I want to tell you a story about something I did a few years ago that has altered the way I view the world ever since. Way back when, I ran a clothing brand called Jazzberry Chauffeur with a good friend of mine. We had what all great brands had: a killer idea and the perfect combination of white-knuckled passion & grit. We loved it.
The idea was a simple one, and one that I'd emulate again: Make good, cool stuff. Even today, this is hard for a lot of brands. But we had some intial success and our friends bought the gear, and their friends bought a shirt or two, and we were immediately propelled toward bigger, better aspirations. Life was good.
We'd set out to emulate some brands that we'd fallen for from the time we could dress ourselves: The Hundreds
, Benny Gold
. And like I said, everyone we knew loved the brand. Never did we have any kind of notion that launching a clothing brand would be anything approaching easy, and so we always suspected that something was perhaps off. But at the time, well, success and notoriety were coming pretty easy. And then one day we made a huge mistake. And then we made several more.
Having sold out of several designs, the next logical choice was a clear one: New York City. Because after all, selling some shirts to the folks of Toms River, New Jersey is one thing, but New York City is where you simply have to be. And so to New York City we went. We hopped on a bus, brought along our samples, and marched into stores on a pre-plotted route that we scrapped together the night before using a combination of MapQuest, Google and a whole lot of confidence. The next day was they day we’d land major accounts and be side-by-side with our idols’ brands.
We woke up that morning and went to the first store and the exact opposite happened. Our first stop was a store in SoHo. We met with the buyer. We showed him our stuff. We talked about our success back in New Jersey. And then he showed us the door. But first, fate intervened! About five seconds later, a customer in the store walked right up to us, said he loved my sweatshirt, and bought one from me on the spot! We were in!
Except we weren't, and the buyer couldn't have cared less about the transaction that had just happened right in front of him. The message was clear: Unless you have Kanye West wearing your clothes, don't bother. (I'm paraphrashing here)
We were shocked, crushed. This store had been our main target. It supported independent brands and our brand was in lockstep with the atmosphere of the store. None of it made sense to us at the time. But now, it’s crystal clear.
Aside from the few family members who bought our clothing out of support, it was our friends and their friends who had been our main customers. And they bought the clothing because they had a connection to the brand. The designs were interesting. The brand was created in their hometown. And most importantly, THEIR TRUSTED FRIENDS TRUSTED US
This early success gave us the illusion that our designs were everything, that our designs were the reason people were buying our brand. Which they were. Sort of. (After all, no matter how well you know someone, you're not just going to wear something you hate.) But when things didn’t work out, it wasn't because our designs weren’t good enough. It was because people outside of our network couldn't connect with our brand. Take The Hundreds for example. Bobby Kim shares his life, passions, and thoughts on his blog, which is The Hundreds' website. People feel connected to Bobby. Sure, the designs are cool and the quality is top notch. But without Bobby’s blog, The Hundreds wouldn't have that key ingredient all successful brands have: a personal connection with its follwers.
That's the lesson we learned the hard way. The most successful brands are more than just makers of product, producers of service. They are brands completely invested and grounded in WHY they exist. (Click here to Tweet that)
And it's this WHY that people all over the world connect with first and foremost. It's this connection that takes a potential customer from thought to purchase, from deliberation to credit card swipe.
The best brands are not companies. They're extensions of their customers. They're different to each person that wears their clothes or uses their services. Take a look at the image that accompanies this article. I know for a fact that all of you can identify that brand within seconds. I'd be willing to be most of you own something from this brand, too. But here's something else for each of you to think about: What does this brand mean to you? Your answer is why Nike is one of the most successful brands in the world: Because each of you will have a different, personal one.
Brand Navigator (East)
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