Staying Faithful to Your Brand Amid the Lure of Expansion

The increasingly international CPG marketplace is bringing consumers brands, products and experiences from all over the world, and creating new revenue opportunities for brand owners. But brand expansion can entail creating mass appeal, which at the surface doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, but in reality can heavily dilute the key elements that make a brand unique. The danger lies in settling on some kind of lowest common denominator of brand attributes aiming to maximize appeal and scale of the brand. If not managed well, the brand loses its meaning and ultimately its equity.

As a consumer, I am thrilled to live and shop in today’s diverse global marketplace. Flavors that were once only found in their indigenous locales or in specialty stores have become mainstream. One might start their day with Starbucks Ethiopian coffee and a bowl of Dulce du Leche Cheerios cereal; for lunch enjoy a Near East quinoa salad, Lay’s sriracha flavored chips and a Naked pure coconut water; and perhaps end the day over an Absolut Berry Acai cocktail. Not only have foods and flavors from around the world become mainstream, they have in many cases become offerings from mainstream brands.

Part of this international bounty is due to the growing sophistication of the American palate. In particular, millennials, the most ethnically diverse generation in US history, seek new flavors and food experiences beyond what Gen-Xers or Boomers ever craved. They are influenced by an increasingly global mix of popular culture, sports, fashion, etc. that bring new relevance to products not traditionally found in their hometown. While this creates opportunities for brands, there is the risk – if not managed as well as some of the examples above – of appearing as a disingenuous and fad-chasing poser brand among a group of consumers that abhor disingenuous and fad-chasing poser brands.

This dynamic has been one factor in the movement for authentic, small-scale experiences ranging from artisanal soaps to food trucks to buying local. There is something virtuous about a brand that does not aim to appeal to everyone. For larger equities, even globally-relevant ones, brands can thrive by staying the course, knowing who they are and remaining faithful to their proud heritage without chasing the latest fad. I am particularly fond of the latest connection, for example, that Jack Daniel’s is making with Frank Sinatra, a famous advocate of the brand, in its brand communication. Frank drank Jack. There is an indelible, impossible-to-copy, lasting authenticity in that message, which should resonate well in a spirits world crowded with pop-stars-of-the-moment hawking their own libations.

Backlash against the implications of globalization goes well beyond the world of brands. This struck me recently while ordering a glass of Spanish wine at a Spanish restaurant. The waiter, also Spanish, begrudgingly poured the wine but informed me that it was “not a real Rioja.” Apparently the traditional methods of wine-making have been eschewed and replaced by more modern, globally relevant ones such as the abundant use of American oak barrels. It is increasingly hard to find “traditional Rioja” as more and more producers cater to international palates. The waiter went on to lament the movement in his home country to do away with its traditional siesta break during the day in an effort to make Spanish industries more competitive, all amid a national financial crisis.

Brand owners can take a lesson from all this and ask themselves if their equities possess something distinctive and perhaps worth celebrating, like Spanish Rioja or the siesta. If so, then tread carefully into new worlds before the lure of international riches undermine the unique brand DNA that your adoring consumers find so appealing. In fact, your loyal consumers might just like you all the more for it.


Art: Lively Scribbles Produce Energetic Portraits of Famous Faces


Malaysia-based illustrator Vince Low uses a playful scribbling technique to produce his energetic black and white portraits. He first discovered his lively process while doodling in his sketchbook. He realized that his notes were actually the path towards worthwhile final products.

Low says, “I knew that it would be a challenge for me to scribble out and capture the souls and characters of those people in the portraits. For that reason, I was determined to make a breakthrough by bringing my crafting skills to a whole new level.”

Though scribbles are often seen as just mindless marks across a page, Low’s work is quite purposeful. His confident pen strokes result in realistic portraits filled with beautiful lights and shadows, and incredibly impressive details. His happy personality comes across in the playful explosion of loops and lines and the final portraits are a balance of a seemingly haphazard approach with complex, skilled results.



GQ Rules: The Power of a Pocket Square

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a huge fan of the pocket square. I’m not sure what it is, but there is something about It that adds a certain flair to your suit. I know when I first started sporting them, I had a hard time figuring out how to fold them, and how I should wear them. So I really appreciated this video. For all my other guys who aren’t exactly sure about the different ways they can sport their pocket square, enjoy!

Follow me on Twitter: @_WillieBrown

Live Performance: Shakira! Shakira!

On Wednesday March 26th, I had the pleasure of seeing the lovely Shakira perform live for the Today Show Toyota Concert Series. The ONLY thing I was unhappy about was the weather!! It was extremely cold, as the crowd waited for the worlds greatest hip shaker to come on stage. But once Shakira made her way on to that stage, it felt like a beautiful spring day. The crowd totally forgot about how cold it was, as we sang along to her classics as well as her current hits. I knew she was a huge name, but honestly didn’t know she had such die hard fans until that concert. I thought one guy was going to start crying and pass out when he received her autograph. I definitely loved seeing her perform live though, I look at her in a totally different light now. 

Now one thing I was sort of shocked about, is that at certain points during the performance…her hips were not moving as fluently and seductively as they usually do in her videos.  I refuse to believe that she lost it, so I’m holding it to it being super cold out there! For the show she gave us though and the weather she did it in, I definitely applaud her!! 

Below are a few more photos I took of the performance. 

All photos taken with my iPhone.

Follow me on Twitter: @_WillieBrown

The Cardinal Rules Of Running A Business According To Hip-Hop

Along with his business partner, Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz has invested in some of the most popular companies of this generation. From Facebook, to Pinterest, Twitter and Foursquare, Horowitz has been able to spread his influence throughout all corners of the tech world. Besides being a highly successful businessman, though, Horowitz has also established himself as a good writer.

His blog on the official site of his venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz’, has become quietly popular in the past couple of years. On the site, he shares everything from advice to the things he’s experienced during a storied career.

While the topics of his blog posts can vary, there’s always one touch of constancy that Horowitz adds. Though you might not expect it from a 47-year-old venture capitalist born in London, Horowitz is a huge rap fan and each addition he makes to his blog posts is headlined by one of his favorite lyrics to complement the message he seeks to deliver.

Many of those posts have included great pieces of advice for running a business. In this list, we’ve compiled the 5 best, along with the catchy lines they were prefaced by, to present Ben Horowitz’ cardinal rules of running a business, as told by rap lyrics:

Seek Freedom

“Wait ’til I get my money right
Then you can’t tell me nothing, right?”
—Kanye West, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”

There are some companies that can function and grow happily without having to worry about making profit. One of those types of companies is Twitter, Horowitz says, because the current market has decided that businesses that attract lots of attention (users, if you will) and cultural relevancy are as valuable as any other.

Such companies don’t have to bow to every order of their investors, despite the lack of profit. But, if yours is a company that isn’t like Twitter, and thus doesn’t have the luxury not to worry about money, profit is paramount. Profit for the non-Twitter-type companies represents a freedom that allows them to decide their own destiny, and not have their fate in investors’ hands.

“Until you generate cash, you must heed investors even when they are wrong,” Horowitz wrote. “If investors wake up one day and think you are toast, you are indeed toast. When you generate cash, you can respond to silly requests from the capital markets the way Kanye would: ‘Excuse me, is you saying something? Uh uh, you can’t tell me nothing.’”

Create “Can Do” Culture

“God body and mind, food for the soul
When you feeding on hate, you empty, my ni*&$a, it shows”
—Rick Ross, “Hold On”

Horowitz makes a clear distinction between companies that create “can’t do” and “can do” cultures. Companies that generate can’t do cultures are those that make it hard for innovative ideas to be acted upon. In these companies, ideas have to go through lots of red tape before they are taken seriously.

“If one smart person figures out something wrong with an idea–often to show off or to consolidate power – that’s usually enough to kill it,” Horowitz said, as he described “can’t do” companies.

Horowitz instead advocates for companies that think like Google, which will get behind any innovative idea and would be willing to try it out, regardless of the “hate” that any one member at the company might have for it.

Build A Good Company

“It’s just another mutherf*ckin’ day for Dre, so I begin like this
No medallions, dreadlocks, or black fists
Just that gangsta glare with the gangsta raps”
—Dr. Dre, “Let Me Ride”

Horowitz acknowledges the fact that even horribly managed companies can succeed while other well-managed companies can fail. In fact, many might argue that the only thing needed for success is for a company’s product or service to be top notch. Regardless, Horowitz stressed the importance of building a good company (not just a good business) and a good place to work.

He regards every day as an opportunity not only to do good things with his company, but also to make sure that the people who are working there have a good life. A good company will be able to keep employees on board through the hard times, Horowitz argues, and subsequently bounce back.

“Being a good company doesn’t matter when things go well, but it can be the difference between life and death when things go wrong.”

New Guys Always Have To Be 10 Times Better

“I do this for my culture
To let them know what a n@#!a look like when a ni&%!a in a Roadster
Show them how to move in a room full of vultures
Industry is shady, it needs to be taken over
Label owners hate me, I’m raising the status quo up
I’m overcharging n$%^a for what they did to the Cold Crush”
—Jay-Z, “Izzo” (H.O.V.A.)

In this blog post, published in December 2012, Horowitz writes about the role company culture plays in success. He doesn’t share his thoughts on the subject, though, without highlighting what is most important: raising the status quo.

“The primary thing that any technology startup must do is build a product that’s at least 10 times better at doing something than the current prevailing way of doing that thing” he wrote. “Two or three times better will not be good enough to get people to switch to the new thing fast enough or in large enough volume to matter.”

Be A Decision Maker

“Cause two suckers can’t agree on something
a thousand mutherf***ers die for nothing”
—Geto Boys, F*** a War

According to Horowitz, there is no sense in trying to compromise when it comes to command. There should be one decision-maker, only; otherwise confusion and chaos can seep into a company. At a company in which decision-making is a responsibility that is shared, employees are bound to suffer.

Those employees have to decide who to go to when they are at a crossroads, then whoever’s sharing responsibility might have to debate amongst themselves about which way to go. This, Horowitz says, can only lead to a slowing-down of progression at a company.

It is for this reason that the venture capitalist advises entrepreneurs to stay away from this trap.

“If shared command is so bad, why do people keep trying it? Basically, the people in charge need to make one decision: who should run the company,” he says. “They cannot decide, so they compromise. And now, because they couldn’t make one decision, every single decision that the company makes from this day forward will be slower than it would have been otherwise. It sucks to work for that place.”


Breaking into Fashion? Network and Don’t Give Up

For Paige Dellavalle and her sister Ashley Jung, the transition from rigid life in West Point, to the cutthroat creative world of fashion took major adjusting. But the founders of jewelry line stella valle discovered that shift from the military’s structure to tapping their inner creativity would fuel fashion success.

In part one of our Q&A with Paige Dellavalle, the Shark Tank survivor lays out the major hurdles that fashion entrepreneurs must be prepared to overcome, and three tips that helped her brand survive at the early-stage.


Branding Is Not a Popularity Contest

There is a disturbingly misguided popularity contest among brands being hosted on Facebook these days. The frenzy among brand marketers looking to engage consumers in social dialogue has created an unhealthy new benchmark of brand health – the number of Likes they have. Social media is indeed revolutionizing the way brands and consumers interact. Marketers should be investing in new, better ways to listen, share, co-create and otherwise communicate with consumers. But the end goal cannot be to amass Likes, as if they are votes of brand equity, because they are not. In fact, I don’t know any good brand manager who wants everyone to “like” his or her brand. They should want a growing group to love their brand, even if that means another group doesn’t.

Simply being liked isn’t really the point of branding. From Harley-Davidson to Horizon Organic to, successful brands often appeal deeply to one consumer group – in some cases forming an identity with cult-like status – while completely turning off other consumers, who simply don’t get the point or even actively dislike the brand’s values. Polarity can be good branding. Standing firmly for something (like every brand should) also means not standing for something else. Having a strong purpose, set of values and beliefs is what builds genuine equity, not some quasi-measure of popularity. It’s too bad Facebook doesn’t offer a Love or Hate button, which might be more telling just how influential a brand really is.

Of course, the real area of concern is the brands people in general just don’t care about. They offer nothing special to anybody in particular. This is a troubling state, but can be remedied. Some previously ignored brands that have reawakened and found new purpose (and marketplace success) include Burberry, Old Spice and Mountain Dew.

These reinventions worked because the brands offer more than product features and benefits, they solve consumer needs in a compelling and unique way, and offer a clear point of view. Take Mountain Dew, formerly a kind of quirky, rural refresher relegated to a fringe existence, and now an icon of young energy and extreme sports, proudly thriving on the edge. For high school kids, Mountain Dew is part of the conversation – and not about soft drinks – about the extreme lifestyle that it foments. And they have successfully leveraged social media and co-creation in so many great ways. But there are plenty of people they shouldn’t want liking them, say, my great aunt Rae.

What’s deeply concerning is just how out of control Liking has gotten. A simple Internet search for “Facebook likes” produces dozens of companies offering to sell me the fans I need to seem popular. One company promises “750+ guaranteed Facebook Likes Delivered Within 48 Hours” for only $19.99. They reassuringly promise these Likes will be “all humans.” Awesome. Now I can go sell! If you believe brands should passionately stand for something even if that means alienating a group of potential consumers, then please don’t Like this post.


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