The Oscars Just Taught Everyone 2 Valuable Lessons in Branding

…and Small Business
Think the Academy Awards are all films and fashion? Think again.
CREDIT: Getty Images

I never miss the Oscars. I find them fascinating because I’m not just a film and fashion lover–I’m also a branding and marketing strategist. I always pick up a few great lessons in business and personal branding from the Academy Awards.

Here are just two of the ideas I took away from this year’s red carpet:

1. Great brands are ageless–if they stay relevant.

Jane Fonda is 80 years old, but walking onto the red carpet in a white gown, she radiated the same kind of presence she’s been known for her since her youth.

How has she managed to keep getting great roles for more than six decades? Simple. She knows how to keep the essence of her brand intact, while reinventing herself to be pertinent to the times we are living in.

Fonda’s left behind the young and sexy Barbarella and instead become a role model for her fellow boomer-age women who are committed to remaining passionate as they age. The same goes for other red carpet walkers: Rita Moreno (87), Christopher Plummer (88), and James Ivory (89) who was nominated for best adapted screenplay with Call Me by Your Name.

The lesson to take away here is that even if you have a brand that has been around for decades, you can’t rest on your laurels.

Simply existing over an extended period of time does not ensure survival. Instead, leverage your longevity with an occasional re-brand that keeps your business, product, or service relevant for current times and concerns.

The practical action: If you haven’t stepped back and taken a look a hard look at your brand and asked yourself whether it’s still hitting the mark today’s world, it’s time to do so. I recommend these three actions to my clients:

  • Host a series of customer panels where the only purpose is to hear what your clients have to say about how relevant they think your company is today, and what suggestions they have for moving forward in the future. One hot tip: You may want to use a professional facilitator, since he or she will be more able to stay neutral in the face of any feedback.
  • Hold lunch-and-learn sessions with your front-line employees and ask them the same questions you ask at the customer panels. They deal with customers every day, so they’re experts.
  • Have an off-site with 10-15 key people in your organization to discuss the feedback from customers and staff, and to determine the three most critical areas your company needs to focus on in order to stay current.

2. Brand in a bold–not boring–way.

Remember Viola Davis in florescent pink, Allison Janney in bright red, Ashley Judd in royal purple, Jennifer Garner in colbalt blue, and Whoopi Goldberg in a huge flower print dress sporting a large tattoo covering much of her right shoulder?

These ladies are not afraid to rock it in a crowd. It almost makes me feel sorry for the men, who are relegated to a uniform black tuxedo.

It takes confidence to stand up and be noticed. It’s not just about talent, reputation, or brand equity–it’s about being brave and bold.

Maybe it’s time your business or personal brand put on a bright red dress, with bolder colors, fonts, images, websites, brochures, social media, and sales pitches. Often companies and individuals sacrifice bold in favor of businesslike.

Many CEOs I’ve coached about their personal brand are concerned about crossing that fine line between being bold and being obnoxious–but playing it safe (and small) isn’t the answer.

The practical action: Create a team that includes creative types such as writers, artists, and graphic designers. Task them with turning a critical eye towards a few of your brand’s collateral pieces.

It could be your website, a section of your website, a brochure, your logo, or business card. In particular, pay attention to the following:

  • Are you using language to its fullest potential here? Is there a way you can integrate more powerful words and descriptions that will convey greater emotion?
  • Are you using color to its greatest impact? Is there a way you can enhance your message with the strategic use of color?
  • Are your photos conveying the greatest strengths of your brand? Do they enhance your message or simply just accompany it?

Maybe the closest you and I will ever get to the Academy Awards is being curled up on our couches, eating popcorn and hoping we win the office Oscar pool. But if you take these branding lessons and put them into play, you could be the winner in your category.



Olivia Anthony’s LIV Streetwear Is An Ode to Black Creativity and the ’90s

Read our interview with the fearless creative.

Olivia Anthony watched streetwear bloom before her very eyes. Despite streetwear’s diverse origin story, the industry seemed to have forgotten its roots. A rich marriage between surf wear, Asian street style, European haute couture and hip-hop created the casual wear we consider street fashion. As a young girl in the American south, Anthony watched this fusion happen and began to form her own ideas of what it means to be a black woman with style.

Beginning with a spark that began in college Anthony created LIV Streetwear to pay homage to a time she loves dearly — the ’90s. The clothing is bold and graphic referencing the logo-heavy apparel that was popular late in the decade. She pairs these features with her own flair that includes manipulating color, shape and fit to produce cozy gear you won’t want to take off. We got a chance to talk with Olivia Anthony about her style inspiration, being a black woman in fashion and what it means to work hard. Read on below and enjoy photos from our lookbook with breakout model India Graham.

What’s one of your first fashion memories?

My earliest fashion memories would be getting ready for school with my mother. I remember while she was doing my hair she would watch the Style Channel where they has fashion shows like Dior and Chanel running early in the morning. So I’m watching this at like nine or ten years old, subconsciously taking in all these amazing, avant-garde types of fashion.

How did your style develop? Who are some of your inspirations and fashion role models?

I feel like my style constantly develops with each time period. In high-school I went through this whole ’80s rope chain-Nike SB Dunk’s-Pastry sneakers-wild type of Pharrell skateboard stage. I literary had a skateboard even though I didn’t know how to skate. Later in college I was more focused on labels and getting into my sex appeal. Then I got to New York and it totally turned me out. I shaved my head, I went blond, I went purple — I really got to have fun and express myself. I feel like that’s how I found my style that I have today. Personal style is always evolving which is why I don’t think I can ever get bored with myself.

As far as inspirations, I get inspired by anyone who is different and challenges me to think to myself: “Well how can I stand out”? I love people that standout, that’s why my brand is different because it’s for those types of people that are bold. Honestly, I really don’t have many fashion role models besides my mom.

What inspired you to start House of Olivia Anthony and later LIV Streetwear? 

A lot of the new followers of the brand don’t know that I actually started LIV Streetwear back in 2012. The website launched during college and  I had a couple of people model my logo on a T-shirt at the launch party. When people started to approach me about actually purchasing the T-shirts that’s when it became a whole big thing. When I first moved to New York I was working as a stylist, I wanted to make something I absolutely loved. That’s what really gave me the urge to take my brand to the next level. Basically House of Olivia Anthony was created in that moment.  It’s really been a great experience to watch both of them grow and evolve.

“A lot of things that I used to feel embarrassed and ashamed of are now being embraced and walked down the runway. That’s why I named my last collection “My Love Letter to Our Culture” to pay homage to that.”

What’s your creation process like? How do you come up with references for your next line?

It changes with every collection. I design pieces that I would love to wear and that’s the beauty of being a designer. Whatever you feel is missing in fashion you get to create it.  Usually anything inspires me; it could be the oddest thing like a French manicure or a guy walking down the street wearing a lime green hat. Any simple little detail can trigger my creative juices. From there I begin to create a story. I view myself as a storyteller when it comes to presenting my clothes and every collection always pulls some reference from the ’90s. In essence that’s what my whole brand is inspired by.

How does color play a role in your design?

Color plays a humongous role in my designs. Color truly inspires me. In New York it’s always one extreme to the next. A lot of people might want to wear black all the time but I feel like it takes a bold son of a gun to walk down the street looking like a blueberry or yellow sunshine that lights up the whole block. That takes power, that takes light. I want my clothes to bring light and be all about living out loud, being expressive and the best way to do that is through color.

In fashion, nothing under the sun is new. People reinvent previous trends and reintroduce it to the next generation. How do you feel about the resurgence of ’90s fashion?

I’m excited that the ’90s aesthetic is back. I feel like I might have been early as f*ck because I was always rockin’ 90s stuff way back when. My brand has been centered around this era, so the simple fact that its come full circle is great, it sort of lets me know where I am branding-wise.

I watched my older sister when she was in high school go through ’90s trends, from her rocking Tommy Hilfiger to her matching outfits with her boyfriend. I love that I can take all these different elements and reuse them to tell a story to the younger generation. I recently did a shoot based off taking pictures in the mall, my two models were under 21 and they had no idea what mall pictures were. I’m young as well but I’m happy to have had a glimpse of that era. A lot of people reference the ’60s or the ’70s even though they might not have necessarily been there. However seeing it with my own eyes and now being able to put my soul into creating and telling a story to those whom might not have witnessed it, that’s beautiful to me.

I also think it’s also important because it lets people learn about the influence that our culture had on a lot of things that are trending today, like grills, baby hairs, twerking etc. A lot of things that I used to feel embarrassed and ashamed of are now being embraced and walked down the runway. That’s why I named my last collection “My Love Letter to Our Culture” to pay homage to that.

There aren’t many women in your position? Why do you think that is?

There is a lack, and I honestly don’t know why. I don’t have the answer. I think all I can do is be myself and show them that it can be done as a black womn in streetwear and on the higher end. Hopefully by me showing them more will follow. By living through my truth I hope that I inspire some other women to grab their team, grab the people that are around them and jump off faith and start doing what they want to do. Issa Rae said something really inspiring, she said a lot of people try to reach up and connect with people higher than them instead of looking to their left and their right and building with what they have close to them. So maybe its resources or a lot of things I really don’t know, but all I know is I’m going to try my hardest to reach my destination so hopefully I can inspire others to do the same thing.

Do you have any advice for young girls who wish to start their own labels or pursue a career in fashion?

My advice for young women or anyone who wants to start something is to be consistent. With any business, when it starts getting hard people tend to give up or get steered away. I feel in most cases they might feel “Well it’s just not the right time”, but it’s never going to be the right time. You’re never going to have the resources that you think you may need. If you stay consistent you will start to see it grow. I always tell people it’s just like planting seeds, if you plant a seed you have to nurture it and watch it grow. We live in a microwave world where people expect things to just grow overnight and when they don’t see growth happening they begin to just plant other seeds all over the place. When you go back to look at the garden there are no flowers, just seeds everywhere and that’s because they never nurtured the first one. It’s about following through and being consistent. We live in a world where nothing is perfect, I mean sh*t’s gonna happen but you can’t let anything defeat you. You have to keep going because that’s the only way you will see progress with anything you do in life.


Marketing to Millennials: Move Beyond the Stereotypes

Millennials doing HIIT workout Photo by Thinkstock.
The millennial generation spans more than 20 years, so generalizing how to reach this market is not recommended anymore than generalizing marketing to any other generation. Instead, you must segment this generation as you would any other.

It’s no secret that brands today are making a concerted effort to get in the good graces of a previously shunned generation — millennials. But why?

Let’s first address the elephant in the room. For years, millennials have been labeled with disapproving nicknames and negative stereotypes. The “Me Generation” that is supposedly lazy, entitled and lacking work ethic. Yet, this generation — diverse in age, lifestyle choices and purchasing habits — represents a unique majority of America’s current consumer base. And if you think the workplace is immune, it’s good to understand that millennials are expected to make up more than 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020.

With their diversity in mind and the rapidly evolving “new normal,” it may seem impossible to develop an exact formula for connecting with this generation.

The truth is, even though future shifts are imminent, by listening, keeping up with generational norms and formulating organic relationships, brands can continually adapt their marketing plans to best engage this ever-changing and important audience.

To better understand how to effectively market to millennials, let’s take a holistic look at digital marketing’s evolution.

The Early Days of Digital Marketing

In the early days of digital marketing, it was simply a matter of claiming and branding your profile page on relevant platforms such as Facebook, Yelp, etc. Then came the phase of posting interesting and keyword optimized content — blog and social posts  — to engage your core audience and drive earned media impressions. Although these both still hold relevance, it is not that simple anymore.

Somewhere along the way, social platforms realized that they could monetize interest and started restricting views (and engagement) through sophisticated algorithms. As a result, many brands started to pay to boost content and acquire larger organic audiences.

Although this is largely the cost of doing business today, many brands have still not initiated these basic concepts.

The Current Landscape

Digital marketing has diversified as the number of social platforms have increased. Today, the role of influencers and experiential marketing (pop-ups, virtual reality, etc.) is gaining significant traction. Implementing experiences such as these require a more sophisticated approach to marketing and a greater commitment of resources: time, budget, creativity and manpower.

The most important thing to keep in mind is, whether it be through an experiential engagement or influencer strategy, millennials are more focused on a relationship and conversation versus a pushed message.

How to Irk Millennials

In the interest of developing the right formula for a strong millennial marketing campaign, let’s take a look at the marketing tactics that are sure to leave a bad taste. Brands should avoid:

1. Overgeneralizing. The biggest mistake is casting a single stereotype across an entire generation (millennial or otherwise). People who are between the ages of 18 to 34 years old represent a wide range of lifestyles and priorities. Companies need to narrow or segment millennials into relevant subgroups and adjust messaging accordingly. To be clear, 75 million people spanning a nearly 20-year age gap is not a segmented audience.

2. Skimping on authenticity. Using a tone that is not authentic to your brand is another common mistake many marketers make, and not surprisingly, it usually falls flat. Did you hear about the Microsoft recruiter who sent an email to college job candidates with a subject line of “HEY BAE INTERN! <3”. Uh, yeah, it happened.

3. Overusing emojis. This mistake isn’t exclusively owned by our parents — many companies have also embraced the emoji as a barometer of coolness. This rarely goes over well. Emojis have a limited place in the marketer’s toolkit. Know it, appreciate it. Don’t overuse it.

4. Respect the direct and text message. Millennials (and most consumers) regard their text message stream as personal. Without explicit permission to engage with consumers on marketing messages via these channels, you’re violating their trust (and probably breaking the law).

Who Is Doing It Right

Although it would be easy to point out the slew of brands who have botched connecting with millennials, some brands offer inspiring examples of doing it right. Amazon continually re-defines the concept of frictionless user experience and has created the standard against which every brand is being measured even if Amazon is not considered a competitor in the traditional sense. Surprisingly, Cadillac is also doing a great job of reaching millennials. In 2015, they launched a 10-year plan to rejuvenate the brand and engage a younger generation. Their “Dare Greatly” and “Don’t You Dare” campaigns featured young people’s stories of inspiration and innovation where they only mentioned their product in the last few seconds of the commercial. They have followed that campaign with “Book By Cadillac,” a subscription-based car service available in New York City. It’s a great story to watch unfold.

Key Takeaways

Although developing an adaptive and unique marketing strategy that resonates with millennials is no simple feat, below are a few key takeaways from my experience in building out millennial fitness-focused brands:

1. Think community. Brands must stand for more than profit. What is your brand’s greater purpose, and how do you share this story with your audience?

2. Create a seamless experience. A frictionless brand experience is a must. Think of millennials as a co-creator/ambassador of this experience. The traditional customer journey and life milestones don’t apply to millennials, so you should consider creating a non-linear customer experience that still creates value regardless of entry point.

3. Strive for balance and diversity. Both are important to millennials. Know your brand’s “sweet spot” and don’t push for more or you risk turning off your most loyal customers.

4. Disrupt and innovate. Millennials appreciate brands that embrace this mindset, even if it fails. Create a brand architecture that promotes these concepts and note that this goes far beyond marketing. To be successful, you’ll need cross-functional alignment from operations, human resource and IT, among others.

5. Be authentic. Although this is the easiest recommendation to implement, it’s often the most overlooked. Sincerity is key when it comes to messaging, tone and voice.


Why Racially Tone-Deaf Marketing Keeps Happening

by Stanley Lumax

“Have you lost your damn minds?”

That’s what The New York Times columnist Charles Blow asked H&M after the brand became the latest case study in racially insensitive marketing.

H&M’s product listing featured a young black child wearing a sweatshirts that read, “Coolest monkey in the jungle.” Before that, Unilever’s Dove ran an ad including a black woman who had been “cleaned up” to have white skin. A Nivea ad—which also ran last year—promoted a face cream that offered “visibly lighter skin” for black women. Gap and vegan brand Tarte Cosmetics also ran ads that proved problematic for minority audiences.

Yet such brands seem to face no significant short-term business repercussions. It’s not like their sales just fall off a cliff.

While the initial reaction is to question whether these brands have lost their damn minds, the bigger issue is whether these decisions were all made with sound minds in the first place. We aren’t dealing with start-ups that lack the experience, time, or discipline needed to facilitate best practices.

If the decision-makers are not crazy, then we must ponder if this insensitivity is deliberate. In this age of hot takes and attention-driven controversy, I, for one, wonder whether these marketers somehow write it all off as a case of all press being good press.

With each of these branding faux pas, there is plausible deniability. Someone loses their job, an apology is made, and after a week (or less) we move on.

If these acts are not deliberate PR stunts, then one must turn back to the industry’s ongoing struggles with diversity: Just 6.6% of those employed in the ad industry are black versus 12.7% of the U.S. population. Hispanics comprise only 10% of the industry versus 17.6% of the general population. And just 11% of the world’s creative directors are women. In many cases, there is clearly no one involved in the process who thinks to stop, assess the cultural impact of an idea and ask, “Do you realize how that might be interpreted?”

There’s no easy fix for this situation, but hiring a more diverse team at your ad agency is an absolute necessity. I know from experience that if you are the only African American on staff, you will often be asked to speak for every black person in the U.S. That means you go from being just another account guy to the voice of 37 million people. Black America is not a homogeneous population; no cultural group on earth is.

You can’t say, “Stan saw it, so it’s okay,” and assume that it’s been vetted. That’s not how life or advertising works.

What’s the Solution?

Start with championing holistic diversity initiatives and hiring practices that are sensitive to race, gender and class. By doing so, you create an environment that is not only diverse in demographics, but also in terms of perspectives and life experience. Such diversity allows for a healthy debate and the opportunity to learn from and educate one another.

Brands also have to take on the challenge of destroying toxic, pressure-filled environments that produce groupthink. We have to create a space where all viewpoints can be aired and valued equally. This includes listening to and discussing ideas that we don’t like and might even deem offensive, in an effort to learn, teach, and grow.

As creative professionals, honest and open dialogue is a must. That’s the only way we can create work that positively impacts our culture.



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