Category Archives: Brands

The Most Important Brand You Never Think Of

I admit I have not given this blog the attention it needed over the past year.  Needless to say school has kept me very busy. Plus, I’ve got some very exciting projects I’m working on outside the world of academia that I’ve been focusing on.  Either way, as we reach the end of the semester I’m reminded that my time here is growing short.  Soon enough I will be back in the thick of finishing my final semester and trying to get a job.  I thought I would share an article I wrote last year about this time that was published on IHAVEANIDEA.  You can link to the online article here or read it below.  Its never too early to start polishing up the personal brand!

There is no escaping it.  This tech-ed up world we’re living in has made dodging the marketer’s message nearly impossible.  So much so, that as consumers we are all growing increasingly complacent to the onslaught of branded messaging we confront on a daily basis.  As a student of the VCU Brandcenter, a microcosm of self-proclaimed brand junkies, the experience may be slightly different.

We love this stuff.  Probably too much.

I remember well the first assignment I received in a course on brand engagement.  At the professor’s instruction, I was to record in a journal every brand that I consciously engaged with during one single day.  Simple, right?  My mind was fried by the time I polished off my Cheerio’s.  There I sat, on my Ikea couch, watching a TV series on Netflix, streamed via Roku, on my Panasonic television, while checking email on my iPhone and devouring a bowl of Big G cereal.  All before 8 AM.  And while I thought I was being particularly clever recognizing all this hardcore brand engagement, I was amazed to see my list of brands dwarfed by many of my fanatical peers.  I think the winning list included nearly 200 brands.  In one day.

While the Brandcenter may represent somewhat of an anomaly in that regard, it’s in the context of this observation that I can’t help but express some surprise at how infrequently people consider themselves among the most important brands in their life.

Whether we like it or not, we all act as our own personal brand.  And much like the popular brands we all love (and love to hate), the things we do and say are often trumped by how others perceive us.  It may seem unfair but that’s the way it works.  Don’t think you’re that petty?  Well, examine your own purchasing behavior and you may see similar patterns.  How many times have you been torn between products and chosen the one wrapped in sexier packaging?  Are you more willing to take a risk on a new product because of its cool logo or recognizable brand?  Of course you are.  We all are.

Managing a brand is hard work and requires a high level of commitment.  One advantage that we, as individuals, have over corporate brands is agility.  If you’re unhappy with your current brand, simply change it.  It can be as simple as minding your wardrobe, tweaking your vocabulary or reinvigorating that limp handshake.  Obviously these small transformations represent the most basic of personal branding tactics.  However, implementing a more strategic branding initiative doesn’t have to be as complex as it seems.  Look at world famous brands like Coca-Cola, Nike, and Levi’s – sure they have brand values.  A brand voice.  An essence.  And while all of this may feel very intangible on the surface, each of these brands are rooted in something very real.  A passion and dedication to their respective craft that transcends the product itself.

This same concept can be applied with equal magnitude to shaping your own brand.  Find your passions, what you want to stand for and inject them with your own personality.  Be fluid.  Be flexible.  These things change over time and your brand should evolve in parallel.  Just keep in mind that there is no right answer and no real risk.  No ROI to track.  No shareholders to please. Just you: an army of one.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual recruiting event for graduating Brandcenter students.  It is attended by hundreds of the world’s top ad agencies on the hunt for the industry’s hottest young talent.  It was truly something to behold.  For two days, the school was transformed into a gallery of brilliant personal branding.  I didn’t see a thing that wasn’t astonishingly unique and creative.  The Brandcenter Class of 2012 set the bar high – not only for future graduates of the Brandcenter, but for personal brands everywhere.

So whether you count yourself among the graduates plunging into the workforce for the first time this May, or those simply trying to ignite and propel a prosperous career, know that the secret to success may be more manageable than you thought.  I’ve found that the best way to be treated like a junior is to act like one.  If you want to be perceived as a professional you can just as easily be one of those, too.  But that’s the beauty of being your own brand manager; you call the shots.

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Come on…

Seriously Cole. You gotta cut me some slack.  Give it a rest.

Since my last post on your new LunarGrand I’ve been thinking far more than is healthy about how much I wanted them on my feet. But I talked myself out of it.  I’ve already got a few pairs of suede, I don’t need another.  Just when I thought it was behind me I see this.

Oh, you recognize them?  Well you should.  These are the new LunarGrand leathers that hit SOHO this week.  All rationalizing is out the window and once again I’m sprung for some of the sexiest and undoubtedly most comfortable (nod to NIKE’s sole technology) wingtips known to man.

What am I supposed to do now?

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For those without citizenship

After all, we are all visitors.

A new collaboration between surf legend Kelly Slater and Quicksilver has forged a new lifestyle brand built for the journey.

Wherever it may lead you.

I haven’t seen much of the collection but I did catch a glimpse at one of the best looking packs I’ve seen in a while.

The waxed canvas bag is big enough to fit weeks worth of gear and has storage compartments for days.  Don’t feel like lugging the entire pack with you everywhere you go?  No worries.  The small compartment on the front is detachable, perfect for a laptop bag or other day-to-day use.

One of the coolest features, which may also be the least practical, is the included hammock – tucked away in a small compartment somewhere.

Can’t say I’ve been in situations where I’ve really needed a hammock but little details like this really reinforce the brand’s pedigree and lifestyle it was made for.

I’m a sucker for rugged gear that is just as functional as it is attractive.  Same goes for interesting collaborations.  Just so happens that the combination of the two in this situation shows a lot of promise.  I find it really interesting to see trends in minimalism intersecting with utility.  VSTR quotes William Blake:

“…We never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.”

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Hard Graft

For the first time in, well…ever, I recently met a young guy like myself that claimed to be an aspiring blacksmith.  I can’t help but think that this is rooted in a broader trend bringing back the appreciation of true craft.  Being a blacksmith or a carpenter or a tailer are not only being revitalized as professions but they are also really cool right now!

In the spirit of true craftsmanship I wanted to share a new brand I found recently called Hard Graft.  They peddle a fine assortment of handmade goods crafted from leather and wool.  I love the minimal, masculine feel of Hard Graft’s products.  The attention to detail is fantastic and the style points this stuff earns in comparison to competing mainstream alternatives is off the charts!

While ordering one of these cases for your kindle/ipad/macbook/device or wallet does require opening up said wallet I think it would be worth the investment.  Typically the more miles you put on these types of accessories the better they look. Wear breeds serious character.  Character that you just can’t buy in a store filled with mass produced merchandise.

For those interested in upping their style, looking for a new case and willing to shell out a little more for a quality product, or just appreciate quality craftsmanship I highly encourage you to look into Hard Graft.


Innovation meets old-world style

Growing up my mother always made sure my brothers and I were well dressed.  For more formal occasions this often meant elaborate outfits constructed from multiple layers.  I remember one particular Sunday sitting on a pew complaining to my mom and a friend of hers about how uncomfortable I felt in whatever fruit suit she had me wearing that particular day.  Not sure why it made such an impression on me but for some reason their response has stuck with me for 20-something years:

“It’s not about how you feel, it’s about how you look.”

For far too long people have considered comfort and style to be mutually exclusive.  This just baffles me.  I find it hard to believe that in the 21st century we are unable to create a good looking product that is also comfortable and easy to wear.  Well, wouldn’t you know as soon as I started getting flustered about this very topic I come across the latest from one of the biggest names in men’s footwear, Cole Haan.  They put a classically designed brogue dress shoe on top of an ergonomic outsole for pure podiatric bliss.  You can see a definite nod to CH’s parent company NIKE who brings serious innovation and tech to the table wherever they go.

I love the design and am happy to see more menswear brands pushing the boundaries of acceptable style with great color combos and a fine integration of classic and modern aesthetic.  Here are a few pics of the shoes that will be available only at the Cole Haan store in SoHo starting next week.

And my personal favorite…

The gray/yellow might be a bit much for some but I think they are incredibly cool.  I’d love to get my hands on a pair of these someday when I’m not a broke grad student.  Pipe dreams.

I knew Cole Haan was a NIKE brand but there’s something about seeing such a blatant integration of both brands’ style that really rubbed me the right way.  I couldn’t help but think of one of NIKE’s maxims:

“If we don’t lead it, we don’t need it.”

I love their commitment to greatness.

The LunarGrand Wingtip is a perfect example of NIKE & Cole Haan leading their category.

Now, some of you that read the blog may have heard that I just recently had an opportunity to interview with NIKE for a potential summer internship.  The timing of this post is unintentionally ironic!  What are the odds that I find these shoes the same day I interview?!  I know there is little I can do at this point to escape the heat I’m going to get for this but I just want to come out to my peers and say that this was in no way strategic.

If by some chance someone at NIKE finds this,

I hope it worked 😉

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Latest Brand Obsession – Baldwin Denim

The number of brands we interact with on a daily basis seems to be growing every day.  A professor at Brandcenter recently asked us to record all the brands we engaged with for just one day.  The highest number recorded was somewhere around 130 brands.  It’s no surprise that world-class organizations like Coca-Cola, Levi’s and Nike are out there doing great work and capturing our attention almost everywhere we go.  These types of organizations are the gold standard as far as branding goes.  With that said, one of the things I have truly enjoyed doing since I have been studying brands is finding those with a much softer voice but still connect with me in a very positive way.  Sometimes it’s the product that captures my attention, other times it may be the general aesthetic or story of the brand.

This time it happens to be all of the above.

I was recently introduced to a menswear shop in Kansas City called Baldwin Denim.  They offer a wide range of clothing for both men and women but specialize in high quality, raw selvedge denim.  I’ve seen all the expensive designer jeans that have been bedazzled, embroidered, and adorned with just about every other tacky decoration one could think of and these are not those jeans.  Baldwin represents quality premium denim sewn in the USA and designed in KC.  They are simple, masculine and I plan to wear them as long as my mid-section will allow.  I’m not worried about them wearing out and they embody that classic design that only looks better with age.

Heres a shot of their flagship store in Kansas City

I know everyone has their own style and this may not appeal to everyone but I’m a huge fan of Baldwin.  Even if you were to take the clothes out of the picture, the vibe of the store is spot on with me.  Love all the wood and matte metals.  Somewhat industrial but still so refined.  I love to see the emergence of high quality men’s boutiques that not only cater to men but are built and run by them.

The denim looks almost as good on as it does on the shelf 🙂

One of the things that I really love about raw selvedge denim is how they wear in.  When you pick these up in the store they are going to be dark, stiff and you should buy them very tight.  As you wear them they will loosen up and form to your body.  They will also create a completely unique color wash depending on how you wear them, so no two people will have the same wash.

New vs. 6 months wear (still without wash)

Tell me these don’t look fantastic worn in!

These don’t come cheap but as far as I’m concerned a pair of Baldwin denim is worth the investment.

Each wrinkle and spot rubbed of dye tells a story.  Each stain a memory.

After time has passed these are no longer pants, but an heirloom that can be cherished.

Baldwin denim is another great small brand that has their identity pegged and is doing a bang up job.



I’m a sucker for great product packaging.  Probably because I spent the better part of 2 years working on the packaging team at General Mills and attended more packaging related conferences and forums than I care to admit.  I was even asked to speak as a panel member at one conference alongside such industry giants as Starbucks and Smurfit-Stone.  I digress.  As a result of the countless hours I spent researching and critiquing boxes and other product vessels, I have become what we in the biz lovingly refer to as a packaging nerd.  I pay far too much attention to packaging and when I see something I like I can’t help but sing its praises.

Too often packaging is written off as nothing more than a container for the real product.  This type of thinking is shallow and fails to capitalize on a great opportunity to reinforce brand essence and offer the consumer an unexpected delight.  Believe it or not, brand loyalty isn’t built by offering a good product alone.  It is earned through a series of personal connections that articulate not only product excellence but confidence in brand identity and willingness to go the extra mile.  The devil is in the details and consumers can always tell those that are making the effort and those that are faking it.

One of my favorite kinds of packaging is the unexpected kind.  This leads me to the recent find that really sparked my interest.  How often have we all received our monthly magazine subscription with name sticker slapped on haphazardly and thoroughly beat up by the postal gauntlet it has just run?  I know I have.  Well enter Creative Future.  A new publication and art project that features some of the industry’s most innovative designers.  The goal was to create a finely crafted publication that not only featured art and design but was a work of art in itself.

Mission accomplished.

I am sure the magazine is amazing although I have to say I’ve never read it.  What I do know is that instead of just dropping this thing in the mail, the brilliant designers at Creative Future found a way to both protect the publication and add another element of design that reinforces the pedigree of the brand.  Plus, who doesn’t like to open a package?!

Check it out:

So perfect.  I love the brown paper and twine tied up in a bow.  Its the perfect blend of simplicity, utility, and rugged elegance.  I also love how the white wrap adds an additional aesthetic layer that also serves the purpose providing a quick glimpse of the contents.

I would almost hate to open it.

If I ever have a business peddling products of some sort you better believe the packaging will look a lot like this.

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Rocky Top Soap Shop

Since I’ve been studying brands I find myself noticing not only the big names in the industry but also the very small brands that I think are doing a stellar job in their positioning.  I recently came across a brand of natural, hand-made soaps called the Rocky Top Soap Shop out of midcoast Maine.  I can thank General Mills and my time there in packaging for my affinity to package design but I have to say that was what initially caught my eye. Simple, understated, but equally rugged as the product itself.  It all lines up quite well.  Its nice to see soaps using materials like rosehip, charcoal, and pine tar.  Very manly, which I appreciate.

How could you not find comfort in knowing this is the guy handcrafting your soap.

Dig that beard.

Again, its all so on brand – The guy, the rugged soap, the Maine coast, the great packaging…that beard!

So if you are into hand-made, sustainable products or are just a dirty man that needs a gritty charcoal scrub rocky Top Soap Shop is definitely worth a try.

Either way, I love to support guys like this out there in some small coastal town just doing what he loves.

Perfecting his craft.

You’ve gotta respect that kind of dedication.

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Creative Retail

What an awesome example of continuing to recreate the retail experience.  Apple has been largely accredited with transforming retail but it is refreshing to see other much smaller companies blazing their own trails.

I love to keep an eye open for interesting brands that are doing cool stuff in their world.

When asked about their favorite brands people so often just spout off the brands they buy most often.  While there is no debating that those people do like those brands or else they wouldn’t continue to buy them.  But I don’t think that someone’s favorite brands should be limited to those that they use regularly.

I’m impressed all the time by brands that I’ve never heard of just based on their values, innovation, or even just a solid cool factor.

Eye Candy just made it on my list.

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Brand Alliance – Levi’s & Urban Outfitters

I came across this campaign recently and after putting aside my disappointment that no stops will be made in RVA I realized what a great example this is of creating alliances to strengthen brands.  I found it especially interesting to see a partnership between two brands that could in some ways be considered competitors.  Not in all categories, but certainly in some.  Very refreshing to see them rise above that and recognize the benefits of putting together an awesome collaboration.

Maybe this just seems extra cool to me now that i am a bike commuter.  Or that I appreciate the fashion industry and am very interested in it, Levi’s being one of my favorite brands.  Likely the combination.  I was watching a short video Levi put together highlighting the features of their new commuter jeans and while initially I wasn’t a big fan of the large loop on the back of the pants intended to act as a holster for your u-lock, they really are very cool.  “Form. Function. Cycling.” is their tag-line and it works.  I cant tell you how many times in the past few weeks of biking around in the Virginia heat/humidity I would have liked to have been wearing a pair of jeans that were both stank and moisture resistant.  The 3M reflectivity on the inner cuff is a nice touch too (thats the 3rd participating brand here!).

Check out the video below and get more info on the Levi’s/UO traveling bike shop here.

The mobile bike shop has already made its way through part of the trek but if you are in one of the upcoming cities and this seems cool to you definitely go check it out.  Come back and report too because I’d love to hear about it.  You know if they were coming to Richmond I would be there getting some new tape and maybe a patch or 2.  Looks like the on-site tailor would probably even sew them onto a bag or something.

Interests aside I would love to check it out in person just to witness the execution of what I think is a very intelligent branding play and a good example of something I hope I can do in the next few years at the Brandcenter.

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