Branding has always been a core pillar of business. In recent years however, the need for a strong brand presence has become greater than ever, due to the sheer competitiveness of every industry – particularly in the online space. Your brand is the identity of your business and is how people will recognise you, perceive you and know what to expect from your company. This extends through multiple facets of your business, from logos, websites, promotional merchandise and even advertising. In order to make a memorable and lasting impression, you better make it count!
A brand designer who can bring your brand to life and take it from basic to brag-worthy, is Michelle K. Wintersteen. Founder of MKW Creative Co., Wintersteen is a content creator, brand designer and creative director, who has worked with hundreds of small business owners, helping them to create their own brag-worthy brands. Here, I chat with Wintersteen and learn a bit more about what she does, and why she emphasizes building a community around her brand.
Thank you so much for doing this with me! What is your backstory?
All depends on how far back you want to go! I am a fourth generation female entrepreneur, and the oldest of 5 girls in my family, so it’s not a huge surprise I would someday start my own venture. I always had a knack for creative things and community building. From girl scouts to art clubs, non-profit volunteering to Greek life, I loved any opportunity to be with like minded people working towards one goal. On an educational level, I attended the University of San Diego from 2011-2015 where I earned dual degrees in Fine Arts and Art History. I graduated Cum Laude and juggled multiple student jobs, internships, and course work during my studies. It was actually in college between my Junior and Senior year when I started my freelance design business, formerly called MKW Graphics with an Instagram account, Facebook page, and G-mail address.
Since starting in 2014, my business has evolved drastically. I niched from the broader graphic design, to solely brand design, and now am opening my horizons again to take on a larger scope of services. MKW Creative Co builds brag-worthy brands for bold entrepreneurs who understand the value of creating community around their brand idea. To date, I’ve worked with over 200+ business owners to help them define, design, build and grow their visual identities for the modern marketplace.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What I think helps my company stand out from my competitors is my ability to fully inhabit my clients’ business ideas by designing their brand as if I were their ideal client. My marketing efforts over the last two years have gotten me much closer to my ideal client: sassy, smart, entrepreneurial millennials who are social media savvy. These are my favorite projects to work on because it’s the world I live in, and the community I choose to surround myself with. For example, this testimonial from my client, travel and lifestyle blogger Lindsay Silberman sums it up quite nicely:
“I can not say enough about how incredible Michelle is! She just *gets me* on every level and was able to translate my vision into a reality. She was open to making tweaks based on my feedback and completely over delivered. Before our first project was completed, I hired her for two other (major) branding projects, and I can’t wait to see where she takes them!”
Why do you feel it’s so important to build a community around a brand?
With the world the way it is now, I don’t think small businesses can afford to not prioritize community building. One of the best things I ever did for my brand was start the Kiss My Aesthetic Facebook group. In just over a year, over 2,300 designers, creatives, and marketing whizzes have joined the group. This group not only helps me keep tabs on industry happenings & trends, but helps me keep a finger on the pulse of my ideal client. Also, hosting the facebook group has allowed me to position myself as an expert and resource to aspiring designers. In the group, I host weekly interviews (which get turned into podcast episodes for the Kiss My Aesthetic Podcast) and design challenges (like the Kiss My Portfolio Challenge – a hypothetical case study prompt designed to help designers design better).
For business owners I work with, I absolutely recommend that they start a community around their idea. This can be a facebook community, instagram community, email list, podcast listeners, SOMETHING. By providing insane value, encouraging collaboration, and giving them extra perks (behind the scenes, early access to deals or promotions) these people will become brag-worthy brand fans in no time. The value of word of mouth marketing like this, in my opinion, is worth way more than advertising can accomplish. For more on this topic, listen to this episode of the Kiss My Aesthetic Podcast: Why Facebook Groups for your Brand
Do you feel organic traffic, or paid ads are more important, and why?
Overwhelmingly, I believe organic traffic is more important to brands over time. I think we live in an era when brand awareness, social proof, and content-forward marketing are unparalleled in terms of ROI, especially if you’re a small business. Organic traffic can also explode a brand overnight. Thanks to social platforms like TikTok, an account with little to no following can easily go viral with the right type of marketing content. This is especially important for small business owners who may be running with a limited ad spend budget. There is insane creativity to capitalize on when you’re checking all the boxes on a great organic marketing campaign.
What do you think the importance of well-run, well-maintained and engaging social media presence is?
I notice a lot of business owners I work with tend to think of their branding as the end-all be-all when it comes to marketing. In reality, branding is just the first step on a very long journey of visual communications on behalf of a brand. Luckily, we live in an era where you can run your entire business online through social media (like I have). Consistency, quality and community engagement are the 3 most important factors when running a brand’s social media presence.
My team and I just launched social media packages for the brands and we work first on harnessing brand aesthetics and brand voice so that we can create a well-run, well-maintained, and engaging social presence on behalf of the businesses we work with. In my opinion, the stronger a brand’s presence is online, the stronger their community becomes, and therefore, the more viable that business is over time.
For example we have seen how COVID has contributed to the shut down of most local restaurants and bars, but the locations that invested in a strong social presence, great website, integrations with delivery apps and a strong community base are able to weather the storm more so than the brands that didn’t invest in their social presence to begin with.
What’s the best advice you’d give to someone just starting out on their journey in brand designing, or entrepreneurship in general?
The best advice I would give to someone starting out of their brand design or entrepreneurship journey is to join communities of like minded creatives online. As you’ve gathered, I am a huge fan of facebook groups. I think that there’s an incredible opportunity for social learning online, and outside of a formal university structure that is totally free and available to anyone. Podcasts, Facebook groups, Youtube Channels, even TikTok accounts can be great sources of knowledge for any creative niche. I would recommend that new entrepreneurs make the time to seek out these resources regularly, and continue to push themselves to learn new things as it relates to their business idea.
Thanks so much for doing this with me! Wishing you all the best!