TOP 49ers
Tell Your Story
How to capture and create a brand identity
By Kaylee Devine
Spawn Ideas

hink of a handful of iconic Alaska businesses—those that have graced the pages of this magazine, those that have given back to our community, and those that employ our friends and neighbors. While their industries, teams, and cultures may be different, they undoubtedly have one thing in common: they have found a way to tell their story—and you should too.

A brand story is something every business should invest in. It’s a powerful tool for shaping any organization in all aspects of culture, service, operations, and more. And frankly, it’s just good business sense.

Research has shown that organizations with a strong brand realize greater long-term growth, reduced price sensitivity, and broad awareness. Strong brands are also able to achieve something we all need right now: easier talent recruitment.

At Spawn Ideas, my team and I have had the privilege of helping some of Alaska’s most iconic brands tell their stories. While the outcomes are different for each project we work on, there is a similar roadmap we follow—one that you can use if you need a little guidance to get started.

What a Brand Is

First things first, let’s establish a baseline for what a brand is: a promise of an experience. We jokingly like to say that a brand is “what someone says about you when you’re not in the room.” It’s an honest look at an organization that you can shape but can’t completely control. A brand needs to strike the right balance of being credible and aspirational—something you can live up to that drives inspiration to where you want to go.

A brand is so much more than a logo or a tagline. It’s the cumulation of a company’s mission, vision, values, attributes, and personality that shapes the way it operates—and the way its people think, act, and represent. Think of a brand as not only the personification of your business but a lens you look through to make critical decisions.

When Spawn Ideas approaches a brand project, whether it’s starting from zero or just evolving an established brand, we consider three critical perspectives: the companies, the customers, and the competitors. By taking a holistic view, we ensure we’re not just navel gazing. Instead, we’re putting the story in context of the world in which it will live.

Company Perspective

A self-analysis of your company is a natural place to start. After all, a brand is an expression of the stories you’ve created and the stories you aspire to tell. This self-reflection can and should involve research, including revisiting the mission and vision for your organization. Why did the company initially start? What was your origin story? Has the mission changed? These questions will start to unveil a narrative that will be integral to your final brand identity.

A functional tool like a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis will help identify your natural strengths and opportunities. Create a draft of your SWOT analysis, then refine it once you’ve spent the time considering your competitors’ and customers’ perspectives.

Additionally, Spawn Ideas thinks the most fruitful and easiest discovery tool you can use is to interview your team. Everyone, from top leadership to the front lines, should be involved. Get their perspective on the qualities of the company that make it unique. What stories do they tell? What themes emerge? These nuggets of truth will become strains of DNA for your brand.

Lastly, have some fun and put your imagination to the test! With a willing group of participants, dedicate a workshop specifically to brand exercises. One of our favorites is “the kids on the playground.” In this game, we ask team members to envision their brand as a kid on a playground. We ask specific questions: What are they wearing? How do they talk to and interact with the other kids? What are they playing? And so on. Then, do the same for your competitors—the other kids on the playground.

By personifying your brand, you’ll tap into a much richer description of your brand personality. These traits will come to life and help you further shape your story.

Customer Perspective

Once you’ve spent some time evaluating your brand, it’s time to extend that experience to the customers you serve. Do they have the experience with your brand that you think they’re having? Do they think of your brand in the same regard you do? It’s very easy to either be too critical of your story—or too forgiving. You must align your brand with the customer’s perception. If you don’t get an honest, representative view of your brand through your customers’ viewpoint, your brand won’t live up to expectations.

There are countless ways to collect customer input. Draw on any existing feedback methods you have in place, everything from satisfaction surveys to on-site visits and focus groups. Include a broad mix of promoters and detractors. Their insights will help you validate parts of your brand and show your blind spots. This will help you find the areas that are resonating and authentic and also the areas where you need to improve.

Competitor Perspective

Looking outward to how your competitors are positioning your brand will help you find your sweet spot. Make sure you consider all aspects of their brand, from reputation and messaging to products and services. Start by doing a desktop audit of their marketing channels. Visit their website, catalog their marketing materials. See how they are presenting themselves to current and prospective customers.

You can get a sense of their reputation via online reviews, employee reviews like Glassdoor, and the engagement they garner via social media. There may be things you want to emulate, but make sure that your brand is distinctive and rises above the noise.

The biggest mistake brands usually make is not investing in consistent and distinct messaging. This leaves customers confused about who’s who. How often have you heard, “I saw the funniest ad the other day… I just can’t remember who it was from”? A strong, distinct brand will make sure you stand apart from the market.

Once these three perspectives have been evaluated, you can start to formulate your brand. You’ll see patterns emerge and be able to see where you can authentically grow your brand identity. By looking through all lenses, you’ll land on a story that can be uniquely yours.

Here are some recent examples of organizations Spawn Ideas helped find, own, and tell their stories.

City of Valdez
We led the City of Valdez’s effort to develop and implement a strategic destination brand to represent the Valdez community. The brand needed to appeal to residents, local businesses, city departments (e.g., ports and harbors), and visitors alike.

Our research and strategy used an ethnographic approach. We engaged the community through in-depth interviews, community salons, a branding website, Facebook posts, and several in-person town hall meetings. Through this work, we determined that the story of Valdez should be centered around both its breathtaking natural environment (“astonishing”) and the contributions Valdezeans bring to their community (“friendly, resilient”). We discovered in Valdez that a determination to never, ever, ever give up was paramount. Whatever the challenge, the community just makes it work. As our brand story told it: It’s not magic that accomplishes the impossible in Valdez, it’s good old-fashioned hard work—which is as rare as magic these days.

Finally, because a brand attribute like “astonishing” might be intimidating, we countered it with genuine Valdez: it’s a “welcoming” place. Whether you’ve been there five minutes or fifty years, Valdez makes you feel welcome.


If you’re an Alaskan, chances are a friend, relative, or neighbor (possibly all of the above) works for GCI. The company’s deep Alaska roots are a core differentiator that is centrally meaningful to their company culture.

GCI’s brand storytelling emphasizes their bond with customers that national competitors just can’t match. The “Alaska Born and Raised” brand platform Spawn Ideas developed with their team was predicated on a simple strategy: focus on people rather than product features and price points. It was first launched internally, as we asked GCI employees for buy-in and support. As the basis of all of our messaging, we highlighted how GCI helps people live the life they want, without compromise.

GCI is a great example of a company that has leaned into its team and internal culture as a differentiating aspect of their brand.

The logotype for the City and Borough of Wrangell suggests “confident, authentic, and a little rough around the edges.”

Spawn Ideas

colorful half circles
Wrangell Symbols
The logotype for the City and Borough of Wrangell suggests “confident, authentic, and a little rough around the edges.”

Spawn Ideas

Wrangell Logo
Travel Alaska
Travel Alaska positions the state as a destination of choice. Spawn Ideas worked with them to make meaningful connections to both prospective and repeat travelers. We also engaged their tourism members to evolve the brand to better represent Alaska Native culture, encouraging cultural tourism.

Brand building efforts began with primary qualitative and quantitative research with Alaskan residents and Travel Alaska stakeholders, Alaska Native residents, as well as past and prospective Alaska travelers. Our research methods focused on community integration and observation, in-depth interviews, online surveys, brand workshops, and A/B message testing.

Discussion with previous Alaska travelers gleaned an important insight: You can leave Alaska, but it never leaves you. More research and stakeholder workshops led us to understand a common visitor experience: Alaska is a destination that is awe-inspiring and full of mystique, but it also makes visitors feel welcome, at-ease, totally present, and eager to return. This juxtaposition between adventure and comfort became the core of the brand.

Digging deeper yet, an Alaska Native perspective added a more meaningful promise of the Alaska experience—one where connections are everywhere. It gave us reason to add additional reverence to the brand, promising travelers they would experience awe in magnitude when they visit.

With a distinctive and emotional brand promise established, this core story was translated to Travel Alaska’s brand identity, updated logo, a reimagined Alaska vacation planner, and national brand campaign. The first brand campaign led to a 59 percent increase in leads, year over year. Refreshed vacation planner content and brand look and feel led to a 20 percent increase in ad placements.

The team at Spawn Ideas itself has a brand. This photo promises an experience that is friendly, hip, knowledgeable, and Alaskan.

Spawn Ideas

People Laughing
The team at Spawn Ideas itself has a brand. This photo promises an experience that is friendly, hip, knowledgeable, and Alaskan.

Spawn Ideas

City and Borough of Wrangell
Our objective with Wrangell was to create a destination brand for a proud, friendly community of Alaskans who want to share their home with intentional visitors. Typically, people who travel to Wrangell are looking for high-quality, active, and immersive Alaska experiences.

The brand needed to tell the story of the incredible landscape that is Wrangell’s backyard and of the community’s quirky but proud and friendly people. Located along the southeast coast of Alaska, the cruise industry is important to Wrangell’s economy. Attracting an authentic, intentional visitor took priority to simply filling the swag shops on the dock.

Spawn Ideas set out to create a new brand logo to boldly represent the spirit of Wrangell—a design look that said confident, authentic, and a little rough around the edges.

Brand colors were chosen to represent the landscape of Wrangell. With an earth-tone-inspired yet vibrant palette, we sought to complement photography and add excitement. Brand iconography was inspired by and loosely referenced the stone carvings found at Wrangell’s Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site. We made brand recommendations to update the community’s current website visually and made it easy to update through a new, user friendly content management system.

Telling Your Story
Defining your brand, getting members and stakeholders on the same page, and communicating the brand in a consistent and fresh manner will set you on a path to increased awareness, leads, conversions, and more. It’s an investment that, done right, will have a lengthy and productive shelf life for your organization. Success comes from a thorough approach based on three perspectives: your company’s, your customers’/audiences’, and your competitors’.

Every company has a story to tell. Capturing yours with a unique brand identity will help you shape your culture, messaging, decision making, and your outcomes based on who you are today and who you want to be tomorrow.

Kaylee Devine is Vice President, Director of Strategy at Spawn Ideas, an advertising agency with offices in Anchorage and Denver and virtual employees that span from Alaska to the East Coast. As an employee-owned and independent agency, we take pride in creating strategic communications that fuel the curious and the wild.
To read about other employee-owned companies like Spawn Ideas, choose this article.

To learn another way to shape decision making, choose this article.