This article originally appeared in Branders Magazine.
The subject line simply read: “Holger and I are alone in the factory.” During those initial days of social distancing and six-feet of separation — when our email inboxes were cluttered with overly-vetted, carefully-composed, “personal notes” from various c-suite representatives from brands large and even larger; less informational and more a reminder of our shopping habits over the past few years — it was that Lynchian subject line that stood out.
Who is Holger? What factory? Where? And what events — besides the painfully obvious — had preempted this entrapment?
The email — admittedly, one of the few that I received during that time which didn’t go unread and immediately trashed — was from Daniel Lantz, co-founder of Graf Lantz: a Los Angeles-based lifestyle brand specializing in handbags, accessories and home goods crafted with a variety of sustainable materials.
I won’t go beat-by-beat here, but suffice it to say, Daniel’s email resonated. It read in an approachable, measured tone, avoiding the pitfalls of overly-familiar — dare I say, “cutesy” — missives I’d received from similar upstart brands during that time.
Daniel wrote from the heart: how he missed the noise and imagination of the Graf Lantz factory (a key character itself within the brand), and how he and co-founder Holger Graf had adapted to this new normal: promoting themselves to co-heads of the shipping department…with varying degrees of success.
His words expressed optimism, humility and a subtle wit, ending on a note of graciousness, can-do spirit and what’s become a global rallying cry of unity.
True, there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary from the other countless updates I’d received during that stretch, but it portrayed a unique experience served on a common ground; a singular perspective where we can find glimpses of ourselves as background characters.
I’m not saying the email I received from Graf Lantz should be a one-size-fit-all answer to branded storytelling and content strategy for every brand — far from it. The point is that each brand has an ability to tell a good story, especially in times of cloudiness and uncertainty.
Beyond a peek behind the curtain, Daniel looked within and found what made Graf Lantz special, and more to the point, human…and that, in turn is where we should all begin to seek inspiration as branded storytellers.
All too often, brands tend to be overly aspirational when trying to define their voice: To be seen as innovators, to speak with boldness, and to be steadfast challengers of the status quo. Always driving forward, imagin- ing a future world where they not only have a place, but a place at the forefront, as leaders and as champions.
And until recently, in my role as a brand communicator, I’d be the first to push for that aggressive aspiration — encouraging brands to be superheroes, focusing beyond the here and now. However, the world has added a drastic twist, the plot’s thickened to a point of muddiness, and everyone’s simply looking for just a bit of normalcy as we sit in our homes, waiting.
Think of this as a “KonMari” moment for brands: A chance to strip away the layers of overwrought — and over-thought — messaging and identity, and focus on what makes them part of the global community. To key in on what gives them purpose, and what truly delivers joy to their customers, their partners and their employees.
This is a moment to pause and speak directly to their respective audiences with clarity and thoughtfulness. And to provide that bit of normalcy that we all crave.
Simply put, to start a conversation with people as people themselves. As with anything in the world of branding, it will take time, effort and confidence, but the stand-out brands are already showing this level of support through unabashed humanity, and it’s a trend I think we can all agree will be vital in the coming months let alone years.
We’re truly all in this together, so Daniel, if you’re reading this, here’s hoping that the Graf Lantz Factory becomes less lonesome very soon.
Casey Seijas is a Brand Communication Director on our New York team.