Strategy

Interview: Brendan Bannister on Shifting the Conversation in 2020

The Creative Director of William Painter talks pivoting into new product lines and how digital shoppers consume images.

Welcome to Direct-to-Conversation, a recurring interview from DTC Magazine. These conversations will feature insights, advice, and innovation strategies from leading thinkers in the DTC, eCommerce, and retail space. Our most recent interview was with Marcus Startzel, who is the CEO of White Box, the DTC and eCommerce fulfillment company.

In this Direct-to-Conversation, we catch up with Brendan Bannister, who is an ace photographer and the Creative Director at William Painter, the California-based DTC sunglasses and apparel company We talked to him about the importance of how shoppers consume images online and how brand messaging has changed in (a very wild) 2020.


DTC Magazine: You have a very accomplished background in photography, which seems like a nice segue into talking about how people consume images. How does your experience as an artist shape your strategy as a creative director and chief marketing officer?

Brendan Bannister: Prior to working in the eCommerce industry, I spent several years working as a commercial photographer for various brands around the world. The hands on experience gave me the ability to see which content outperformed other content based on angles, lighting, and framing of the images. I was able to notice a trend in what type of creative worked the best and have been able to take that knowledge and apply it as a creative director, most notably when working on our Hero Videos. A brand is, in my opinion, starts with a visual experience to the outside world (cold traffic), which starts at a consumer's first interaction with a brand, generally from an ad seen somewhere on the internet. The higher quality the creative content is, the more of a positive impact it has on the consumer's journey and overall subconscious emotions about the brand.

My experience in the creative industry helped train my eye to improve my hunch about what creative will resonate and perform with cold traffic. I feel this becomes most notable when creating media buying strategies and campaigns across our channels because I am able to not only help direct the creative, but also syndicate it across channels. This allows me to make data-driven decisions based on our media-buying metrics to continue improving all of our visual content.  

We aren't looking for people with the highest number of followers, best engagement, or most impressive content. Instead, we look for people who fit our brand ethos and truly love our products.

DTC: Can you talk a little about the relationship between a brand and its influencers? How do those partnerships develop authentically?

BB: When we enter into discussion to work with new ambassadors and influencers we start the conversation with a very opened approach. We aren't looking for people with the highest number of followers, best engagement, or most impressive content. Instead, we look for people who fit our brand ethos and truly love our products. We want our ambassadors to provide true 'influence' not just likes on Instagram, which requires them to actually resonate with our products. We don't provide mandatory talking points or scripts, we encourage absolute creative freedom and expression. This helps create natural and authentic relationships with our ambassadors which helps them spread William Painter based on their true opinions and not based on what we 'tell them' to say.  

Our creative is generally action packed in populated areas, where most people wear sunglasses, but with the social distancing rules we found this incredibly hard to work around and had to rewrite a lot of our visual concepts for our video.

DTC: We're obviously in a surreal moment between civil unrest and a global pandemic. How, if at all, have you had to adapt William Painter's message to fit the current context?

BB: Haha...'surreal' doesn't seem like a strong enough word for the unprecedented events we are currently living through...

We are always working on improving our brand messaging regardless of scenarios unfolding around us, but where we really struggled was adjusting to the new content creation hurdles. We were set to film our 2020 Hero Commercial one week after going into lockdown here in California, which pushed back our filming date over two months. Our creative is generally action packed in populated areas, where most people wear sunglasses, but with the social distancing rules we found this incredibly hard to work around and had to rewrite a lot of our visual concepts for our video. We also struggled to get new fresh creative made by our content creators around the world who were drastically affected by the lockdowns. But, as with every challenge in life comes an opportunity to solve a problem, which thanks to the help of everyone, we were able to still produce our Hero Commercial and get new creative made. You can see our 2020 Commercial here.

DTC: One of William Painter's newest product forays has been socks. Strategically, how do you make the argument that a specialty sunglasses purveyor can also make an excellent pair of socks?

BB: That's just it...we aren't just "a speciality sunglass purveyor", we are William Painter and our goal is to make the world's best products by using the world's best materials while providing the best customer service that treats people like family.

Adding new products to our collection has always been on our road map and we are beyond excited on being able to introduce new products at a higher velocity in the coming months. As everyone knows with more products and SKUs comes more complexity across the board. There are many new challenging problems for us to solve on the horizon, but one that stands out to me is how to integrate new Top of Funnel products into our media buying strategies and of course the attribution complexities that come with it. We are going to have to learn to shift from a product-specific CPA [cost-per-action] to a blended-brand CPA that encompasses not only the change in new product CPA, but also factors in the change it Customer LTV that comes with introducing new products.

Once you have managed to decipher your brand and messaging, you can start to make creative and ads that will differentiate you from the competition.

DTC: Without giving away any trade secrets, what advice would you give to someone entering the DTC space right now?

BB: I think one of the most important questions to ask is "Why am I different and what makes my brand better than the others?". Meaning, what will help my brand standout from the rest? Since the majority of cold traffic is earned by buying ads on Facebook, Instagram, and a little bit of YouTube, it is important to take into consideration what marketing strategies you can employ to help your ads and creative standout from the noise on our busy and cluttered news feeds.

Once you have managed to decipher your brand and messaging, you can start to make creative and ads that will differentiate you from the competition. The DTC space is only going to continue to rise as will the amount of brands entering into auction for media buying placements. Why is yours not only different, but better?