Why SMBs Need A Strong Brand

Fashion entrepreneur, author, and television star Daymond John discuss the importance of branding and how he's used social media to understand his customers and educate them about his products.

Benjamin Tomkins, Contributor

April 22, 2010

6 Min Read

Don't Miss: An excerpt of Daymond John's "The Brand Within"

InformationWeek SMB: Not long ago you changed the name of your company from FUBU to FB Legacy. You spent years building the FUBU brand. Why the change and when should business owners be thinking about making a big change like this to their company brand?

John: It really depends on the business strategy and the angle of the new strategy relative to the old. In America, Fubu has been out 15 years and now people 35 and older say, "I was around when it was really big, and it was great and was doing well," and they see value. But for younger kids, 10 years old, 15 years old, in their mind it's, "Oh, that's the old crap my uncle used to wear." So we needed to change it around a little bit. These kids have such a short attention span now; it's the length of 3½ minute video - you wake up poor and by the end of the day you have a Mercedes and you get the girl. They have a very short time understanding the time. So for them FB Legacy is new, but an older generation still knows FUBU and the FB in FB Legacy gives them an understanding that there's a history behind it. That's why we changed it around. Will it work? We don't know, but we're giving it our best effort.

InformationWeek SMB: Over the 15 years you've been leading FUBU and now FB Legacy, how have the tools you use to develop and manage your branding identify changed? Specifically, I'm think of how social media has changed the way you promote your brand and connect with potential customers.

John: Social media has changed things immensely. When we first started FUBU, you had focus groups to find out what your customers thought. You had these kids telling you the truth, but they're all sitting in your office getting $100 each. And you don't know if they're telling you real answers. Now, if you don't have thin skin, you can go and search your name an your brand name and you see in on Twitter or Facebook or MySpace all these outlooks on your brand. From that you can make accurate assessments about your strengths and weaknesses.

For example, I looked at FUBU and realized, first, that most kids didn't know much about it, but what they did think was that it was cheap stuff and that it was super-baggy stuff. Now, if I came out with a new line not knowing this, I wouldn't know where to target. And I saw an opportunity to educate them about the brand. Most of them didn't know that we've also been in Europe for the last 15 years and for that market we made form-fitting and properly cut sizing, but American kids wanted the baggier look. Then they understood that we had a history of making the clothes the proper size. If you look at them saying "cheap goods," most didn't realize that we pulled out of America for the last eight years, so the goods they were seeing as cheap were either counterfeit or very old. So, we saw an opportunity to educate them that they were seeing older goods in the market. That's all information that I wouldn't have known without social media.

InformationWeek SMB: What about pitfalls? When you're trying to manage and cultivate a brand identity what are some big mistakes that can really damage your brand identity?

John: With social media you have to be transparent. You really do. You have to admit your mistakes. If you try to put up a facade around your product or your brand, it's easily discovered because all your employees have access to the world and the world has access to them. Everything's moving so fast that your information will be out there. So, it's important to be transparent to some extent even about your faults.

Another thing is that a lot of people really don't understand their consumer. They want to believe their consumer is one person, but it's not. For example, Timberland builds the best boot in the world and they're proud of it and they market it that way heavily. Now a real hiker or mountain biker buys the best boot in the world, but he's only going to buy that boot once every two or three years. A construction worker may that boot buy once every six months or once every year. But then kids latch onto the Timberland brand. Good, bad, or indifferent, they latch on to the brand, and instead of valuing it from a functional aspect this urban customer values it from a fashion aspect so they're buying a new pair of Timberlands every three weeks when it gets scuffed. You have to understand where your bread-and-butter is coming from - it's not always the consumer you intend. You also have to be able to market to that group in a sensible way. You can't just run out and start shouting, "Hey, guys. We love you. We love you. We love you." For certain markets, as soon as you pay attention to them, they back away from you, because then you're no longer aspirational. So have to find out who your customer is, then determine how to market to them in a sensible way that reinforces more and more sales, but doesn't totally ignore your other consumers.

InformationWeek SMB: Any last words of advice on branding?

John: Your perception, your public perception, your brand DNA, is your most-important thing. A lot of people are so busy trying to set up the business, that they overlook the mission statement. I tell everybody that you need to be able to explain yourself, your company, in three to five words. So if you're BMW, you are "fine German engineering." If you're TBS: "We know drama." You need to be able to understand yourself and relay that to everybody else in three to five words.

Benjamin Tomkins is editor of InformationWeek SMB.
Follow him on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/benjamintomkins

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