Using Story To Build A Brand



Each morning I awake in search of that ingenious music marketing plan that will significantly change and impact the way music is sold. One that turns an ordinary musician into a house hold name overnight. While chasing that elusive groundbreaking overnight plan, I like to study other marketing and branding stories in hopes of gleaning nuggets that will lead me to the Holy Grail. Along the way, I stumbled across a branding story that captured my heart in a way no other brand has done. It’s the story of a Nashville based company, Imogene + Willie.

I first heard about Imogene + Willie a few years back from photographer, Joshua Black Wilkins. We were at a photo shoot for an artist that we manage and somehow got on the subject of Joshua’s jeans and how he hadn’t washed them in a year. What! Why? Surely those had to be some nasty jeans? Photographer, Thomas Petillo, was driving the shoot and he was also wearing a pair of Imogene & Willies. Both had done photography for the new jean brand and knew the owners and their story well. Thomas and Joshua shared enough of the Imogene + Willie story to spark my curiousity. After the photo shoot, I began to research the story and their well crafted marketing.

Being an avid blogger, I was instantly impressed to find that the Imogene + Willie website was built on a blog platform. I clicked the tab labeled Our Story and dove in for a read. Learning a bit of the story of the owners, Carrie and Matt, and the inspiration for the Imogene + Willie name began to draw me in for more. Reading the story and watching the video about their desire to make things in the USA and their excitement about building a small business that provided jobs for others was heart warming. Even though we had never met, I instantly felt as if I knew Carrie and Matt well. Even so, I still couldn’t get past the fact that it would cost me $250 for a pair of those special jeans that you aren’t supposed to wash. As I began to read more about selvedge denim, I learned from Carrie & Matt about the superior denim that was used to make the early Levi’s that built America. For some reason, I felt drawn back to the Imogene + Willie website on a regular basis to read more. Carrie and Matt had used story to pull me deep into their brand. I actually shared their story with others for a year before purchasing my first pair of Imogene + Willie jeans. My first purchase was fueled with a desire to support a local Nashville business with heart and soul and to become part of their story. After joining the mailing list, I noticed something even more brilliant. They tell a story behind every product they sell, offering the consumer more than just a piece of clothing. It’s pretty incredible how story makes it possible for them to sell a $68 t-shirt or a $62 bandana. At times, they send emails that tell the story of other local businesses. Through their story telling, I  discovered Otis James bow ties, Emil Erwin leather goods and the wonderful food of  Mas Tacos. How amazing that a company would go to such effort to build community by giving props to other local businesses. 

The catalyst that finally got me to purchase a pair of jeans was seeing the brand incorporate music into their story. Carrie and Matt began hosting Supper & Song nights in the backyard of their store. The Supper & Song nights were complete with live music, community and food trucks. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the Supper & Song until after they were forced to cease hosting them due to local sound ordinance codes, but I somehow felt like I had attended as I read through their blog. Recently, they announced that they will be starting them up again and I absolutely can’t wait to attend. Another way they incorporate music in their story is by creating and sharing Spotify playlists. Music appears to be a big part of the culture they are creating so naturally, customers would want to know what Matt, Carrie and the other employees are listening to. Wouldn’t it be great if all businesses incorporated music in their culture and branding?

Imogene + Willie has created quite the brand and finding themselves featured in the New York Times, Vogue Magazine and they were even invited to do a TED talk on their business strategy. Last week, I attended their five-year anniversary party to celebrate the remarkable Imogene + Willie branding story. Story was a huge part of the celebration as they asked customers to drop off some of their worn jeans ahead of time. They lined the walls of the party with customer’s jeans along with a short story card below each pair with the customers name, the age of the jeans and how many washes each jean had seen.

Congratulations Carrie & Matt on your 5 year anniversary of Imogene + Willie! You have successfully marketed your way into the hearts of many through your story.