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#94 Brand Story Well Told: Magnolia
On how Waco, Texas made my dreams come true
This is a series where I let myself geek out on brands and branding a bit. This week I’m diving into the world of HGTV renovations and the Magnolia brand.
Chip and Joanna Gaines used to plant a magnolia tree on every property they bought, renovated, and sold in Waco. Back when they ran a small home goods shop and construction business in the Texas town they’ve helped make famous for more than a cult shootout with the FBI and the birth of the modern gun rights activist era. The HGTV couple are now super stars with six seasons of their hit show Fixer Upper, which just returned airing on their own Magnolia Network after a couple of years off following the birth of their youngest child, a town transformed by their work, and a media empire that started with those trees and those renovated homes.
I am a Magnolia superfan. Like, superfan. Like, it’s probably one of my favourite brands right now. What they built is something I buy into fully and completely with only a teeny bit of embarrassment about it. I worry sometimes that they may do something to betray the trust they’ve built up in me and so many others, but so far mostly it’s been good. Their little show helped me make it through the pandemic, providing a bit of light entertainment for me to turn to during quarantine lunches or on lazy Saturdays. Barn doors, shiplap, Texas sun, and design transformations it was all a vibe I was into and wanted to see more of. And through the show I got to watch them build and nurture a brand with clear Purpose, stated values, and huge impact.
I am not what you might consider their typical audience (read: Black woman, from Toronto, quite cynical), but that’s the thing, they’ve built a brand with mass appeal that has reached and influenced someone outside of their target (which, if I had to guess, is middle American women with families—their website isn’t even available outside of the United States 😤). Yet when I found myself in Texas earlier this year to speak at SXSW in Austin, I looked up the distance to Waco before I left home, booked a car, and set aside a day to drive the hour and change outside of Austin to check out their little empire in person.
The Gaines’ over the course of a few years had transformed a broken down part of Waco into The Silos, a place to gather and a reason to spend time in Waco. It has Magnolia Market to buy some of the home goods they use in their renovations and Joanna uses in her cooking show (yes, of course, I watch that too and am actually currently fiending for the new season), a gardening shop because Joanna loves to garden, a setup of food trucks, a coffee shop (the development of which they featured in season three of the show), a furniture store a la Pottery Barn, and tiny themed shops that circle an open grass area just outside of an old church they updated.
It is idyllic. A brand vision come to life. A place for families and people like me who have wholly bought into the brand they have built surely and consistently over the past almost decade. They are a testament to the power of consistency, Purpose, and vision when it comes to crafting and sharing a brand story. They even have a magazine, “Magnolia Journal,” which, yes, of course I also subscribe to. I told you, I am bought in. Mine is the type of loyalty strong, consistent brands that express and exhibit shared values can create—this is the work I love to do so I may also be a little more susceptible when it’s done at a masterclass level the way the Magnolia brand and story has been shared. But the hundreds of people and families I encountered and squeezed by in all the shops speaks to the fact that it isn’t just me. I’m actually a good example of something I tell my clients all the time: stay super focused on serving and sharing with your ideal audience and others will come along for the ride, I came along for this ride created truly for a young middle American mother and I couldn’t be happier.
Don’t get me wrong. I get it. This is mainly about commerce: selling things to people. And the entire silos are set up to make it easy and accessible to take a bit of Magnolia home, whether it’s a snack from the coffee shop or the same whisk Joanna uses to whip up a treat on her cooking show. But the magic is that they live up to the promise they make across their shows, magazines, and insta presence. They make it an experience. I had a full day in Waco. I even stopped by their restaurant a few miles away from The Silos for lunch and encountered the warmest, friendliest people across both their properties—perfect reflections of the brand and what I expected to encounter. And I bought a treat for my granny (she got me into the show originally years ago) and a bunch of things for my kitchen and every time I pull them out, I’m just a little bit happier and glad and grateful that I get to make my scrambled eggs or cake batter with the same whisk or scrapper Joanna Gaines uses. *shrug* we all have our things, this is mine.
But I’m sharing this with you because this is truly a masterclass in brand storytelling. It didn’t happen overnight, it took time and consistency and vision and Purpose. It took sharing who they are, making their audience and fans the heroes, but offering a unique brand of down-home charm and contemporary aesthetic. And they’ve changed their small corner of the world and shared a little bit of joy in the process. Not every brand story is going to change the entire world, and that’s maybe a good thing, but they can make a difference in a corner simply by doing good and sharing a bit of that goodness with people who care enough to participate.
I think what I’m trying to say is that a brand built for commerce is not necessarily a bad thing if it is also providing value (e.g. products made to last) and a bit of joy in the world absent harm. On a scale of Amazon to the Red Cross in terms of positive benefits to the world, they’re somewhere in the middle and I (a veritable socialist) am okay with that. They also do things to give back which speaks to my values and make it easier for me and other loyal fans who came for the renos but have stayed for everything else feel good about engaging with them.
A Storytelling Breakdown
What is it? A media and home brand built on the idea of welcoming Texas charm and relatability.
Who is it for? Modern middle American moms and their families (and anyone else who’s interested).
What makes them such great storytellers? Consistency and clear values (home, storytelling, and community if I had to guess). They don’t miss. Their brand extensions make sense for what they have shared with the world through their show for much of the past decade. It is Texas, it is friendly, it isn’t too serious, and it is something we can all relate to. (If you’re into that kind of thing). It’s about making a home and places to gather in community.
How do they bring it to life? What experiences do they create? The Silos is a vision brought to life. So are their restaurants, so are the events they share on their Instagram, so is the entire network of shows that speak to craft and care and something that is an elevated version of salt of the earth.
Why do I love it? I love to cook, I love home renovation shows, I like things that are simple and joyful and fun and that allows me to escape the seriousness and dire states of things outside in real life. I love the fantasy but also the honesty and simplicity of it. Also, Magnolia is the perfect example of what consistent brand storytelling can lead to. And I love a good story.
Their Purpose? (my best guess) “Inspiration for life and home.” To help make home a more welcoming place.
What can we learn from them? Everything? No, sorry that was the superfan coming out. How to infuse yourself into the brands you build. How to create an brand experience through place. How to be unapologetically yourself and tell a consistent and true story from that place (their brand is painfully apolitical, which suits what they’re trying to create). How to engage people and build loyalty by showing up every time being led by the values you’ve expressed through your actions. How to evolve and grow a brand over time through steady commitment. How to make a cynical Black woman from Toronto drive over an hour to spend money and time in your small Texas town just for the chance to see if it holds up and dazzle her with how well it does.
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