Brand Crush: Draper James

A few weeks ago, I was delighted to learn about Reese Witherspoon's new southern lifestyle brand, Draper James, via PureWow. While my fashion preferences lean more towards modern silhouettes and bohemian touches, I was quite taken by the launch of this decidedly pretty and preppy brand. Reese and her team are doing a wonderful job of using brand language, savvy copywriting, and storytelling to carve out a solid positioning in the upscale women's sportswear category.

Draper James is a well-funded, celebrity-backed outfit, but that doesn't mean that you can't apply some of their swift branding moves to your own small business. To prove it, I've rounded-up four brand language ideas to inspire you straight from the Draper James playbook.

Brand Crush: Draper James

1. Get a clear brand essence.

Just a moment on the Draper James site is all it takes to capture what this brand is all about: a celebration of the South.

I consider a brand essence to be a punchy and powerful phrase that summarizes everything a brand stands in just a few words.

Draper James, the home of grace, charm, and monograms!


Homepage 2

"Celebrating the South" seems to wink at you from every corner of the Draper James homepage -- from the monogrammed logo, to the sky and navy blue brand colors, to the "Grace and Charm" tag line, to the sweet tea in Reese's hand. Emblems of the American South are everywhere.

As if that weren't enough, the brand essence is also beautifully summarized on the About Us page. Check out these last two paragraphs.

About Us

Pinpointing a brand essence is one of the fundamental things I do with clients in Stark & Splendor's Articulation Intensive. The purpose of this processes is to give their brand a "north star." All branding and content decisions flow from there. It is a critical step to developing a strong brand, and Draper James has clearly nailed it.

Do you feel like your brand has a north star or essence? If not, consider what two-or-three-word phrase you might use to describe everything your business stands for.

2. Share a personal narrative.

While skimming through the website, you get the sense that Draper James is more than just another celebrity fashion project. Instead, you feel like it emanates from an authentic love and respect for the people, places, and customs of the South. How did Reese and her team manage this?

I think it has a lot to do with storytelling.

Reese's personal narrative on the About Us page lets us in on the inspiration for the brand -- her grandparents.

Reese and her grandma, Dorthea, the Draper in Draper James.

Through old portraits, cute family anecdotes, and a heartfelt video, Reese does a great job of telling the story of her romance with the South.

Check out the video here:

Reese Video

How can you use storytelling to inject heart and authenticity into your brand? Start with the "About Page" but don't limit yourself to that space only!

3. Use clever colloquialisms.

Try reading the Draper James site copy aloud without inserting your own coquettish drawl.

Betcha you can't! 

That's because the brand's copywriters have done a wonderful job of using colloquial language to make us feel like we're a part of their big, happy Southern family.

Here's some examples of how Draper James has used informal language to infuse the brand with real grace and charm.

Love, Reese


Southern Sayings


Southern Social


Hush Y'all

Notice, that using slang and colloquialisms doesn't mean sloppy copywriting or writing exactly how you speak. Instead, this style of writing borrows key phrases and imagery from spoken language to add meaning and emotion to otherwise polished copy.

Would using regional slang, a relaxed tone, or informal language help you better connect with your audience?

4. Give your audience reasons to believe.

WWD reports that 40% of Draper James' line is manufactured in the South. The company partners with artists and makers in Charleston and Savannah, amongst other Southern cities, to produce items such as homeware, silver and stationary. By doing so, Draper James shows that it's not just appropriating Southern culture, but it actually celebrates the South by investing in the economic and artistic vibrancy of the region.

This is a prime example of how branding has more to do with what companies do, then what they say. Draper James gives consumers a solid reason to believe the brand essence.

Made in the South

What can your business do, operationally and concretely, to live the brand essence? How can you better share what you are already doing with your audiences?


Now I'd love to hear from you. What brands are you crushing on these days? Who's doing a great job of using language and copywriting to elevate their brand?

Draper James Graphic Pinterest

In this post, I mention Stark & Splendor's Articulation Intensive. It is a first stop for clients that are fuzzy about what their brand stands for or how to communicate that to the world.

Are you confident that your brand has a unique and compelling identity? Do you have trouble talking about your services or products because you don't know the best words to use to communicate your uniqueness? Perhaps you have a logo and visual branding, but you still feel that your online presence is all over the place and you need clarity and consistency in your comms.

The Articulation Intensive addresses these common issues and so much more. It is ideal for small businesses, creative entrepreneurs, and consultants preparing to grow. Email me at for more information.


Brand Crush: theSkimm

  "The Skimm has an absolutely pitch-perfect voice that blends information, sense of humor, and readability in a great way."

This is how JPMorgan Chase Chief Marketing Officer Kristin Lemkau introduced the founders of theSkimm at a recent JPMorgan Chase Marketing & Communications Team event, and I couldn't agree more.

For those that have never heard of or read theSkimm, it is a daily e-newsletter aimed at millennial women that gives them "cliff notes" of every important thing going on in the world - politics, foreign policy, business, celebrity, novelty,  etc. - so that they can stay informed and participate in water cooler talk every day.


I'm an avid reader of theSkimm, and it is one of the few brands that I actively evangelize.  Whenever I fall hard for a brand, I try to get to the bottom of why.

I came across this awesome video and Q & A with theSkimm's founders a couple of weeks ago as I was logging out of my account after an online banking session.  [Sidenote, but kudos to the Chase digital marketing team for hooking me with this extremely valuable piece of content.]

In the piece, founders Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin discuss how they were able to turn a news and information site into a lifestyle brand.  Here are my two takeaways:

1. They got specific

"We decided we didn't want to be everything to everyone. So we chose a really specific audience and wanted to create a product which was meant for them."

As female millennials themselves, Danielle and Carly started by meeting the needs of the market segment that they knew most intimately - their own.  As broadcast news producers, the two business partners noticed that their young, ambitious, professional girlfriends weren't watching TV news.  Weisberg said:

"… we took a step back and started thinking about the habits of this audience. There wasn't anyone giving them real news in a way that fit in with their lifestyle."

Enter theSkimm.

2. They crafted a unique "voice"

"We created a voice that is that friend that you have that is your no B.S. friend, that tells it like it is and they are a little bit sarcastic and they always seem to have a comment on everything that is going on."

On the back of their laser-focused targeting, theSkimm was able to craft a tone of voice that completely delights their audience.  This sarcastic, edgy, witty voice is what sets them apart.  Though they deal with real issues they manage to present the news in a way that completely sets them apart.


Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 8.04.54 PM


I got a lot out of the video and Q&A and hope you do as well.  To view and read both, go to the Chase website's new section here.