“Great companies that build an enduring brand have an emotional relationship with customers that has no barrier. That emotional relationship is built on the most important characteristic, which is trust… A great brand raises the bar – it adds a sense of purpose to the experience, whether it’s the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness, or the sense that the cup of coffee your drinking really matters.’ Howard Shultz, CEO of Starbucks coffee
“Products like people have personalities, and they can make or break you in the marketplace.” David Oglivy
Traditional marketing talks about the 4 P’s of marketing – product, price, placement and promotion – as being the foundations of the marketing mix.
Product is what you make (AND 1 made T’s and shorts and shoes). Price is how much you charge various customers. Placement is where you put both your ads and your product. If you sell in a high end boutique store vs. if you sell in Walmart or in the local flea markets has a huge impact on how you are perceived. And promotion is the type of advertising your run – do you do ‘aspirational’ and ‘emotion’ based marketing showing people a ‘better’ or ‘best’ version of themselves, or do you do price based marketing (coupons and discounts).
Brand positioning drives market cap and company valuations. At the simplest level, we divide brands between ‘premium’ companies and ‘value companies.’ An easy way to think about all this, is:
In the upper two quadrants, you are selling image and ‘premium’, and have to maintain pricing that is ‘high enough’, and distribution channel partnerships that are also ‘quality’ and messaging that sells a ‘better self’ or your ‘best self.’ Being too cheap kills your brand. Being too ‘ubiquitious’ and not exclusive enough is death.
In the lower two quadrants, you are competing on convenience, selection and lower or the lowest prices. Being too expensive kills your brand.
It is possible to build a very valuable, very profitable business in any quadrant, but it is exceedingly hard to move from one quadrant to another.
A note on the East-West axis is that all businesses are innovative and have some unique insight wherever they are. Walmart saw that land in non-prime markets in non-prime real-estate locations was much less expensive, and these areas where underserved, so they could afford to build giant mega warehouse stores and sell the lowest cost goods. They provided a real service to these communities, which is why they drove so much revenue.
Amazon took a much more ‘technical’ approach to a similar problem – the largest warehouse and goods marketplace in the world – but technology enabled.
AND 1 was not the most technical player in our space. We tried to make the highest quality goods, and tried to add technology and features as best we could to our products – but we could never be the most technological player in the space – as we couldn’t command the highest prices, or have the largest development team or advanced concept budget.
We had to have ‘good enough’ quality, distribution and pricing – but compete largely on our brand attitude and personality.
Our brand personality was very unique within the space. The one thing it is very, very difficult to do as a start-up, especially a start-up in the consumer products space playing in the top quadrants is to not own a very outspoken and differentiated personality.
We were outgoing and cocky. That was AND 1’s identity.
The companies we admired the most were those who took the most aspirational approach to marketing. But, make no mistake, any time that consumers tattoo your logo on their bodies, you’ve done something right – at least from a branding perspective.
There is really a ‘holy trinity’ in great marketing – the brand name, the tagline and the creative that supports and builds meaning into that tagline.
At AND 1, we only really achieved 2 of the three. But, there are other brands we admired that did it better.
NIKE. Nike was named for the Greek Goddess of Victory (after nearly being named Dimension 6). Their most successful marketing campaign was united under the umbrella of ‘Just Do it.’ It was an aspirational call to get out and compete and be your best athletic self.
APPLE. Apple’s logo was inspired by the apple falling on Newton, inspiring his ideas about gravity. There best campaign was ‘Think Different’ (or the earlier ‘1984’ TV commercial – which was very similar in tone). The co-opted the greatest ‘thinkers’ and ‘iconoclasts’ of all time as their own. Einstein, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Muhammed Ali, etc.
They put their brand in a class of people who change the world for the better, and claimed these cultural icons as their own.
We struggled mightily at AND 1 to find an aspirational tagline the whole company could rally behind. We tried this every few months, but could never internally agree. We eventually ended up at something like ‘I ball.’ But, this started with a noun, not a verb and failed the ‘aspirational test.’
While we at AND 1 never reached this level of messaging clarity or social impact, our fundamental values – if we had been able to articulate them better – they likely would have been something that got at the emotional, aspirational truth of – ‘Be You’ or ‘Live Bold’ or ‘Express Yourself.’ The exact words we would have fought over for years – but the essence – I think we would have agreed upon.
Whether it was the skillful ball handling of the best dribblers in the Mix-tape videos, or the best trash talkers – we inherently recognized and believed that there was a ‘legitimate’ art form to the urban-inspired forms of self-expression – an art form involving 10,000 hours of practice, hardwork and sacrifice combined with genetic giftedness – and an art form equally valid as those hanging in galleries or poetry books.
We all knew that what the white ‘elite’ upper classes saw as ‘meaningless tricks’ on court were and are art forms requiring as much discipline and practice as ballet or modern dance – just not receiving the same level of the social endorsement from the controlling class.
We even knew that the verbal dozens and trash talking, was as worthy of celebration as song lyrics or, dare we say it, haiku. It was a competitive form of verbal word play and linguistic jousting.
We wanted people to feel valued and inspired by ‘being you’ – by expressing yourself in the form and style that moved you.
The challenge was that there was a big part of AND 1 that was inherently a ‘fuck you.’ An in-your-face, macho taunt. And it’s hard to reconcile that with aspirational.
But we knew that there was (and is) a large racial and social structure component that AND 1 was subverting. We weren’t quite mature enough or talented enough to launch a full movement, but we got close at times.
Jay, with help from others, ushered in one ‘movement’ that remains remembered even today. This was AND 1’s most memorable campaign. And it has inspired and entertained millions globally for several decades.