Episode 19


What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip…S’WELL

Show Notes (click to expand)

Most recovering accountants are not known for their style presence. Just for the record, I’m a recovering accountant…and so is Sarah Kauss.

Sara Kauss spent 10 years as an CPA at Ernst & Young, with a brief stop along the way for an MBA at Harvard Business School.

She is also the Founder of S’well, a brand that perhaps you’ve heard of.

Sarah’s inspiration for S’well dates back to college at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She was given a big mug to carry around and pledged to try to not use foam cups or plastic bottles.


Later, during a hiking trip to Arizona that Sarah took with her mom, she was asked the following question that I often ask my own two children:

“What would you do if you could do anything?” 

Pondering this riddle, as she drank the warm water baking in her reusable metal bottle, she blurted out: 


“I would create a better water bottle that looked good AND actually kept things cold.”

BOOOOOOOM! Her idea was born right there in the Arizona Desert.

This inspired her to think BIGGER…and she set her sights on ridding the world of single-use plastic water bottles. 

According to a 2015 poll in INC. Magazine, 73% of millennials (those born from 1977-1995) are willing to pay more for sustainable products that are actually good for the earth and the people on it.

In fact, while Sarah was a big advocate for SUSTAINABLITY, her journey from Boulder to Cambridge to the Big Apple and around the world increasingly required a step up in her wardrobe. Unfortunately, that ugly hiking accessory from college no longer matched her new image.

So, Sarah decided the reusable water bottle also needed a makeover.

She set out to create a water bottle that was SUSTAINABLE, and FASHIONABLE all-in-one…and in 2010, she delivered FASHIONABILITY in a bottle named S’well:

FROM A SUSTAINABILITY PERSPECTIVE: Key functional attributes make this bottle the perfect reusable accessory. It’s insulated body keeps liquids cold for up to 24 hours or hot for 12. There’s also fluting on the bottom, a metal cap, two layers of stainless steel and a wide mouth for ice cubes.  This functionality leads to unmatched SUSTAINABLILITY.
FROM A FASHIONABLE PERSPECTIVE: There’s no doubt these water bottles are a fashion statement. They’re designed to look like they belong on the runways at Fashion Week – whether they’re themed bottles or limited-edition collections with designers and charities like Lilly Pulitzer and UNICEF. Distribution is a key signal of style and you can find S’well bottles in Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, Starbucks and the Museum of Modern Art. 
By combining SUSTAINABILITY and being FASHIONABLE, Sarah transformed a commodity into an accessible luxury. 

If there’s one thing I now know for sure, it’s this:

o Your product is NOT your brand.

o Your brand is your Core Value…AND

o You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.

o S’well uses their water bottles to drive their Core Value of


So, the next time you’re looking for a chic, reusable, water bottle with a purpose….remember:


I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

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1 Comment

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