Marby & Elm

How to make your business stand out (and shock people into remembering your brand)

Marketing & PR
With Eleanor Tattersfield, founder of Marby & Elm


Whoever said actions speak louder than words was wrong, especially in the case of Marby & Elm founder Eleanor Tattersfield. In this article, Eleanor shares how she transformed her stationery business by making it really stand out (in the naughtiest way possible)…

Eleaner standing in her shop in front of Marby and Elm sign

Using your brand voice: how to stand out from the crowd

Eleanor is the brains behind the racy letterpress design studio, Marby & Elm, based in Clerkenwell. It’s fair to say she’ll do anything with words to get her business noticed, even if it does ruffle a few feathers along the way. She said, “It doesn’t matter what it is that puts your brand into the limelight and sometimes there doesn’t have to be a plan. Simply run with the thing that’s pulling you the hardest.”

Eleanor is a fine example of how to market your business and is constantly thinking up new, innovative stunts that draw attention, however shocking. Whether it’s turning her shop into a ‘stationery porn’ outfit, or thinking up a genius lockdown idea which got her picked up by Channel 4 news, the BBC and even news channels in Australia — but more on that in a moment.

Eleanor says, “Some people might think one of my cards is shocking, but the ones that are edging on the side of caution are the most popular. I didn’t take as many risks at the beginning but I’ve really listened to my market and the naughtier something is or the ones I worry about posting are always the ones that are most liked.” Talking of lessons learnt, Eleanor told us, “It’s about sticking your neck out a bit, that’s been an important lesson because mine hasn’t been chopped off yet!” Could you be riskier with your business to get noticed? One needs to stay true to one’s brand, yet with so much competition, being bland doesn’t ever cut the mustard. Plus you might find you enjoy it.

If you love what you do, it won’t ever feel like work. For me, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as thinking of a funny card, popping upstairs to print it and twenty people buying it that day. I love people coming into the shop and laughing at something I’ve written.

Brand storytelling: how to gain attention

Eleanor’s story began when she saw an old letterpress machine for sale online. She said, “I bought it, learnt how to use it and printed my first own letterhead stationery in my garden shed. That design is still my favourite, even though it’s badly printed, because I didn’t know what I was doing. It has that charm and innocence which is difficult to replicate when you do know what you’re doing.” Keen to keep her business very much a family affair, with Eleanor doing all the designing, she named the business after the nicknames for her two sons, Marby and Elm. Eleanor’s sister Charlie manages the shop, their father is the lettering artist, their mum deals with the finances and their brother Tim does the photography and website. All products are designed, made and packed up in the shop. She shares this story with customers and it helps show how she is different.

Remember, ideas can come from anywhere. Talking about what inspires her, she said, “It can be anything from an old advert on the side of a building to something I’ve texted a friend that’s made me laugh. I reached 10,000 followers on Instagram today and a friend texted me saying, ‘Have you got enough people that like you now?’ That might be a card.”

In fact, the brand’s most popular gift card came after a random customer came into her shop a few years ago and said to her, “Have you got a card that says ‘You’re so fucking fabulous’?” Eleanor loved it, put it on the shelf immediately and it became a bestseller. These are all elements that add to the brand story she puts out there that make her stand out, because she’s not a corporate, acting in a corporate way.

Not everyone will like the shock-factor of some of your work, but a lot will. It’s important to grow a thick skin and embrace the positive feedback, rather than the negative.

How do you find new business ideas? Using creativity to get noticed

Eleanor thought of another differentiator during lockdown which put Marby & Elm on the map and became a brilliant altruistic project to share common human experiences in the difficult time of lockdown. Proving that her craft is not only cards, but also ideas, Eleanor asked members of the public to send her their lockdown secrets on the back of a postcard. She said, “I thought how nice it would be if someone could simply confess something anonymously; be it funny, dark or poignant.”

Eleanor describes these as ‘little works of art’ which arrived by the sack load every single day to her little shop. “We’ve had so many different topics from food consumption to sex. I put them on my Instagram and they are little pieces of someone’s inner life in the middle of that really difficult period. I can’t believe the time that people have spent making them, and they’re little pieces of someone’s soul. It’s astonishing and I feel very proud to be the keeper.”

Eleanor has people writing to her daily asking for bespoke cards and shared, “It’s actually more work for me because I end up writing all the copy for them, but I’m probably adding on 10 years to their marriage!”

The also helps to be reactive and topical in business

It also helps to be topical. A popular lockdown card was one saying, “Please can we have fun again?” Others included a wall calendar which started in April 2021, ‘pandemic person’ letters, ‘lockdown letterheads’ and ‘quarantine correspondence cards’ as well as posters and candles, because people were spending so much time in their homes. It’s about being insightful as when you hit a home truth, you will stand out.

So what is the future of Marby & Elm? “Global, obviously!” says Eleanor. “I like the idea of Lockdown Secret Postcards being a podcast with an expert to advise on the various issues people dealt with during lockdown.” The main thing is, to keep trying new things, being willing to be brave and not being afraid to cross a line or two along the way. Standing out from competitors won’t come by being the same as them. You need to do something different to be memorable — and the more creative, the better.

Selection of secret lockdown postcards
Lockdown Secrets

How to stand out in business: key takeaways…

Here are three main points to remember.

1. Don’t take offence if people don’t like your work:

Not everyone will like the shock-factor of some of your work, but a lot will. It’s important to grow a thick skin and embrace the positive feedback, rather than the negative.

2. Engage with your customers:

Eleanor had one of her busiest years when she made the time to engage more with her Instagram followers. She also hand delivered more orders and really found a connection with customers that way. Stand out by going the extra mile or pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

3. Do something you love and keep trying new things:

If you love what you do, it won’t ever feel like work. Plus, the more creative you are in your ideas and your marketing, the more likely you are to stand out and be remembered.

Related content

More articles on marketing & pr