The Brand Flywheel Effect

To the casual observer, Oofos look like regular flip flops, maybe a bit on the ugly side.


The main thing that makes Oofos different is the shape of the sole. Because of that shape, and because of Oofos’ squishy material, your foot hits the ground differently from a regular flip flop, with less pressure overall. The pressure  you do feel is right in the middle of your foot. Both your heel and your forefoot are spared. That’s why it’s a “recovery sandal.” (My Oofos were what got me walking again after a bad bout of plantar fasciitis.)

The entire Oofs brand is built around this concept. They’re trying to win as “recovery footwear.”

This brand promise is so much more than a positioning statement. It wasn’t dreamed up after the fact by a branding agency, it is the thing that the company exists to be.

This allows them to ignore Gucci’s $590 GG T-Strap and Versace’s $350 Pallazo Medusa. They similarly don’t care about the latest patterns being offered in a  $34 pair of Havaianas or about being so cheap that they’ll get picked out of the sale bin at Wal-Mart. It’s obvious that none of this is relevant to them.

Because the Oofos brand is about recovery, and because this is so clear and so real, there’s a natural alignment in every activity taken by every person at the company.

Being the best recovery shoe is what the Oofos team thinks and talks about. It’s what they notice in their competitors. It is the axis against which they want to win (and are winning). This clarity of orientation grounds the daily behavior and decisions of every single employee, without requiring minute repeated reminders from anyone.

While it’s true that “brand” is the promise you make to your customers, it is so much more than that.

Brand, real brand, orients your entire team to a set of priorities. It is a north star that begets a self-reinforcing dynamic.

We ARE this means we DO these sorts of things, we NOTICE these sorts of things, we CARE ABOUT these sorts of things.

This orientation explains why we’re going to keep on getting better at the things that matter, and why we’ll do such a great job at ignoring the rest.

Brand creates a flywheel effect, allowing some companies to leave everyone else—the folks who thought that “brand positioning” could come later—in the dust.

What do you stand for?


A few weeks ago I moved into a new house.  It’s been both great and exhausting for me and my family.  Fortunately the exhausting part – all the boxes, dust (from painting) and the general sense of disorientation (“Do you know where the toothpaste is?”) – is temporary and the great part will endure.

One the frequent, early bumps in the road is discovering the array of small things that don’t work and deciding whether you need to fix them.  For example, in one of our new bathrooms, the tub drain doesn’t fully close, which didn’t seem like a big deal until we learned that that the only way to fix it properly was to completely open up the wall and install new plumbing.  This is firmly in the “you gotta be kidding me category” and a project that we absolutely want to avoid, though when confronted with the notion that a bathtub might not be useable (ever!) you quickly start thinking through how much a drain you can close is actually worth to you.

Before capitulating to yet another project, my wife cagily bought an $8 Oxo tub stopper in an attempt to avoid the ~$1,500+ project.  It was sort of a running joke with the knowledge that we’d soon be showing the thing to the plumber and the tile guys and all laughing.

Except that, amazingly, it works beautifully.  As in I’m-never-going-to-replace-this-thing beautifully.  So, no need to open up the bathroom wall.

We were subsequently frustrated with the setup in the kitchen sink – another minor annoyance.  Volia!  The $9 Oxo drain cover saved the day.

The Oxo brand promise, as I understand it, is amazingly simple.  If the Oxo name is on a product it means, to me, that it is the best-designed version of a particular gadget at an affordable price.  Since Oxo so consistently delivers on this promise, my decision about buying an Oxo product isn’t whether it will be good or about choosing between Oxo and a competitor.  I simply need to decide whether I feel like a particular gadget could be improved upon.  If not, I don’t buy the Oxo product (spatulas or can openers); if yes, I do (peelers and storage containers).

The reason brand conversations get so convoluted and end up feeling like wordsmithing exercises is because so often brands don’t stand for anything.  So instead of capturing what you stand for, or capturing how what you stand for needs to evolve or be sharpened, you instead end up pretending to stand for something and then writing pretty words around an idea that has no core and no truth.

Unfortunately, the branding team (and the firm they’ve hired) isn’t in a position to actually get the company to stand for something.

The next time someone suggests a branding exercise, a new logo, a snappier tagline, grab ten people in your company and ask each of them to tell you in simple, plain words: what do we stand for?

(By the way, I’m sorry to say I now find myself wishing Oxo made freezers.)