Don’t become something else to win new customers. Instead, become more of the thing you are passionate about.

Chief Executive Optimist, The Life Is Good Company
Featured in Jan 5, 2015

My brother John and I are neck-deep in the process of relaunching Life Is Good. Our mission, vision, and values will remain intact, but pretty much everything else is about to change. This may be the most exciting thing we’ve done in our 25 years as entrepreneurs.

When John and I went into business in 1989, we viewed T-shirts as a vehicle for selling our original artwork. We’ve always loved art, which brings people together like nothing else. In 1994, when we stumbled onto the idea for a positive lifestyle brand, we realized we could continue to sell our art and spread the power of optimism. Our dream jobs were born! Over the years our T-shirts became increasingly popular, particularly those featuring our signature characters: Jake and his trusty dog, Rocket. With so much demand, we spent less time creating new artwork and more time being an apparel company.

Selling optimism is timeless, and our business remains strong. But as happens with many mature brands, our core customers have aged. We love these folks and have no intention of turning away from them. But we also need to attract new, younger customers. To broaden our reach we must deliver our message in new ways while remaining authentically Life Is Good to the faithful.

How would we do that? The answer hit us like a screaming guitar. We would go back to where we came from. Back to art. In all our products and all our branding, Life Is Good will be grounded in art, which is flexible, inclusive, and joyous. I can’t tell you how good it feels to write that.

We call our new approach the ArtHouse Strategy, and we’ve tested it over the past few years by hosting a music festival as a fundraiser for the Life Is Good Kids Foundation. Imagine more than 30,000 people gathered at a beautiful farm spreading optimism as they jam to talented blues, jazz, funk, reggae, rock, and hip-hop artists. We don’t tell Jack Johnson or the Roots or the Boston Symphony Orchestra how to celebrate life. They all do so in their own styles, and we embrace them all. Life Is Good fans turn out for the concerts, and so do fans of these musicians, who learn about us for the first time or see us in a new light. The artists also gain exposure: not only to concertgoers but also to our 2.6 million followers on Facebook.

ArtHouse extends the music-festival approach to all our product creation and marketing. We are partnering with painters, sculptors, poets, filmmakers, animators, dancers, and others who express in their own ways that life is good. Starting in fall 2015, their work will appear on our products, in performances we sponsor, and everywhere else the company touches consumers. Jake and Rocket will still be around. But our artist-partners will apply their playfulness and creativity to refresh them. As with the concerts, these collaborations will raise both the artists’ profiles and our own.

Art is more idiosyncratic and subjective than advertising, which often takes a lowest-common-denominator approach to reaching the masses. Advertising announces, “This is what we say it is. Buy it.” Art, by contrast, empowers consumers, who form their own opinions about a product and derive their own meanings. Our artist-partners share our values, so consumers still receive our message. But instead of being “sold,” they will be entertained and enlightened.

We love art. What do you love? Can you bring it to your brand? Infusing what you love into your business makes your work more enjoyable for you. Sharing what you love with your team and your customers creates a deeper emotional connection. When customers feel that level of authenticity, they become brand advocates who spread the word and enjoy building your business with you.

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