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Calling All Emerging Brands: Here’s Four Tips to Level-Up Your Business

Let’s say you’ve done the initial legwork of running a successful business. Your products or services are top-notch, your finances are sorted, and your brand is gaining traction. At this point, growth is certainly on the horizon, but there are many things you can be working on to elevate your emerging brand to the next level.

Over the last 35 years, I have been fortunate to work with over 40 burgeoning businesses including QSR giants like Chipotle, Jamba Juice and Jimmy John’s. I’ve seen some marketing growth strategies fall flat and other business development plans that have made brands fly. As the current CEO of Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii, an emerging coffee franchise specializing in premium 100% Hawaiian coffees, I can attest that leading a brand in its early stages is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to chart a long-term course for a business.

While Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii started in 1989, I joined the brand initially as a consultant in 2017 before helping to form Royal Aloha Coffee Company a couple years later. After we acquired the brand assets, we started a comprehensive brand re-launch and revival in 2020. In the years that followed, we have built a new business infrastructure from scratch that doubled our store count – with 100+ more in development – and have seen our franchisees increase their store volume by as much as 300%. It’s a reflection of the traction we have gained both as a brand and as an investment opportunity for small business owners. Our franchisees at Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii further our business’ recognition at the local level by delivering exceptional products and service in our cafés. At the national level, our entire team continues to implement strategies and processes that strengthen our business as a team, as a brand, and as a supplier of premium Hawaiian coffee.

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Like countless other industries, the coffee marketplace is incredibly saturated with quality products and likable brands. Finding a way to differentiate your business among the masses can be challenging, but focusing on a few key objectives will help you refine your brand and stay grounded no matter how big you grow. Here are four strategies emerging brands need to lean into if they want to evolve into a stand-out concept:

Be Aligned Around One Vision

Emerging brands need to be strategy-driven, as having long-term goals is an integral part of what makes them “emerging.” While all businesses have a clear mission for the products they provide and the way their business might function, having defined goals puts a brand on a path towards success. On the other hand, when a brand doesn’t articulate goals, it will be held back without a clear direction forward– it’s like Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

Your brand’s vision should include two components: a quality standard for your product or service that has room for continuous improvements, and an articulation of your ideal audience. The vision should be ambitious but achievable, and it needs to be open-ended enough to support adaptations in pursuit of the goal. Every member of our ‘ohana (family) is aligned on our overall vision, and we aren’t afraid if that vision needs to adapt to changing economic conditions or grows to include new ideas. At Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii, we keep our eyes on a clear, but ever-growing target.

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Build a Team of Subject Matter Experts

It’s important to understand that no one person can be great at everything. Just as your business has had to identify the sectors where it can become an industry leader, you need to do the same when weighing your own strengths and weaknesses as a leader. I always say, I want people on my team who have “been there, done that, got the t-shirt.” Stack your team with self-directed experts who are aligned with the vision and have the ability to transform a certain aspect of your operations into the best it can be. It’s important to create a community of professionals with a proven track-record in a specific area – whether that be marketing, training + support, or innovation.

No matter what level you are hiring for, your recruitment strategy needs to keep your business’ long-term vision in mind. Look at each potential hire as an investment who will bring a highly specialized series of skills into your business. Take into consideration how the personality, ambition, accountability and interest of potential hires align with your brand’s vision, and how their professional experiences could support your business day-to-day as well as long-term. Taking the time to invest in a strong team will give your business intangible strengths, further enriching the core of your brand.

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Don’t be Afraid of Change

A huge mistake emerging brands can make is being too set in their ways. Being “emerging” means you are on your way to achieving a set of goals, but aren’t there just yet. The pandemic is a prime example of how quickly the landscape for any business can change overnight – we have all had to learn to adapt with change. Embracing change can open the door to new opportunities that might grow your business in ways you never could have expected.

The only hard-and-fast quality all businesses need to have is flexibility. Having an adaptable business model will prime you to accommodate new consumer preferences, changing economic landscapes, and pivot when unforeseeable challenges present themselves. When you are one step ahead of any hurdles your business will inevitably face, you can solve problems more efficiently. Set realistic expectations for how change must be implemented and pinpoint metrics to measure their success while maintaining vision alignment.

Lean Into Accountability

At the end of the day, it is the quality of your team’s work that will make or break your business. Once you have assembled your team of subject matter experts who are aligned with your emerging brand’s vision, you need to ensure that each team member realizes their influence. Emerging brands provide individuals with opportunities to have a huge impact, which is why establishing a tradition of accountability is incredibly important early on. For the sake of the brand’s future, you need to establish expectations for certain roles and outline key performance criteria to help team members stay on track.

Give individuals the tools and resources they need to perform their job duties while creating a network that encourages excellence and collaboration. Create a trust-based environment and give everyone an opportunity to offer feedback on how to improve. Acknowledge your team’s investment of time and effort and celebrate milestone achievements that move the needle forward. Empower your team to take ownership of their role and applaud their contributions. As a business leader, it’s your responsibility to invite team members to join in the excitement as your brand elevates from being emerging to a legacy.

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