Last week, Emotive Brand, Oakland-based branding agency celebrated its ten-year anniversary. To mark the occasion, we sat down with Co-Founder Bella Banbury to discuss her experience starting a business with her best friend, the importance of culture, and what it will take to be successful moving forward.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Ten years ago, Tracy Lloyd and I were working together at another agency that abruptly closed its doors. We found ourselves unexpectedly without jobs and we needed a plan. So, on the first day of our newfound freedom, we met for breakfast at the W Hotel in San Francisco, evaluated our options, and agreed that we might as well start our own company. Most raised their eyebrows and said, “You’ll never do it, you’ll fall out, it’s too hard.” Well, it was hard. But we did do it, we’re still doing, and we’re still best friends. I’m incredibly proud of that fact. Ninety-five percent of small businesses fail within the first five years and, not only have we continued to thrive, we’ve managed to stay independent.
For me, one of the biggest markers of success is our sustained relationships with clients over time. I’m proud of the reputation we have in market, the following we’ve cultivated, and the fact that many look to us as thought leaders and for inspiration all things brand related. When I think about the amount of work we have done – clients, projects, pitches, even the ones that got away – we have probably touched something like 500 or 600 companies since we started. That’s a massive impact.
What risks are you most proud of taking?
We launched this company on the premise of feelings driving behavior to create meaning – and then we took that idea into arguably the least emotional space possible: the B2B world. Looking back, that was pretty risky. Especially in the beginning, when we were trying to build credibility. Over the years, we’ve watched other agencies lean into our thinking and approach. Our methodology continues to evolve to stay at the forefront of what businesses need to grow, but the emotive DNA remains constant.
What has your experience of being a women-led agency been like? Do you view it as a differentiating factor?
I’ve always wanted this company to stand on the strength of its ideas, not the identity of its founders. Personally, I never really thought the fact of being a women-run company was important or differentiating until people started telling us how inspiring it was for them. Especially during the interview process, I constantly hear candidates say, “I think it’s incredible to see two women founders. I’d love to work for a women-led company.” It’s a story I hear a lot, which makes me feel great. I guess women do think and process information differently than men. We definitely play to our strengths and instill a work culture that focuses on communication, empathy, and multitasking.
What has been the importance of culture in building and sustaining Emotive Brand?
Culture is vital to sustaining our business and brand. It connects our team to each other, it’s what drives us. How people show up each day is a direct reflection of the culture we have developed. We have a huge amount of respect for each other and embrace our talents and our differences. We know our team is stronger when we each bring something different to the table. We care deeply about each and every person who works with us and never forget they have families and lives outside of work that impact them on a daily basis. We don’t expect people to leave those aspects of their lives at the door when they come in each day. Instead, we try to nurture and support them. We think the small gestures add up to making a big difference in people’s lives. We spend a lot of time together, we demand the highest standards, but we try to have fun along the way. We’ve worked our way through a lot of tequila over the years – that helps, too.
What will it take to continue to be successful in the future?
The absolute number one thing we cannot get around is talent. To do the work we want, at the level we want, requires an unbelievably skilled, unique, and special group of people who are passionate and curious about the world we live in. They seek out the trends and forces that are at play in any given situation to help craft solutions to the most complex problems, turning them into something inspiring, engaging, and memorable. Our clients are some of the most forward-thinking leaders, disrupting industries and categories globally. They come to us to help them solve their problems and tell their stories, so we have to stay current and always one step ahead. That game’s not for everyone.
As we grow, we need to continue to build our methodology and develop tools that help us solve problems. Whether that’s new workshops, new ways to facilitate meetings, new technology, or embracing more agile work styles. Staying relevant is a constant battle. You can’t assume what worked yesterday will work for tomorrow, never mind the next ten years. Every client is unique and has its own flavor – the last thing we want to do is throw them into a one-size-fits-all template.
I’m in the middle of watching the Queer Eye series on Netflix right now, I love the stylist, Tan, because in many ways it reminds me of what we do every day. I love the considered way he applies style to each individual. When you’re an expert, it’s so easy to bulldoze the situation and force your own rules onto someone. What’s fantastic about Tan is that he’s able to see the individual for who they are – whether they’re a NASCAR fan, bartender, or married with kids but living like a college student – and make them see the best version of themselves. In a funny way, that’s what we do here. Our continued success is built upon the belief that we meet clients where they are at, and help them see the best version of themselves within the structure and methodology we provide.
If you were starting all over, what do you wish you knew on day one?
I would just remind myself how lucky we are to do this. Over the last ten years, people gave us a chance. They trusted us. They followed our lead – most of the time. We’ve seen the insides of so many different companies in cities across the U.S., like VMware, Citrix, Informatica, UPS, and Western Digital. We’ve had the opportunity to learn about so many different industries, from machine learning and AI to blockchain and big data. We get to work, think, sweat, challenge ourselves, and laugh out loud every single day. And so, I’d just remind myself that this is one hell of an opportunity. This job is about lifelong learning. You carry around this backpack of experiences and stories, and it only gets richer over time.
Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design agency in Oakland, California.