Luke Faccini On Branding Fundamentals For Purpose-Led Businesses
Luke Faccini is founder and chief brand storyteller at The Sponge. He was born and raised in Sydney, and now lives in Brisbane.
Since starting his professional brand design journey in 1999, he has helped thousands of people put their brands on the map. He foolheartedly started his own business right out of college and has learned what it takes to grow a business.
While beginning as a trained graphic designer, the entrepreneurial leap took him on a path of transformation. He experienced firsthand the impact that purpose and values have in business, and the connection to brand story.
Having had a ‘purpose moment’ that transformed his outlook on business, in, 2017, The Sponge obtained B Corp certification. Luke is a firm believer that business can and should be a force for good. His purpose is to “Help Good Businesses Become Better Brands.” By all means necessary! His work has included writing a book, an online program and growing the Byron to Bundy good business community.
Luke discusses some of the keys in creating a strong brand that people rave about, whilst sharing insights into the importance of getting clear on your purpose and impact model if you’re a social business.
Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)
[Tom Allen] - To start off, could you please share a bit about your background and what led you to starting The Sponge?
[Luke Faccini] - I was that guy that in school who would sit there and draw a lot. So after leaving school without really much idea of what I wanted to do, I floated around doing everything you could do when you didn't really have any qualifications, like selling phones, being a barista, a bartender. All that kind of good stuff. But I had an itch and that was I needed to do something that was creative. I found a graphic design degree, did that and found digital in that. Got the goosebumps on my cheek. I knew I was in the right space. The entrepreneurial spirit in me kicked in while I was in college and I was freelancing through an ad agency and a marketing company. And when I graduated, I had five contracts. So I took the best designers with me and started a company.
Excellent. And that was 20 years ago. So what sort of projects have you done since then?
20 years, where do I start? Well, before my purpose moment, I was a bit of a brand whore. So we worked for everyone. Everything from adult services, to financial services, to gyms, to health based businesses. Basically we never really niched into an industry because we didn't believe that, that was good for our clients. We wanted to give everyone equal opportunity to shine. It's hard to pick out which of the better ones in that. You can imagine, 20 years, there's so many.
So tell us about this purpose moment you've referred to a couple of times. What was that like?
I found myself watching a documentary called, ‘The True Cost’. It's a fast fashion exposé. Really brought to light all the exploitation and senseless deaths and really the devastation that corporations can create. And whether it's ignorance, or corporate greed, but before it was finished, I was changed.
I had to fire clients and I just couldn't work for brands that were all about profit. Wasn't good enough.
That was it.
It's a pretty amazing moment to have that sort of moment, which then helped define the rest of your career and path and direction with The Sponge. I'm really curious to hear a bit more about brands and branding. There seems to be a little bit of confusion, particularly when I'm working with a range of clients around what the difference between a brand and branding is. Where do you believe the common misperceptions lie in building up a successful business?
Good question about the brand and branding. Branding, when people take that, they can think of it purely as eye candy, with the logo and that's only part of your brand. The way I like to explain brand is that it's an expectation of three things. First and foremost, quality. Is there a level of quality or an attribute? You could be about speed, about taste, about, well, any kind of quality there that's an attribute. The second thing is an expectation of an experience. And that is what it feels like to actually use the product or the service or to interact with the brand. So this experience, and this might be the most important. It's the expectation of who you become, connection or what does this brand make you become by supporting them or buying them?
That's really related to the fact that we as humans want to support brands or choose brands that have values and purpose that we aspire to have for ourselves.
So a brand, really for me, is about culture, because culture is how those things are delivered. The interactions, the service. That's one difference you guys use.
If you’ve got a strong brand that people rave about, you have a culture that people rave about. And if you want them, then you need to have that culture.
So it's about building a community essentially?
Oh yeah, internally first. So that's it. When we go on a journey with people to rebrand or refresh, the first thing we do is start with the culture. So what's your purpose? What are your values? Those things drive so much. What's your impact model? Once you’ve got that right, and you’ve got that culture of storytelling, that's your brand there. It doesn't matter so much what it looks like. I mean it does, and the designer in me cringes at that answer, but it's the delivery. It's the story you're telling. And then you do a refresh. You do the identity on top of that as a sign post to say, hey everyone, something is different here. You’ve got that attention and then you sustain that with that story and the story of the impact. The story of purpose. The story of your values. That's your brand.
I'm curious to hear if there's any other top things that you believe social enterprises or business owners should be considering to ensure that their brand resonates with their audience and generates the intended impact that they're seeking to create?
The first one is understand who you are.
Get clear on your purpose. Get clear on your impact model and get very clear on your espoused values or your core values that guide your day to day decisions.
When you’ve got that right, you understand who you are.
The second part is doing an equal dive into who your buyers are. 'Cause you need to understand that you're not for everyone. As soon as you get that, that's a nest in awakening. You need to know who you are likely to resonate with and not only understand how they buy or choose to support enterprises or organisations like you. When you do that, then you can do the third part, which is connect those two things with story, using the language that resonates for the audience. That's a big, big miss for most people. They had never stopped to find their buyer personas or their customers. So if you get that right, you're halfway there.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs to improve the way that they tell stories? They need to find their purpose first, understand their audience. But what storytelling tricks do you have?
Yeah, the first thing is understand the language that your audience uses to describe the problem that they have, that you solve. That's the key. You want to be able to hit the high points that they use or the keywords that they use to describe their problem. But then sprinkle it in your impact model; the sustained benefits that you're creating for everyone and your values, your point of distinction. When you can hit all the right notes for them while sharing your story, then it will resonate.
Thanks, Luke. I'm curious to hear a little bit more about B Corps. You are a certified B Corp and you're one of the core drivers of the ‘Byron to Bundy’ B Corp community here on the East Coast of Australia. Why do you believe that this certification is valuable and how are you seeing this movement of B Corps transform?
The B assessment is an interesting thing to do. When we did it, I had no idea how deep it was. It really forces organisations to think about all aspects of their business. From supply chain to diversity. It goes into community. But really, it looks at all the stakeholders and the totality, the true cost of doing business. And it's hard to do because it is quite confronting, and it requires you rethink a lot, all your processes. So really, everyone that I've met who is a B Corp is awesome. It's like a pre-qualifier, because you have to be committed to do it. And really, everyone that I've met is awesome. I feel like it's my tribe, and kind of selfishly, I want to grow the tribe around me, hence the getting involved with the committee and forming Byron to Bundy up here.
So what does Byron to Bundy do?
I'm a believer of a few things. One is, we are the average of the people that we hang around. So if we want to be awesome, we need to be around awesome people. Simple.
And the other thing is that there're so many good people doing good things in isolation and reinventing the wheel. And that is just so wasteful, I believe.
So if we get everyone together regularly, so that conversations happen and friendships and relationships are built, then we get that trust. We get the ability to share those practises, and we can stop reinventing the wheel. We have those opportunities for collaboration and to do core things.
So the model for Byron to Bundy is to get everyone together in Byron Bay, the Gold Coast, in Brisbane, in the Sunshine Coast, once a quarter at least, to bond. To share these practises. To start conversations. To bring new people into the fold. We haven't been [formed] quite a year yet. We've had some pretty good collaborations form and we've had some pretty good events, too.
It's been great to see the movement grow, Luke, well done on all the hard work you've been putting into it. I'm keen to hear about a few purpose-led businesses in Australia or globally that really inspire you.
Where do I start? Let's act a little local first. There's a really good brand. I'm wearing their jeans right now, called Outland Denim. What's interesting, after I had my purpose moment watching a fast fashion exposé, I was like, ‘I can't buy clothes anymore.’
[Jokingly] So you just had to be naked for the next few weeks?
I did have a lot of brands I don't really want to wear in my closet, but I can't throw them away because that defeats the purpose. And it's a whole sustainability issue. Yes, we want to be sustainable but that doesn't mean replace everything in your wardrobe with sustainable brands.
Anyway, the first clothing that I bought brand new was Outland Denim and that was because I heard their story and it's so awesome. They're a B Corp, too. They were set up to give victims of human trafficking a better life by giving them a career. They've got their own factory in Cambodia, I believe. And they take victims of human trafficking, teach them all aspects of the denim production. So these people aren't just stuck on a single machine. They learn the end to end process of building jeans. They also help them with budgeting, life skills, hygiene. The whole range of skills that we take for granted. So they're empowering these communities. It's amazing. So a really good brand. That's in Mount Tamborine. So fairly local to us.
Secondly, a brand that I love, ‘Who Gives a Crap’, the toilet paper company.
Led by Simon Griffiths.
Yeah, an awesome brand. Taking a really ordinary product and doing it better in a way that solves a problem and that's just amazing. So I love that their brand is playful, and it's fun. So that's one of my favourites there. And then the girls in my team would be angry at me if I didn't mention Lush Cosmetics. They do diversity really, really well. Amazing. And they also address packaging. And that for us is a big thing. We're a design agency. In part, we help with packaging, so we're always looking for alternatives that are sustainable, or environmentally conscious. And if we look at Lush, they've opened a naked store in London, I think it was, where they sold products that had no packaging or minimal packaging. Some good brands doing some good things out there.
So to finish up, as an author yourself, I'm really curious to hear what books, articles or other resources you would recommend to our listeners?
I'm a book junkie. So purpose based, I think if you haven't read it yet, Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard.
Yeah. They're one of the foundations in the whole purpose space. So it's really worth the read. There's another one that's been quite impactful for me lately called, The Power Of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. And why that was important is because it helped me understand that for moments to be captured, you need to have a framework, a language already in place to be used to capture it. Really powerful when you're building a culture of storytelling. That's a digression. There has been one that's been really, really profound for me lately called, The Diamond Cutter. It's an old book but it spurred an initiative in our organisation based on economic management where you need to plant seeds for good things to sprout from. And from that, we got our ten million dollar impact karma seed initiative.
Tell us about that.
So we have our advanced brand storycrafting program, which is an end to end process that we take clients through when they come to us for a rebrand or a refresh. We bottle that as a DIY online course. It is for sale on our website for $1,997. What we're doing with that is giving it to 5,008 impact businesses who are cash strapped, who really need help with their brand story. And our intention there is, we help you succeed with your brand story and create an impact and then the universe will deliver that to us through karma. It's amazing to see that the organisations, the enterprises that are applying for it. There's a little process. There's a little speed hump 'cause it is worth two thousand dollars. So you do need to submit a little video, just telling us what you're doing and why.
And then you get access to this program. There're some amazing people doing some cool things that we're helping with that program and we just want to extend the reach of it now.
So that book has been very impactful.
I highly recommend that you read it if you want good things to happen for you. You need to create the karma and the space for that. And that book details that quite well.
There's one last book I have to recommend, and that's my book, Impact Brand Storytelling. The sub-line to that is ‘a how to guide for founders hellbent on changing the world.’ So if you are that person, you should have a read.
It was great to see you on that journey of writing the book, Luke. So well done on getting it out there. How can the audience find it?
You can get it from our website right now. Jump on and you'll see it on a nice big banner on the homepage.