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July 26, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Chris McAdoo actively engaged participants at KEC’s latest “Brandcamp”

Ten start-ups participated in the program. They ranged from a company that is part of the "Innovation Crossroads" program to several that participated in the last "What's the Big Idea? Pitch Competition."

You have no doubt attended many workshops where you were talked to rather than engaged actively in the conversation.

Well, that certainly was not the case earlier this week when the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) held its one-day “Brandcamp” for local entrepreneurs. Then, what would you expect at a program led by Chris McAdoo, the organization’s Director of Strategy and Engagement?

We were able to join the morning session where McAdoo, the energetic individual who cut his teeth on branding, engaged with 10 entrepreneurs in a fast-paced give-and-take that started with a discussion about the definition of branding. He was joined in the morning session by a supporting cast of marketing gurus including Bailey Foster, Founder of Real Good Kitchen; Courtney Hendricks, Director of Maker Initiatives for The Maker City and a former Brand Manager for Blackberry Farm; and Damon Rawls, Principal Strategist at The Innovation Digital Agency.

“A brand is a reason to take action,” McAdoo said, adding that a brand is about promises – those that you make and those that you keep. Failure to do what you promise can clearly tarnish a brand, potentially in an irreversible way.

To illustrate a great brand that delivers on its promise, he cited Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour which is reportedly poised to generate more than one billion dollars in revenue. On the other end of the continuum, McAdoo cited this week’s rebranding of Twitter by Elon Musk. Now known simply as X, he said, “It’s amazing that you can take all of that – one of the most recognizable brands anywhere – and poop on it.”

He emphasized at the outset that four characteristics define a good brand. It has to be easily recognized, easily remembered, true to itself, and consistent. There are eight elements that comprise a brand: logo, color palette, shape, tagline, tone of voice and vocabulary, font, imagery, and brand positioning.

In the end, successful brands are authentic and consistent.

After every educational component, McAdoo offered participants an opportunity to apply the information he had shared to their specific business and its brand. We observed three exercises, the first focusing on what he called a brand’s personality. McAdoo gave the attendees a list of words that could be used to best characterize what their start-up is and what it is not. Each person then made their selections and shared with others their choices for “I am” and “I am not.” During the discussion, they gained feedback from McAdoo and their fellow participants.

Exercise #2 was about primary and secondary audiences, while the last exercise in the morning focused on direct and indirect competitors.

Participants in the annual program were, in alphabetical order:

  • A Fletcher Strategies LLC, founded by Amy Fletcher, a writer, editor, and foresight coach.
  • Loop, an artificial intelligence-enabled reporting and communication solution built for school districts. It was represented by Chief Executive Officer Luke Wiseman.
  • Mama Bear Sweet Treats, one of the members of the Real Good Kitchen community describes its mission as spreading “love and joy, one cookie at a time.” Chrissie Batts was the primary representative.
  • The Might Wig, a company founded by Siobain Jones which was previously spotlighted in this biz article and is focused on making wigs for everything from plays to those experiencing hair loss due to illness.
  • Modern Seamstress, founded by Burke Brewer and described as East Tennessee’s only bespoke clothier for women specializing in customized garments that fit their body and style.
  • Pen and Path, a small art studio owned and operated by Amy Broady, who is a professional art educator and Certified Zentangle Teacher®.
  • SWAY Systems, founded by Marina Alex to provide training and certification for Agile sales coaches.
  • TravL, founded by David Schwall to provide a safe, efficient, and effective app for those overseeing group travel, particularly for schools.
  • Vitriform3D, a participant in the “Innovation Crossroads” program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was co-founded by Alex Stiles and is focused on creating product opportunities that use recycled materials like glass.
  • Zelvin Security, co-founded by Lisa Atkinson and her husband who relocated their cybersecurity firm to Knoxville two years ago.

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