September, 2020 Craig Motlong

Finding the sweet spot: naming and identity creation for startups

The creation of the Joywell brand was a process of rigor, creativity, and finding the emotional resonance that sits between the two. The outcome is a brand born of vibrancy, happiness, and the pleasure of taste built into its expression.

Joywell describes themselves as “a food tech company focused on building a new and exciting class of foods around the best tasting and healthiest sweeteners in the world. These sweeteners are natural proteins derived from exotic fruits that evolved to provide sweetness without sugar or negative health impacts.”

Karen Huh, CEO of Joywell Foods and our primary client, shared her thoughts with Strategy Director Craig Motlong and Creative Director David Bates on brand strategy for start-ups, how to right-size rigor, and the value of partnership in getting to excellent naming and design outcomes.


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Craig: One of the things we talk about a lot at Northbound is the role of brand purpose. Do you have a perspective on how brand purpose came together for you?

Karen Huh: It matters in any enterprise, but particularly when I joined Joywell, [back] when it was [still named] Miraculex, because the team is primarily scientists. When you're so close to making the sausage, it's hard to see the output. I wanted to take a step back and say, "Hey guys, this is why we're doing this. And even though you work on components of it, there's an end game here. And without the end game, we don't really actually have a business."

And so, to me, the brand purpose is all about capturing why we show up every day, and what is it that we want to deliver to the consumer, ultimately? Regardless of who that consumer is, whether it's an end consumer, whether it's a B2B consumer, what is the value that we're offering? Outside of the paycheck, why would we elect to work at the place we are now versus anywhere else and why do we think it matters?


Craig: So what were some of the challenges you encountered? Since you did start with a science focus, what were some of the challenges you faced trying to infuse it with emotion?


Karen Huh: The challenge I faced was really balancing the science, so it's not scary for consumers. Jason, our Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, gets excited about a lot of things, and it would be too easy for us to go off the rails and sound like a science project given the amount of technology and science and subject matter expertise and just sheer know-how it takes to execute this business.

But the reality is, because we're in food, we don't want to alienate the consumer with the science. We want to be as familiar as possible. And so I think the biggest challenge was really understanding what it is that we're providing, and almost removing the science out of it, so it's a supporting component to the business, not the star.


Craig: It’s a big decision to hang your hat on a one insight to build a brand around. What was the a-ha moment for you guys in the process?


Karen Huh: It doesn't take a lot of work for us to understand how much sugar there is in things. It doesn't take a lot of consumer insight to know that we consume too much sugar, as a population, broadly speaking.

And so that was a fairly easy concept to go after. What might be a more difficult concept to go after, is getting consumers accustomed and convinced that they can have their cake and eat it, too. Can I eat something, feel like I'm not sacrificing, and be satisfied at the same time? And alternative sweeteners today fall far short.

What required more of an a-ha moment is understanding what we wanted consumers to feel around our brand. And that is Joywell.

There are all these different food brands that have different [functional] elements that they've hung their hat on. Whether it's people who offer grass fed milk, so that means they manage their farms and their cows only eat grass, or something else. Do we want a brand that ladders up that way? Do we want our brand that's cemented in science?

I think the a-ha moment was, we want to build a brand around a great taste experience, and one where someone can feel great, feel suffer-free, guilt-free, and at the same time, buy something that tastes really good. That's where we wanted to anchor our brand. So the a-ha moment was really about what it is that we want consumers to feel. And we want them to feel great, which is maybe no surprise that we would end up with a name like Joywell.


David: Karen, when you reached out to me about getting a brand identity, a name and a logo, we talked about doing more than that, like getting into the fundamentals and that's where we sort of talked about doing the brand strategy. How do you look back on that now, knowing that I think the initial ask was to do a name and logo, and what we wound up doing was rewinding a little bit to do a foundational brand strategy?


Karen Huh: I've been around the block enough to know that you just can't ask someone to produce a logo without any kind of foundational work behind it. Having said that, given the stage of our company, I wasn't sure how much rigor we could really apply when coming into it. I just knew even before I started, this was going to have to get done. You steered me in that direction. I think part of it is collaborating with us to come up with a solution that works with our budget.

And truth be told, I did talk to two other agencies, the one that came way lower, and it would have been maybe one third of the duration, but maybe one third of the rigor also.


David: I always think the foundational brand strategy part of it made the work that much better as an outcome and gave it depth and character of a long-term brand.


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Karen Huh: Though brand strategy is not new to me, I wouldn't say that I'm a brand strategist by trade. And I think as marketers, it's easy to confuse those two things, because brands, building your brand strategy is a skill unto itself and yeah, and there is kind of a method to the madness of doing it really well.


Craig: How did some of the discoveries and opportunities we found in the brand strategy phase help to inform choices we made during the brand identity phase?


Karen Huh: As much as it feels like it always costs so much money, doing some base consumer insights to understand who your consumer is, is really helpful. And I think the Day of Possibility helped us to refine what we wanted consumers to feel and why they would even be interested in the first place.

It really helped us put some stakes in the ground about who our consumer is likely to be, why they would care, and to get crisp. We did an archetype exercise to try and put a personality around the brand and create a common language around the team. That helped us uncover where are we plotting ourselves along the science to taste spectrum. And so doing the initial work helped define some things very clearly.

When we got to the brand identity piece, I think we had already identified what the ethos of the brand should be. We had already made sure that we are on the same page about who the consumer is, why they would buy, and all that pre-work, which helped get to 80%, so that the [remaining] 20% could be all about refining the brand.

I can only imagine as an agency when you're managing clients, especially clients with smaller brands, how we could be just blowing in the wind without rigor. I like to think that we have some rigor, but I can imagine easily a situation where there'd be very little of it and that pre-work helps to mitigate that.


Craig: We explored a lot of different naming ideas. What about the process of finding that name and then that identity? Can you describe how the process worked for you?


Karen Huh: Finding all the language, the communication, the narrative, was a lot easier than coming up with the name. The name feels like a zero sum game. Your company name is your company name. You're not changing it every couple years.

What was hard about it was the gravity. There is no going back from deciding our company name once you execute it. It had a fair amount of pressure associated with it.

The process itself was very logical, because we layered on the pre-work, the Day of Possibility, the brand identity. We had these layers of brand definition and brand building, all the building blocks to lead to what is the name?

I think it was made easier knowing we had a well curated list of names defined by all the work and the foundational building blocks that we had built.


Craig: What are you discovering about the name and the identity after living with it a little bit?


Karen Huh: We've used Joywell Foods as a name officially for about five weeks now. We first announced the company name in connection to our Series A financing. What we found is that it resonated, we got a lot of compliments. And I think the name really resonated in that it's easy to understand, it's easy to say. It evokes a very specific feeling for most people, which is a very happy feeling.

The name broadens the perception of what our business does, because our previous name was so specific and so scientific that it inadvertently put us in a pigeon hole.

The Joywell name and the logo really bring to life the vibrancy we're going after. The joy of food is just the everyday experience of tasting things that are great and fantastic, and isn't just functional.


Craig: Is there anything specific you would say was critical to the process, and that made this a successful outcome for you and your team?


Karen: What I thought Northbound did exceptionally well is applying all the rigor you knew. First of all, you displayed a range of experience. That's number one. So I knew that not to be concerned. Number two, you applied a range of experience, both small, medium, large, and adapted that experience specific to our situation, and helped us navigate the areas where I think there might be more voices in the room. You were a great partner in debating and refining the brand strategy as we went. It’s hard to imagine it working better.

And I think also, I didn't conceive of doing consumer insights in the beginning. And some of the things that you guys suggested and inserting yourselves to say, "Hey, here are some things that we could do that won’t cost a lot of money, but could really be impactful for you in the long term."

Including the ancillary benefits of having consumer insights and those insights are helpful for raising money. You were collaborative, understanding the scale of our organization, and were willing to get underneath what is kind of a novel concept in our industry.

The team approach between all the people that were involved helped, having all those voices in the room was really helpful. And coming at it from different angles and hearing the perspective, especially when we were talking about the brand and the Brand Compass.
It was as though I was at Starbucks again or some other big entity that had their brand strategy team sitting by you. You guys felt like an adjunct to our team, not some agency, with different email addresses and they're a very different organization. It felt like we were one team.


Craig: That's really great and it's certainly the way we felt as a partner in your process, in which we really felt invested in the outcome of your brand.


Karen: Northbound did a really excellent job of keeping me honest with what I knew, helping me think about it in different ways, because the way I know most well is from Starbucks, but that's not the only way, and developing a strategy that makes sense for a brand of our size. And I think also educating the team. I think Northbound is a great partner for companies that have a cross functional group coming in, wanting to build something, but is able to have that conversation across all functions. Particularly, now that we have come out with a name, how we talk about it is so much more natural now, had we not done all the rigor before.

It's very easy to talk about on the fly because we had done all that homework previously and I think the same is true for Jason and Ben, because they were part of that process and they got educated around the rigor.

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Craig Motlong | Strategy Director

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