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On Building a Brand That You Love

The only thing I really know how to do is play the bassoon.

When I was 14 years old, I somehow started down the path to become a professional classical musician, spending thousands of hours learning my craft.

Headshot of Jacob Smith
Jacob SmithVP, Digital Services Strategy & Marketing
On Building a Brand That You Love

The only thing I really know how to do is play the bassoon.

When I was 14 years old, I somehow started down the path to become a professional classical musician, spending thousands of hours learning my craft. During college at Carnegie Mellon University, I practiced scales and etudes (training pieces) every day for three years. Only during my last year, with graduation in sight, was I deemed ready by my teacher to study and perform actual pieces by the likes of Mozart and Vivaldi.

This rigorous, decade-long boot camp gave me the technical foundation upon which to build a career, first in orchestras and then in the opera. By the time I was playing Die Walküre at the Kennedy Center or performing with the rock flutist (and bassoon aficionado!) Ian Anderson in front of 10,000 baby boomers at the Mann Center, I was ready for anything.

As a marketing professional, I’ve learned in total reverse. While trying to make it as a musician, I used my instincts, a tiny dash of HTML experience, and a hustler’s attitude to sell websites. I charged $250 upon completion, and $15.95/mo for hosting. I did that a few hundred times, slipped into SEO, started advising nonprofits and companies on their marketing strategies, and then had the very good fortune to start a cloud computing company.

No formal training required, evidently!

Learning on the Job

The classical music world — just like professional sports or piloting airplanes — doesn’t tolerate learning on the job very well. The technical skills are simply too critical. Marketing, from my experience, is quite the opposite and often rewards new approaches. A big part of that is because we’re all expert consumers of marketing and messaging from a very young age, but also because the pace of change in how we reach customers is very fast. Remember ads on the sides of telephone booths?

I’ve always viewed marketing as equal parts art and science. Or as John Wannamaker wisely observed: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”

Imagine being able to flub every other note in a Mozart opera or nail the landing of a commercial airline just 50% of the time. As marketers, we should be very thankful that experimentation and new ideas are a valuable part of the trade.

I know I am.

Learning on the job, especially while building Packet from scratch, allowed me and my colleagues to turn our instincts and ideas into something much bigger than a marketing program: we had the chance to build a brand.

The Value of a Brand Promise

Last year we joined forces with Equinix and more recently rebranded Packet to Equinix Metal. These changes could have been traumatic for everyone involved: founders, employees, customers, and partners. Due to a number of factors — including a strong alignment of core values and a commitment to maintaining an intimate relationship between our team and our brand — I believe that we’re on a legitimately strong path.

I give a lot of credit to an idea that Ed Tettemer introduced me to years ago — the value of a brand promise. A brand promise is the experience that a customer, employee, or any other stakeholder can expect when they engage with your brand at any point. I’ve never seen it in the narrow sense of a value proposition (e.g. Geico’s “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance”) but something that creates a relationship. More like Disney’s “Everybody leaves happy” mantra.

A brand promise is powerful externally, of course, but the real impact is internal. Helping everyone rally around a common vision is difficult, but people know when it feels right. That’s what a brand promise can do.

It took us a while to put our brand promise into words. What started as an idealistic vision of a bunch of humans out to build a better internet translated into a customer-first mindset of “doing the right thing.”

Currently, we rally around something simple that helps make our interactions: we’re the cloud that knows your name. Not in the "got-you-on-my-email-list" way, but one that means we could share a cup of coffee, ask each other for guidance, or provide and hear tough feedback. We’re interested in being your provider and partner - we know that takes intimacy.

I am One with My Brand, My Brand is With Me

The other day I was watching Rogue One with my son. While not a Jedi, the warrior monk Cirrut Imwe has a deep connection to the Force. When things get tricky and the path forward is unclear, he meditates by repeating the phrase: “I'm one with the Force. The Force is with me.” This seems to get him into the mood pretty quick!

At Equinix Metal we’re not saving the galaxy by jailbreaking the plans to the Death Star, but we do feel that our work and mission are important. Like the Force, our brand and the promise we put behind it is a connection between all of us and our customers.

Investing in an intimate relationship with our brand helps us when we get into tough spots. It’s always in our mind as we create and review messaging, calibrate our creative direction, and decide how to spend our time and our dollars.

It is possible that if I started my marketing career more like I did my music career, I would have a different perspective. Our small team should probably be more focused on MQL’s and demand generation, conversion optimization, and paid media. We’re in a place where those tools and activities really do matter. But I still feel our priority is to make sure that when a customer arrives on our website, signs up on our app, experiences success, or faces an outage that they’ll walk out of that interaction with a taste of our brand promise: we’re humans just like you, working to build a better internet, trying to do the right thing.

And we want to remember you by your name, not just your ticket number or invoice amount.

Have a story about your relationship with a brand? I’d love to hear about it. Meet me on Slack, Twitter or LinkedIn, and let’s grab a virtual cup of coffee.

Published on

14 January 2021


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