Hilary Burns Staff Writer Charlotte Business Journal
Greg Johnson still thinks back to his days with Nike regularly. Johnson runs his own Charlotte-based business that helps other companies leverage and build brands. So his time with Nike, one of the more iconic brands on the market, is relevant. Johnson served as marketing director for Jordan Brand in the early 2000s before moving back to the East Coast to be closer to family. Greg Johnson is the co-founder and managing director of Orbital Socket, a local marketing.
After a few years with BooneOakley, a local ad agency, Johnson and his wife launched Orbital Socket in 2014, a marketing firm that specializes in branding. The husband-and-wife team now runs Orbital Socket out of the Portal building at UNC Charlotte. Orbital Socket works with startups to create and shape their brands. They also work with larger companies to “energize” part of the business. "The best practices I gained over 25 years, I apply it (all) now to these companies," Johnson says. "It has been incredibly invigorating to me. I feel so fortunate."
I caught up with Johnson recently to learn more about branding. Here are excerpts from the conversation, (edited for brevity and clarity):
What are common mistakes you see companies make with their brands?
I think they oversimplify what they think a brand is and therefore never really get to the rich, meaningful story behind what their brand can be. They then lack the type of connectivity they would have with their customers. It starts with the deep customer development — understanding who they are and importantly where they are going. And do you align your real promises that your company or brand is making with your journey?
How does company culture play into that?
I think now more than ever culture is critical. Everyone’s excited about the millennials and that’s important because it’s a fast-growing group that spends a lot of money, but the thing is they shape culture that’s really what is powerful to me about millennials — they shape culture. The things they do we ultimately all end up doing. Culture is critically important. I study culture, and it’s a big factor when I talk about customer development. It plays a big role in that process.
Are there any specific experiences at Nike that showed you why branding is so important?
In my experiences there has not been a better example of what happens when you really understand your customer, and you really have developed a rich story around what your brand stands for. Michael (Jordan) was great. He’s the best basketball player ever in my opinion. He had an incredible shoe product that he then turned into a brand and now that brand makes training products, baseball cleats and football cleats and there is apparel — it has people lining up with great anticipation for the next show all because he did the work around understanding his customer, understanding where they are going with their life and how his brand can be important to them along their journey. That is really the model I base the work I do on.
PHOTO COURTESY OF GREG JOHNSON
The 31st Annual Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards were held Saturday, January 21, in Nashville, TN. The Levine Center for the Arts spot, #LongLiveArts, created by Orbital Socket and produced by Priceless Misc. won the Promo Spot/Image category. #LongLiveArts is the marketing campaign Orbital Socket developed to promote Levine Center for the Arts. Located in Charlotte, NC, this cultural center includes the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture, John S. and James L. Knight Theater, and Mint Museum Uptown.
“There is a critical need to identify the real meaning and value of museums to the community and the individual,” says Hillary Cooper, Director of Advancement & Communications at The Mint Museum, representing Levine Center for the Arts. “By combining forces, Levine Center for the Arts does a great job at creating these vital and rich cultural experiences that can’t be missed. It’s a collection of Charlotte’s art, a symbol of pride.”
“We wanted to create a video that showcased what you will experience at Levine Center for the Arts,” says Greg Johnson, Managing Director at Orbital Socket. “The video itself had to be a piece of art, which I think we successfully achieved. It’s quite stunning.”
You can learn more about the #LongLiveArts Campaign here. Or, click here to learn more about how Orbital Socket can grow your business by leveraging modern approaches to build engaging customer experiences.
Here are a few branding rules that have been helpful to us at Orbital Socket. These are some rules that come out of our expertise around creating strong brands that have helped many companies see what’s possible. So, here are our rules:
1. Seek out strong insights – A strong brand begins and ends with great consumer insights. It’s not about what we want the brand to be and how we want it to connect, but it’s about who they (the consumers) are and where are they going. How do we effectively identify key insights that will unlock their willingness to become aware of and eventually engage with the brand. There has to be an ongoing ferocious commitment to learning about the consumer.
2. Develop a distinctive positioning – There has to be clear, distinguishable positioning that brings a clear and distinctive point of view to the marketplace. It should be clear and distinctive (did I say that already?).
3. Define invigorating touch points – The strong brand positioning should fuel perspective around how the brand can become “touchable” or accessible by the consumer. They should get it and want to get to know it. Defining the touch points that align with where they are going is essential.
4. Create a powerful experience – Creating experiential touch points is essential. As marketers, we are in the experience business and must make sure that all that we are doing works hard to create emotional connections to the consumer. Remember to seize opportunities to surprise and delight the consumer.
5. Infuse brand within your culture – Make sure that everyone on your team fully understands and embraces the brand. Your best ambassadors work for the company.
There are many rules about branding that many people have proclaimed over the ages, but these rules seem too particularly important in this modern marketing age. They serve as guides for us as we help companies see what’s possible for their brands and bring them to life in new and powerful ways.