Building a brand people love from day one.

By Emily Heyward

Notes mentioning this book


Read in conjunction with a brand development project at Vivaldi in the Fall of 2020. Many great insights in how to think about Brand, especially in the context of digital consumerism and direct-to-consumer products.

A particular “aha” moment came when reading the case study on Prose, a shampoo brand who’s key benefit is creating a bespoke product for consumers; a lot of overlap in ideas here with Vivaldi’s design philosophy and point of differentiation within the browser category. Rather than removing choice to bring focus to the consumer’s experience, another alternative is to create a bespoke product for them by learning exactly what they want.See Chapter 5 highlights, starting at:

I spoke earlier in the chapter about the false distinctions that serve a brand more than its consumers. One solution is to remove choices and make it simple. The other antidote is to learn exactly what people want, and make it for them. (Location 1557)


From Penguin Random House:

The cofounder and chief branding officer of Red Antler, the branding and marketing company for startups and new ventures, explains how hot new brands like Casper, Allbirds, Sweetgreen, and Everlane build devoted fan followings right out of the gate.

We’re in the midst of a startup revolution, with new brands popping up every day, taking over our Instagram feeds and vying for our affection. Every category is up for grabs, and traditional brands are seeing their businesses erode as hundreds of small companies encroach on their territory, each hoping to become the next runaway success. But it’s not enough to have a great idea, or a cool logo.

Emily Heyward founded Red Antler, the Brooklyn based brand and marketing company, to help entrepreneurs embed brand as a driver of business success from the beginning. In Obsessed, Heyward outlines the new principles of what it takes to build and launch a brand that has people queuing up to buy it on opening day. She takes you behind the scenes of the creation of some of today’s hottest new brands, showing you:

  • How Casper was able to upend the mattress industry by building a beloved brand where none had existed before
  • How the dating app Hinge won a fanatical user base and great word-of-mouth with the promise that the app was “designed to be deleted”
  • Why luggage startup Away, now valued at $1.4 billion, could build their brand around love of travel by launching with just one product–a hard-shell carry-on suitcase–rather than a whole range of luggage offerings.

Whether you’re starting a new business, launching a new product line, or looking to refresh a brand for a new generation of customers, Obsessed shows you why the old rules of brand-building no longer apply, and what really works for today’s customers.


  • Chapter 1 – Fear of Death

    • identifying the attitudes and behaviors that define the people who will care about this brand the most. (Location 250)
    • The consumer need identifies the problem; the brand idea (which is intimately linked to the business idea) is the solution. (Location 341)
    • It’s not about “look at me, listen to me, this is why I’m wonderful, pay attention.” Instead, it’s “here’s what I understand about your needs, and here’s how I’m here to help.” (Location 453)
  • Chapter 2 - Elevate to the Emotional

    • the product needs to have meaningful differentiation in order to build a brand that people love. (Location 487)
    • Your Brand strategy is rooted in an emotional idea, but it’s an idea that’s supported by your functional benefits. (Location 511)
  • Chapter 3 - Sense of Self

    • When people choose a Brand these days, they’re making a statement about their values, and in doing so, they’re connecting to others who share those values. (Location 1022) #Community
    • When a brand successfully taps into people’s identities, it creates a movement that’s about more than the brand. (Location 1026)
    • When people choose which brands to love, they’re choosing which part of themselves they want to convey to the world. (Location 1029)
    • It’s not just about how you want your brand to be seen. It’s about connecting your Brand to how people see themselves. (Location 1030)
  • Chapter 4 - Creating Connection

    • The communal choice of one brand versus another unifies a group of people around what they care about. It builds a sense of Community. (Location 1047)
    • The brands that achieve true cultlike status create a sense of connection not just with their consumers, but among them too. #Community (Location 1052)
    • People do not need to be digitally interacting with each other, or even physically interacting, to feel they are a part of something together. When brands are able to create unity around shared values from the beginning, Community forms. (Location 1068)
    • The most successful communities develop organically when a brand adheres to a clear set of values, and a natural connection forms among those who are not only buying the products, but believing in the ethos of the brand. (Location 1150) #Community
    • Toms is not a nonprofit, but it does represent a new era of “conscious capitalism.” (Location 1180)
    • That’s another way to think about incorporating social good into a brand’s story: if it’s a tiny appendage that can easily be lopped off with no effect on the overall brand identity, you haven’t gone deep enough. (Location 1181)
    • As with all successful, long-term brand building, it’s not a layer that sits on top, but an idea embedded within the organization. (Location 1226)
    • What matters is that people have something to rally behind, to get excited about. (Location 1230)
    • Brands build strong communities by ensuring that everyone who takes part in the brand feels like an insider. (Location 1269) #Community
    • Brands build successful communities when they create a powerful feeling of inclusion. This does not require purposely leaving people out, but it does require a willingness to put a stake in the ground about who you’re for and what you stand for. (Location 1309)
  • Chapter 5 - Strength in Focus

    • There’s a reason that most of the successful new consumer brands launch with a very limited offering. Instead of coming out of the gate with forty different styles, each in ten different colors, many of these brands launch with just one or two products. On the surface, this approach may seem like it gives consumers less control, but it’s actually about removing false distinctions that waste people’s time and make their lives harder. This stands in contrast to the days of traditional retail, where brands would try to launch as many individual items as possible in order to dominate the shelf. That’s why you might see twenty different types of the same brand of toothpaste at the drugstore and subsequently spend a half hour deciding if you care more about tartar control, whitening, tartar control plus whitening, extra-fresh breath, or the ability to chew through cardboard. Now, it’s about recognizing what people want, and serving it up simply and succinctly. (Location 1356)
    • By simplifying their offerings, brands are able to focus more on an emotional overarching narrative than minute product differences. (Location 1368)
    • By offering less, these brands can stand for more. (Location 1375)
    • A laser-focused product strategy actually enables greater breadth of vision, because it’s not the features of one suitcase versus another, it’s about travel as a whole. (Location 1410)
    • Focus can help convey an attention to detail, an ethos of quality over quantity. It can also help people understand that a brand is for them, by virtue of the fact that it’s not trying to be for everyone. But again, that requires the bravery of leaving some people (and their wallets) behind. (Location 1526)
    • A singular vision helps build trust with consumers: they feel understood instead of upsold. (Location 1548)
    • Customization is the ultimate expression of focus, because instead of continuing to expand a product line to meet every person’s needs, one offering can be adapted to fit the different needs of each individual. (Location 1552)
    • I spoke earlier in the chapter about the false distinctions that serve a brand more than its consumers. One solution is to remove choices and make it simple. The other antidote is to learn exactly what people want, and make it for them. (Location 1557)
    • While it may seem counterintuitive to ask consumers to spend time filling out a questionnaire in this era of convenience and speed, Paul shares the logic behind the consultation: “We understand that 25 questions might be a lot, but we’ve noticed that consumers who are passionate about finding best-in-class products will take the time. Consumers in this era are more willing to purchase from brands who align with their personal values and truly address their needs and desires. Amazon has set a precedent when it comes to fast, online shopping, but on the flip side, consumers are now looking for more immersive, conversational shopping experiences.” Prose’s platform offers customers a new type of experience, and its high conversions are proof that it’s working. With customer feedback it can introduce new ingredients, advance its algorithm, and build meaningful relationships with its customers. (Location 1571)
    • Our strategic idea for [Prose](https://prose.com) was “hair like no other,” a double meaning that speaks to the fact that every person’s hair is unique to them, but also that Prose offers you the hair of your dreams. (Location 1577)
      • Note: “A browser like no other” could work on the double meaning aspect as well - everyone’s browser is different, but Vivaldi itself is a browser that is ahead of the pack.
      • Although perhaps “browser” isn’t the right word here; a bit on the nose.
    • For Prose, customization is not just a gimmick or a marketing tactic; it’s the driving force behind the [[ business model ]], allowing the brand to deliver greater value across the board to its consumers. (Location 1581)
    • Arnaud describes three main areas of opportunity driven by customization, beginning with efficiency: targeting and addressing specific needs and desires leads to more effective products. The second opportunity is inclusivity; while other brands target a specific ethnic group or gender, Prose makes products for the individual. The third opportunity is sustainable production. Products are made to order, (Location 1583)
    • Prose can adapt with them. While a bespoke solution may sound more complicated on the surface, it’s simpler for the consumer. Guesswork is removed from the equation: they’re in the hands of a professional. (Location 1598)
      • Note # [[ Onboarding ]]
        • Perhaps Vivaldi can take on this approach in a “browser setup wizard” - a questionnaire where users tell us what they like, don’t like, their stance on privacy, etc - we spit out a settings config that they can apply to their install. Et voila - a bespoke browser designed for their needs.
          • This also meshes nicely with our aim of making configs shareable between users.
          • An important distinction here from the current thinking around a “persona” based categorisation of users during setup - rather than labelling a user and making them feel like part of a “type”, we’re addressing their specific needs - the way they use and setup their browser is like no other. # [[ Onboarding ]]

          • And as an added bonus, gives us ongoing insights into user needs and preferences - built-in [[ Consumer Research ]]. Win win.
    • Q: I thought you said brands were offering fewer choices in order to better serve their consumers? How does offering seventy-eight sizes translate into focus? While the breadth of ThirdLove’s assortment may seem contradictory to the notion of focus, brands that offer more options in the name of inclusivity, whether it’s size or skin tone, aren’t falling into the same trap as the brands that offer endless product variations for no good reason. After all, one individual consumer is rarely shopping among multiple sizes, but instead is seeking the size that’s just right for them. (Location 1620)
    • Successful brands today embrace a reversal of the power dynamic: now more than ever, it’s a buyer’s market. (Location 1630)
    • Instead of trying to hook as many people as possible by accounting for every possible need and preference, brands can connect with the right people from the start, over a shared idea that’s bigger than any one product. This kind of day-one focus sets the stage for deliberate, purposeful growth over time, and lasting obsession. (Location 1638)
    • Remember: Do the hard work of figuring out not just who you are, but who you’re not. This enables you to be crystal clear about what you stand for. Not everyone is going to love you, but the ones who do will be obsessed. (Location 1641)
  • Chapter 6 - Redefine Expectations

    • From launching with just one style, to rethinking naming conventions, to introducing emotional narratives into categories that were historically defined by the functional, the winning brands of today are writing a new playbook. In fact, the success of many of these brands comes from their boldness in completely reimagining how a business behaves. The word disrupt has become a startup clichĂ©, but there’s no denying the ways in which these brands are disrupting the status quo. (Location 1656)
    • The key to success was to build a beloved brand in a category that had largely been devoid of brand loyalty. (Location 1713)
    • For an innovative business like Casper, the brand has two roles to play: shake people out of complacency (sure, you do it this way now, but why?), and then entice them with a new approach. Again, it’s about striking a balance between the new/provocative and the familiar/comforting. It’s the solution people never knew they were seeking. (Location 1720)
    • All categories of goods or services, particularly those that have existed for a long time, have their own established set of tropes and traditions, and over time everyone comes to occupy roughly the same space as everyone else. There are subtle variations—that’s how you can tell brands apart—but everyone follows the same set of rules, until a brand comes along, breaks those rules, becomes wildly successful, and puts new rules in place. (Location 1723)
    • Apple is the prime example of a company that consistently breaks the rules of its category to its great advantage. From packaging to advertising, tech products are almost always sold by their features; the more bells and whistles, the better. Apple took the exact opposite approach with its understated elegance and focus on design, and was able to turn a piece of hardware into an object of desire, so much so that people care more about the brand than the products. (Location 1728)
    • It’s not that consumers don’t know what they want. It’s just that it’s extremely hard to articulate the desire for something completely new, especially in a testing environment, when you haven’t ever been shown what that thing could be. (Location 1765)
    • You have to have a good reason for going against expectations, and you need to identify the places where you’ll tap into what’s familiar and comforting so that you have permission to break the rules elsewhere. In other words, you need a strategy, and it needs to be rooted in a consumer truth. (Location 1776)
    • When your goal is to transform a category, or create a new one, you have to start by asking: What can you stand for that no one else is owning, but that people actually care about? How can you carve out a unique space that’s unlike anything that’s been done before, but that will also resonate? (Location 1778)
    • Through that lens, it was never just about the product—it was about how the product fit into a larger story about who people were, and who they wanted to be. This approach influenced every key decision as the brand was being created, finding every opportunity to thoughtfully and strategically go against the grain of what had been done before. (Location 1796)
    • Bios of the founding team could be toggled between “day” and “night,” revealing who they were as people and as sleepers. (Location 1801)
    • In fact, you could make the case that the hidden nature of a mattress combined with the attention to detail actually deepened Casper’s relationship with its customers: the design is there for you and you alone. (Location 1809)
    • constant struggle that many startups face—how to balance noteworthy, differentiated brand building with more-functional (and sometimes more immediately motivating) hard-hitting messaging. (Location 1861)
    • Luke Sherwin, one of Casper’s founders, had a brilliant analogy that I think of often. He felt that Casper’s “brand equity”—in other words, the love that people have for the brand because of all the ways in which it set out to delight them—could be thought of like marbles in a jar. Every time a business runs a transactional ad or any piece of communication that’s focused directly on driving sales, it removes a marble from the jar. It’s okay for you to remove the marbles—in fact, it’s necessary to grow—but you need to also continue filling the jar, or eventually you’ll have no more goodwill from which to borrow. So if you’re going to run a bunch of “ten dollars off” ads, maybe it’s also time to invest in an experimental pop-up. (Location 1863)
    • In order to drive obsession, [[ Differentiation ]] is critical, in both product and Brand. But differentiation also needs to be purposeful. Newness can’t just be an attention-getting gimmick, because any initial excitement that you’re lucky enough to build will flame out just as fast. For people to fall in love and stay in love, change needs to be in their favor. An innovative business needs to be designed to meet their needs in new ways, and the brand needs to be built to drive lasting and meaningful connection. (Location 1917)
    • …each of these channels has its own set of cultural expectations, calling for different types of behavior, and people respond accordingly. The same is true for brands today. The most beloved brands understand how to adjust their message to the medium, from the beginning. That doesn’t mean the brand stands for many different things. In fact, having a clear, single-minded strategy is what enables a brand to adapt its behavior depending on where it appears. The brand can take multiple paths, all in the direction of the same North Star. When a brand is clear about what it stands for, it then has the freedom to emphasize different facets of its purpose and personality depending on the time and the place, without diluting its identity. It can dress differently for the barbecue than it does for the cocktail party, standing out in every occasion for its impeccable style and not because it messed up the dress code. (Location 1948)
    • Rather than staying in a tightly defined lane, successful brands today embrace contrast, mashing together ideas that may not seem obviously aligned but that come together into a unique and ownable identity. (Location 1954)
    • That’s not to say that it isn’t important for brands to be perceived as trustworthy. Rather, it’s so important, so obvious, that it’s not worth mentioning. Instead, we try to find terms that contrast with each other, creating combinations that have never existed before, just like the two-adjective game I used to play with my friends. This is how we ensure richness and nuance within the brand. Casper, for example, is both pioneering and lovable. (Location 1961)
    • Figure out where and how you’re going to break the rules, not just to make noise, but in service of your consumers. What can you do better for them that they’ve never experienced before? (Location 1921)
  • Chapter 7 - Embrace Tension

    • However, while a brand can embrace tension when it comes to its tone, there is no room for inconsistency when it comes to the brand’s values. You would appreciate a friend who is fun loving at a party and thoughtful during a serious conversation, but would feel less enamored of a friend who claims to be a hard-core environmentalist and then doesn’t recycle. (Location 2015)
    • Playing with people’s expectations is smart when it comes to brand personality, but not when it comes to a brand’s core identity. Tension and flexibility are not the same as hypocrisy. (Location 2026)
    • it’s actually more important these days to have rich and varied layers for storytelling versus one symbol that says it all. (Location 2184)
    • a logo does not equal a brand, and, in fact, overreliance on logos (and taglines) as the sole brand expression is a sure path into a consistency rut. (Location 2192)
    • A Brand identity that stretches, that invites people in, is harder to control, but that’s a good thing. Letting go of control is what allows consumers to become part of the story. (Location 2200)
    • If you know exactly what a brand is going to say next, why should you keep listening? Instead, brands create obsession by inviting their audience on a journey that has twists and turns, even cracks in the road, and it’s a whole lot more exciting. (Location 2203)
    • You should stand for one idea, but you can and must express that idea in many different ways. With all the places a brand needs to appear today, you have to bend and flex to keep things interesting. (Location 2205)
  • Chapter 8 - Make it Personal

    • the role of the founding team in the brand’s narrative. Not every founding team wants to be a forward-facing part of the brand identity. Many don’t want to “make it about them.” That’s when we explain that it’s not about ego, it’s about access. They don’t need to put their face on the front of the box, but people want to know who’s behind the things they buy. If consumers believe in the founders, it’s an added factor in their excitement about supporting the company. It also reinforces people’s own entrepreneurial dreams: I did it, and you can do it too. (Location 2234)
    • Instead of feeling corporate and stodgy like much of the beauty industry, Glossier feels like a community, with real people driving product development, and real people featured in its [[ Instagram]] feed. The company describes itself as a “people-powered beauty ecosystem,” and Weiss has described her customers as her “[[cocreators ]].” She’s a role model, but one who shows up in the comments section alongside her customers. (Location 2424)
    • Regardless of how much deliberate [[ messaging strategy ]] is going on behind the scenes with these founders, it feels like you have casual and open access to them. They’re showing up on panels and podcasts where they’re promoting a vision, not plugging a product. They have personal Instagram accounts where they get giddily excited about business milestones, and people root for them like they are friends who just had a great win at work. (Location 2435)
    • It requires a level of comfort with blurring the line between founder identity and brand identity, which is not for every entrepreneur. But when done right, it strengthens people’s connection to a brand when they’re a fan of the people who started it. (Location 2438)
    • The brand is a study in contradictions. Responsible and sexy normally don’t go hand in hand, but we embraced the tension between transparency and mystery, safety and sensuality. (Location 2464)
    • While many brands have seen success tapping into [[ influencers ]], consumers are getting much smarter about sniffing out, and rejecting, the influencers who will post an ad for anything. There needs to be a plausible relationship between the influencer and the brand, a reason this particular person has credibility in this particular category. Otherwise, it’s just a shameless plug, and people see through it. (Location 2485)
    • Founders also drive [[ internal culture ]], which directly influences the outward success of a brand. If employees don’t have a deep understanding of a brand’s purpose, if they aren’t living and breathing it every day, then maintaining the magic as a business scales can be very difficult. (Location 2510)
    • brand is not an external layer; it must be embedded at every level, baked into the very DNA of the business itself. It starts with the founding team, and then needs to be instilled in every subsequent hire. (Location 2522)
    • If brand needs to start from within, it begins with the founding team. Even if you don’t exactly mirror your [[ target audience]], you need to embody the [[Brand Values ]] and the spirit of the brand you seek to create. (Location 2525)
  • Conclusion

    • Brand is a living, breathing thing. It’s the culture you continue to build among your internal team as you scale, it’s all the ways you appear and behave, and it’s how you evolve your story and offering as the world changes around you. (Location 2531)
    • this book is about the principles that need to drive design in order for it to be effective. The most salient and unspoken power of design is not that it looks cool or sleek or sexy; it’s that it conveys an idea and is often able to do so more effectively than stating the idea out loud. (Location 2538)
    • In order to create a lasting shift and ultimately take over as the new [[ category ]] leader, you need a brand that connects with people at every level: strategically, aesthetically, and emotionally. (Location 2549)
    • Ultimately, obsession comes when you build a brand that’s 100 percent in service of its audience. Brands that succeed today are the ones that wake up every day and behave in a way that recognizes and honors the shift in power dynamic between consumers and businesses. With more choice than ever before, and traditional gatekeepers removed from the equation, consumers are running the show from literally the palm of their hand. (Location 2556)
    • In the simplest of terms, user experience design, or UX, most commonly refers to the design of a digital experience. Think about when you arrive at a website or open an app—what are the first things you see? How do you find your way around? How are you guided from one step to the next? Where do you need to touch or click or swipe? How are different features prioritized and arranged? Is how you use it intuitive? UX is an unbelievably important discipline, and it’s nearly impossible to have a successful digitally led business without stellar user experience design. It’s also a very important piece of the puzzle when we talk about branding. But on its own, it’s not enough. (Location 3037)