Abigail Cook Stone didn't expect to name her candle and fragrances company Otherland.
The founder had a different name in mind: Verve. It was a word her late mother used to describe the spirit of an added touch. "It's all about this extra effort that you put into something that takes it from good to great and elevates the everyday," she explained during a recent Inc. stream event.
While prior trademarks sent Stone in another direction, Verve lives on in Otherland's mission: "the art of living well and creating these little moments for yourself that spark joy, as small as they may be."
Her company's evocative name is just one of many things that differentiate the direct-to-consumer business from other brands in the saturated candle market. It isn't a matter of low prices: Individual candle prices on Otherland.com clock in at $36, while a bundle of three sells for $89.
Stone offered these three tips to other entrepreneurs looking to build a distinctive brand:
1. Experiment with storytelling.
One hurdle that any online seller of candles faces is selling scent.
"This is obviously a huge challenge because customers can't smell [the product] first," Stone said. Branding and visuals are pivotal in overcoming this hurdle.
Otherland is visual first. Each of its candle lines carries different artwork, which creates an emotional connection with customers. With original scents and unique imagery, Otherland tries to tell a story that inspires customers to purchase its candles without ever smelling them.
For example, Stone pointed to her Boudoir Rogue candle, which smells like vintage lipstick. For some, that may remind them of their grandmother. "We try to tell the stories around the candles, the scents, and the concepts. And that really enables us to make those customer connections and have something to talk about on social media," she said.
2. Nurture relationships.
As Stone sees it, a brand is a relationship with the company's customers. It's not just about logos, colors, and typefaces. This holistic approach includes such things as customer service, which can be as simple as strong online engagement and responsiveness to, say, Instagram comments or a direct message about a product.
"That'll make a difference with the customer and their experience," she said.
Starting off with a tight suite of branding materials and really understanding the applications, such as how a product looks on Instagram Stories, also goes a long way.
3. Talk with strangers.
When doing research for a direct-to-consumer company, immerse yourself in the world of the new category you're entering, Stone said.
Not only should you buy and sample all the existing brands, but also talk to everyone you meet. That could be anyone from your Uber driver, a person you meet at a bar, or a stranger crossing the street. Do your own detective work, and gather research firsthand.
What's more, if you start to get discouraged, trust any gut feeling that you have that "the world cannot exist without your product or service," Stone said. "You just have to go for it." That conviction can help keep you going.