How Social Impact And Attitude Branding Made United By Blue An Entrepreneurial Success
Brian Linton has always loved water. As a kid, he spent his long, humid afternoons in Singapore exploring the gutters, admiring fish and the plants in bloom. At home, his twin bed was surrounded wall-to-wall by fish tanks, sheltering a diversity of aquatic life that would come to define his adult aspirations: to start a company that cultivated true environmental impact.
United By Blue, an outdoor lifestyle brand that provides recreational apparel and gear to the eco-conscious millennial adventurer, was the result. In 2009, Linton founded the brand that would eventually become a beloved social media presence and a global conservation player, but not before a few years of entrepreneurial growing pains.
His first company, an ocean-inspired accessory line, led him up and down the East coast in his '96 Ford Taurus, selling his products to seaside resorts from Florida to Maine. It was 2006, and social entrepreneurship was still nascent, as well as his own career as a businessman. Ambitious to make an impact, his business model followed the trend of what most other "environmentally-friendly" companies were doing: selling sustainable products, and outsourcing portions of proceeds to nonprofits to do the dirty work.
"I realized what I was doing was inefficient, from a personal fulfillment side and from a marketing side," Linton recalled. "Part of running a successful social enterprise is being able to tell my customers what we as a company are accomplishing as a result of their purchases. By only giving away 5% of proceeds, I wasn't able to pinpoint this."
Eager to roll up his own sleeves and reinvent his brand, Linton created United By Blue as a solution to his first company's shortcomings. The new model would be based upon a pledge to his customers — for every product sold, they would remove one pound of trash from the world's oceans and waterways.
The current tally? 1,059,981 pounds of trash across 27 states.
"United By Blue was able to make more of a tangible impact through our team hosting actual cleanups," Linton said. "The level of volunteer power we have been able to create is amazing. Eight years ago, we'd host a cleanup and be excited to have five to ten people. Now, we can expect 200 people to show up and help us fulfill our mission."
While this mission is the backbone of the company, selling as many products as the company has is a business and marketing feat in and of itself. More so, building a brand that not only resonates with consumers on a product-level but also on an overall aesthetic and attitude level was a main focus for Linton.
"The branding of United By Blue was reinvigorated to engage the millennial consumer, which, at the time of our launch, was just coming to be, but now is the largest buying power in the US," Linton said. "When you go to our Instagram page or have any sort of interaction with the brand, our target audience should get a good sense of quality and lifestyle."
This attention to attitude branding has not only provided United By Blue with a loyal customer base, but has also brought a wealth of creative opportunity for the company's social media identity.
"We are very fortunate that we are a company that is more about the brand than about the specific product," Linton said. "You might think of us for an enamel mug while someone else might think of us for a swimsuit or for a t-shirt. Because of this diversity, we are able to curate a really strong experience through social. The diversity of imagery and the diversity of the types of creators who are supporting us through their unique types of imagery helps us tell many different stories."
Staying true to their aim to connect with the millennial consumer, partnering with social media creators has helped United By Blue become the powerhouse lifestyle brand that it is today. For instance, the company has an ongoing collaboration series with artists in which their work is the inspiration behind a product line. When the products are released, they are launched in conjunction with an artist's unique story as the theme.
"We love to work with creators who care deeply about sustainability and conservation, and who are really open to creative interpretations of our brand," Linton said. "We love to keep finding ways to tell diverse stories with people and our products."
Alyssa Jorgensen is the Editor in Chief of Influencer News, a publication based in Orange County, California that is committed to providing the creator space the news, stories and resources it needs to thrive. She is a recent graduate of Dartmouth College, where she studied Anthropology and English Literature. Follow her adventures on Instagram: @alyssajorgensen