Special Feature: Building Your Brand from the Truth Up
When it comes to entrepreneurship, there’s a reliable core that fuels the process of turning a concept into a company. For Eitan Chitayat, an EO Israel member, brand-building pioneer and founder of Natie, an international branding agency, that core is truth. In this special interview, Eitan discusses the role authenticity plays in his life, business development and the brand-building process.
Authenticity plays a big role in your life and business. Why is it so important to you, and how has your background cultivated this approach?
EC: “I believe living and working while being true to who I am plays a significant role in my success. It all starts with knowing who you are and being yourself. I try to manage my life and business by striving to be self-aware about what I’m doing, why and how. It also extends to embracing my strengths and dealing with my weaknesses, while understanding what motivates me to always push forward and never give up … for myself, my family, my team and my clients’ sake. I need to always be able to look myself in the eye.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and experience a variety of cultures. This has, to a fair extent, helped shape me as a husband, father, friend, colleague and business owner. I have always had to adapt, but for better or worse, I’ve always been me. I was born in Tel Aviv in 1971, but spent my youth in Hong Kong. I went to high school in London, only to return to Israel to attend college and serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, before moving to Boston to earn a master’s degree and launch my branding career. New York City was my next stop, where I worked at Ogilvy & Mather and BBDO for clients like American Express, Target and AT&T. I returned to Israel soon after to work as an executive creative director at TBWA Digital on accounts like Toyota and McDonald’s, only to leave after a year to start my own firm.
“Starting a business was an opportunity for me to create something of my own to express my ideas about branding and advertising. And I have the best team ever, whom I’m so grateful for every day. Since forming Natie, we’ve worked directly with Apple, Facebook, Google and other great companies. Looking back now, my experiences helped me shape my own personal brand while building great brands for clients. The cultural and work diversity I’ve had in my life has always been a major asset. It invigorates my output and keeps me on my toes, especially here in Tel Aviv. There’s an electricity in this city that supercharges my creative battery and entrepreneurial spirit.”
When it comes to brands, they can fall flat or be remembered for decades. In your experience, what are some elements of a powerful brand?
EC: “You know, the things people really like in a brand are similar to the traits they like in people. People gravitate toward brands that stand for something, know who they are and that are comfortable in their own skin. A powerful brand is consistent and presents itself uniformly wherever consumers meet it. It’s not true in every case, but most great brands appeal to people’s emotions more than their rational side. And the brands that endure and have an impact have something memorable about them. Again, the human comparison applies: The people we find ourselves drawn to are somehow memorable. Maybe they’re great conversationalists or inspirational; there’s just something distinctive and unforgettable about them. It’s the same with brands.”
You believe that what truly fuels a business or brand is its authenticity. Why is truth so integral to the development process?
EC: “I think every business needs to do more than offer a good product or service to succeed; it has to also be honest. It needs to be inwardly and outwardly true about its values, strengths and weaknesses; what kind of people it’s made up of; where it wants to go; what it wants to achieve; what it’s good at; and what it could stand to improve. A company’s margin of error is so slim— especially a young company’s—that it has to be brutally honest with itself. And companies that are brutally honest internally tend to be companies that are also honest with their customers via their brands and what they claim to stand for. In today’s digital age, companies must be able to look their customers in the eye and be straight with them across the board. Finding and adhering to your internal truth isn’t always easy, but it’s clearly a worthy goal.”
There’s power in authenticity, and yet so many entrepreneurs shy away from it in their businesses. Why do you think that is?
EC: “It’s not always easy to put yourself out there and unabashedly bare your business soul. That’s especially true if you might be rocking the boat in a particular industry, operating non-conventionally as a business or you just don’t feel comfortable being perceived as ‘different.’ So I get that it’s hard to embrace. But a lot of people behind successful businesses don’t shy away because authenticity grounds them and lets them know exactly where they stand, what their values are, why they’re doing what they’re doing day in and day out, and what they have to do to get where they want to go.
“Besides, if you don’t know or are not sure what your values are and what’s important to you, then it’s very hard to operate successfully in life or in business. For entrepreneurs, business is an extension; maybe not of us, specifically, but certainly of our values. Those values determine how that company conducts business. Honest people create honest businesses and truthful brands. And they want to hear honest opinions and ideas from their partners and employees, too. Back to my earlier analogy, branding is like a person. There’s strength in living true to who you are and people sense it. As for me, like I said, I can’t have it any other way. I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror every day: as a human being, as a friend, and yes, as a business owner. Not to mention as a husband to an incredible wife and father to two children I positively adore.”
How have you been able to incorporate truth into your business? Has it helped or hurt your brand over the years?
EC: “When it comes to my approach, I say things that I believe are important to me for people to know. Like, we don’t work with just anyone, and we expect of our clients what we expect of ourselves. Also, that we don’t all share one office— we work remotely, which is always greeted with raised eyebrows. Something that’s always a little uncomfortable is when I express how we don’t see ourselves as vendors (with all due respect to vendors). We consider ourselves partners to our clients, working together to achieve success. Does saying these things put me in the occasional sticky situation? Sure, but not as many as being inauthentic would. And for the most part, as my clients get to know me and experience our direct way of working, they know that being upfront might actually help them get what they’re looking for faster. Once they gain confidence in us and develop the right level of trust, once they see that our interests are aligned, success usually follows.
“At Natie, we’ll often challenge our clients because they know that someone has to ask the tough questions. Sometimes this can be uncomfortable for me and for them, but being honest and frank are crucial parts of our relationship. Likewise, if I see that a colleague or partner is bothered by something, I’ll let them know they can speak openly and will be heard. And if they have a problem, it will be taken seriously. I guess I incorporate authenticity by just saying what I mean. It’s become a part of our business brand.”
Is there a project you’ve worked on that represents truth through branding?
EC: “There have been many. Recently, there’s the comprehensive branding project for Elma, a multi-million-dollar arts complex luxury hotel in Israel. The client is a visionary older woman who wanted to make a statement about how vital art is to life. She lives and breathes it and wanted her complex to communicate that idea through its every last detail. This isn’t just her vision— it’s her legacy. It was a challenge to carve out that position, especially for a luxury hotel located off the beaten path, but that’s their truth. Working with her stellar team over the course of 18 months, that’s the brand foundation we created. And the result has been nothing short of astounding.
“I’m also proud of our introductory campaign for Gmail to Africa. We needed to embody the spirit of Google but also reflect the African culture, its directness, diversity and color. Our campaign was one of Google’s most successful; not necessarily because it carried the Google name, but because the audience recognized the truth behind the work and responded to it. Another project was Phree, a pen-like digital tool that lets you write or draw on any surface, only to appear in real time on whatever Bluetooth device you have nearby. We delivered the strategy, naming and messaging, and developed a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, helping Phree raise more than US$1 million in 45 days. With a truth like theirs, our job was easy because they embraced it.”
An example of your commitment to authenticity can be found in your new venture, “The 5 Percent Club.” How is this project an extension of your focus on truth?
EC: “When you think about it, 95% of our lives are mostly on autopilot, but the 5% is what’s really important. I try to live my 5%, both personally and professionally. That notion is something my Forum mate, Tamar Yaniv, and I really bonded over. We wanted to put real effort into inspiring other people to live their 5%, too, whatever that means to them. So, we created a social, pay-it-forward narrative platform called ‘The 5 Percent Club,’ where we bring people together through expressing what truly matters to them via personal experiences. We hope these inspirational stories will spread with the 5%, becoming an ever-larger percentage of everyone’s life. Creating something honest and good, paying it forward and potentially helping others through storytelling— these are all things that I love, so this project truly means a lot to me.”
What can your EO peers do to fuse truth with their business or brand?
EC: “I really respect it when clients care and are willing to do the hard work to get to their truth. For people running companies, branding can be like therapy in some ways. It’s a process that helps them define who they are and communicate it to the world. In that process, I need to be clear that I expect the clients to push themselves because it’s better for the company they’re trying to build. Everything’s so competitive nowadays that clients need every little edge they can get. It’s often amazing what comes out when you’re sitting opposite a senior team: the differences of opinion they have with one another, the different takes on problems and solutions, and especially those moments of revelation when people see things from a different point of view because they pushed themselves.
“So, if I have any wisdom to offer, it’s simply that: Do the work. Face yourself in the mirror and be brutally honest with yourself about your strengths, your weaknesses and what you want. And let your personal brand be all about your strengths. Don’t lament your weaknesses— we all have them, and we could all afford to be a little kinder to ourselves. That’s not to say we should be complacent, but we should acknowledge our flaws and strive to manage them. Ultimately, your strengths are the foundation of your brand. Build on those.”
For more authentic stories, visit www.the5percent.club. To learn more about Eitan’s entrepreneurial journey visit www.natie.com or email him at [email protected].