair products were. What used to be a three-foot section dominated by just five brands for curly girls has grown (by popular demand of course) into an entire six shelf, double-sided aisle full of products, brand promises, and OPTIONS, OPTIONS, OPTIONS!

I can vividly recall the days when my choices for natural hair products were limited to a handful of brands that spoke my language and understood what I needed and truly wanted – which was to unabashedly rock my natural born coils. .

The first brand to indoctrinate me into this natural hair, afro, unapologetic lifestyle was Shea Moisture.

On Tuesday, as I perused through this new and “inclusive” Target aisle, I noticed a sea of other natural hair brands that made the same claims as Shea Moisture’s products. I was reminded of the ebbs and flows of business and just how quickly competition enters in. 

As a brand, being the first to offer something or even being amongst a limited few options is a huge advantage. You can dominate the conversation about your solutions and capture a large chunk of market share early on. The best part? You have the opportunity to really get to know your customer and build your business around their needs. 

But what happens when you’re not the only player anymore? What happens when everyone mimics you, or worse, outdoes you, your offering, and the way they connect with your customers? What happens when the section you used to dominate becomes an aisle that you’re lucky to even have a spot on? 

For strong brands that know their customers, they continue the connection despite the number of competitors vying for their customers’ dollars. They spend time building on the trust they already have and finding new ways to meet their people where they are.

Brands not as strong (or strategic) who don’t know their customers head in the opposite direction. In an attempt to capture the popularity of a growing market, they cast a wide net over ALL customers, trying to appeal to EVERYONE, in turn isolating the very ones that they created their products or services for.

This is exactly what Shea Moisture did last year – they lost sight of who their customers were. Or maybe, they never even know them. 

The 2017 “Hair Hate” ad campaign told a story that was not the Shea Moisture one at all. It showcased imagery of everyone but the natural Black girls that supported, advocated for, influenced, and grew their business. It invited a web of backlash that resulted in comments from customers like:

“Any brand that doesn’t know me is a brand I certainly don’t need to get to know.”

In a public apology from the brand, they attempted to acknowledge the disrespect their customers felt. And while they ended with a humble admission, “we should know better”, the sting remains even a year later.

While checking out at Target on Tuesday with the deep conditioner I purchased from the Camille Rose brand, it dawned on me that I didn’t even notice the bright coral-colored Shea Moisture brand in that huge aisle. Maybe it was there. Maybe it wasn’t.

Any brand that doesn’t know me is a brand I certainly don’t need to get to know. And after awhile, it’s one I don’t even notice.

Believe me, I’m not alone. 

.      .     .

Take the time out to get to know your customers and promise yourself that you’ll never deviate from the very people you created your brand to serve. 



Learn how you can get to know your customer and avoid these top brand building mistakes HERE!

Written by: Amber Williams

Master Brand Storyteller & Creator of Punkyflair

This is Why We’re Still Mad About Starbucks

This is Why We’re Still Mad About Starbucks


APRIL, 2018

Brand Story

I want to share with you why my bruised feelings (and probably yours too) will remain even after the Starbucks smoke clears.

So it’s been about a week since the Starbucks incident and I’ve gone through ALL of the emotions! From denial to anger and now acceptance, I’m at a point where I can clarify my thoughts and perspective on this BRAND DISASTER.

Despite CEO Kevin Johnson’s apology and his scheduled 8,000-store shutdown for training on implicit bias, the bitter taste of two innocent arrests still lingers.

We, as customers, coffee addicts, and community, are very much in fact still mad.

We’re still appalled, still offended, and still heartbroken by the fact that people can be arrested in their neighborhood Starbucks for doing what WE ALL DO when we go to Starbucks – chill, wait for our friends, order coffee – now, later or never.

This is NOT what happens at Starbucks. It’s supposed to happen in that movie that takes place during the ’60s in rural Alabama or maybe in some ignorant corner of rural Alabama today. But, at Starbucks – the brand with the diverse staff of baristas that know your name, the coffeehouse that assimilates into the neighborhood with its music and decor, the shop that the entire community comes to in the morning to wake up and again at noon to meet up – nah, not here.


As customers, our expectation of the chill environment, personable service, and community feel was not something we created from thin air; this expectation was established by the brand.

Our ideal of coffee and community utopia exists because that’s what Starbucks vowed to us in its brand promise: 

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

This promise is what the brand is built on. It’s what you buy into when you order your caramel macchiato, or your multigrain bagel with cream cheese, or those overpriced espresso chocolate beans. It’s why the baristas try to learn your name so that they can greet you personally the next day. It’s why there are tables and chairs to sit and enjoy your coffee or just sit and enjoy your company until you decide if you even want coffee.

This brand promise is what has subconsciously sold you into spending your time and money in overcrowded corners on overpriced lattes.

So when this promise was so brashly violated, it shook a community of (not just Black) people and brand enthusiasts who felt the betrayal of a broken promise.

That’s why we’re still mad.


Despite their best PR efforts, the promise of “inspiring and nurturing the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time”  now feels like a lie.  Sadly, some of the Starbucks brand values do too: (1) Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome; (2) Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other; (3) Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect; and (4) Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.


“Brands are incredibly fragile and complex, yet shockingly simple to create.”

Like in all relationships, Starbucks now faces the challenge of rebuilding trust and belief in the relationship between brand and customer.

Now, it must really hold itself accountable to recreate that coffeehouse ideal that has been publicly contradicted.

My graduate school professor once said,

“Brands are not at all what most people think they are. They are incredibly fragile and have little to do with products, services, logos, CEOs, or identities. A brand is something much more complex to continue, yet shockingly simple to create:

A brand is a promise, kept. “

.      .     .

Ask yourself what your brand promise is and if you’re doing everything that you can in your business (from operations to marketing and even in your hiring) to uphold yours so that the same brand irony Starbucks is experiencing never falls upon you.


Need help mapping out your brand promise or your brand values? Book a 60-minute BRANDSTORM session with me here!  We’ll create a plan to bullet-proof your brand from Starbucks-like debacles and get you on the right track toward keeping your promise to your customers.

Written by: Amber Williams
Master Brand Storyteller & Founder of PunkyFlair

Marketing is for Dummies, Story is for Everyone

Marketing is for Dummies, Story is for Everyone.



Brand Story

In college, two marketing representatives from a Tahitian juice company came to speak to my class.

In college, two marketing representatives from a Tahitian juice company came to speak to my class.  They shared with us information about a new drink that promised good health, better digestion, and superior antioxidant protection. We were encouraged to become independent distributors of this life-changing juice that was transforming the wellness space and would, in turn, transform our oh-so-troubled college lives.

Selling to our network of friends would be easy if we followed three simple marketing strategies: (1) Scarcity: Lie and say you only have a few bottles left to persuade them to buy now; (2) First-in-Class: Tell them there’s never been anything like this before and that they’ll want to get in on the movement early; and (3) Social Proof: Share with them an inflated number of people whose lives have already been transformed from one simple drink.

I’ll never forget the expression on their faces as they explained why these strategies were guaranteed to work. It was the same expression you see on the faces of those cult members being interviewed by CNN – the one that lets you know they actual believe their own nonsense.

That’s what this entire pitch was to me: nonsense.

Did they think we were dumb? Had they assumed that our friends would not see through such inauthentic marketing ploys? Finally, if this brand was so life-changing, wouldn’t it sell on its own through some foundation of truth?

.     .     .


I passed on the opportunity to become a student distributor of Tahitian juice. Instead, I continued my education in marketing and learned of a better way to sell products.

I still see companies today using many of the same marketing tactics that were presented to me in college. I don’t doubt their effectiveness, but I have come to understand that just like that life-changing juice brand made some money for a few years and then disappeared, these tactics offer the same outcome for the brands that rely on them: short-lived success.


It’s for those unintelligent customers who can’t see through the psychological games.  And that customer, ladies and gentlemen, is dying. She is being replaced by a far-more-intelligent buyer who is persuaded through other means.

The 21st century customer wants to feel connected and understood by the brands she invests in.  She is compelled by messages that speak directly to her and where she is in life. To attract her, your brand has to stop marketing and start storytelling.

“To attract today’s customer, your brand has to stop marketing and start storytelling.”

Putting your customer at the center of your story is the most effective sales strategy a business can have today. It is also the best way to guarantee not just a sale, or a referral, or another sale, but a genuine connection that transcends those independent transactions.

After spending years making the switch for brands like Armani Exchange, The United States Olympic Committee, Heat Free Hair, and Camille Rose Naturals, one thing is clearer than ever to me:

Whether your customers are young or old, male or female, black or white, varied or the same,

Story SELLS and it is for EVERYONE. 


Are you selling with story? Or are you using old school marketing tactics for dummies? Click here to book a FREE 15-minute Discovery Call with me to talk about how you can use story to create a more effective marketing to-do list this week!

Written by: Amber Williams

Master Brand Storyteller & Founder of PunkyFlair

Looking to start telling your brand story?
Get on the list.

How to “Amplify the Pain” in Your Brand Story

How to Amplify the Pain in Your Brand Story



Brand Story

I took a deep breath before swiping my credit card at Neiman’s for a $200 jar of Créme De La Mer.

I was 20 years old with splurges such as this funded solely by AMEX, and not by my own financial merit. That was beside the point. I needed this face cream. I wanted forever flawless skin and this was the answer. Plus, it worked for Max so it would work for me.

.     .     .

Max, or Dr. Huber was an aerospace scientist who suffered a horrific accident – a routine experiment exploded in his face, covering him with severe chemical burns. The depiction of this tragedy – an image of a man in a white lab coat standing across from two mixing pots struggling to make sense of the life-changing explosion that not even the best scientists would have a cosmetic cure for – appeared on the front page of the La Mer website.

Here was someone who did nothing other than his job that day, now having to go out into the world with an unrecognizable profile, a face that would scare those around him, and a promise from the pedigreed medical community that nothing could be done. I imagined what life would be like if my friends no longer associated with me, if I got ugly glares everywhere I went, and how it would feel to miss out on opportunities my entire life because of a wretchedly burned complexion. I felt Max’s pain.

.     .     .

Twelve years and 6,000 more experiments later, Max perfected his own healing solution – one that would smooth his scars over and allow him to re-enter society normally. It would fuel the beginning of a luxury skincare brand that attached a justifiably high price tag to this “miracle broth” in a jar – a $200 jar I had convinced myself that I needed.

I’m an Image Caption ready-to-use.

Photo: Project Vanity

Story sold me.

La Mer didn’t tout its difficult-to-extract ingredients, its slow harvesting process, or even the celebrities who used the products. Instead, they amplified the physical and emotional pain of a scientist who desperately needed a skincare solution. Max’s transformative story remained the lead narrative with La Mer for years and helped position the brand as a premier leader in the luxury skincare market. To this day, I’m convinced that the empathy I felt from this story of tragedy and triumph is what ultimately led my purchase decision.

“It’s not enough to highlight features and benefits in your marketing. In today’s crowded marketplace, you have to do more.”

Who’s your Max?

It’s not enough to highlight features and benefits in your marketing.  In today’s crowded marketplace, you have to do more. That includes uncovering your customers’ pain points and amplifying them. Visualize them in your communications. Bring them to focus in your messaging and describe what life would be like without a solution. Without your solution. The only thing then left to do is heal the wound. That’s where brand, products and services enter. Story first. Sell second.

Written by: Amber Williams

Master Brand Storyteller & Founder of PunkyFlair

Want to take your brand to the next level?
Get on the list.