Creating Luxury Brands with an Emphasis on Impact with Alicia Johnson

Creating Luxury Brands with an Emphasis on Impact with Alicia Johnson

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The Nitty Gritty:

  • How big brands are changing to embrace the way their consumers are believing
  • What brands should do in response to these new “woke” consumers who use their purchasing power to make an impact
  • Why the need to change rather than just a desire to change is the true motivation for a brand to update their strategy

I had the privilege of talking to Alicia Johnson this week on the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast about the current shift by big brands to be more transparent about the values behind their company. She and her husband and business partner Hal, a media artist, have spent the last 20 years at the helm of Johnson + Wolverton, a brand boutique that focuses on brand turnarounds. They have completed projects for BBC America, Jaguar, Cadillac, Comedy Central and more.

Brands Communicate Their Core Values

I started to see that happening—a big brand changing to embrace the way their consumers are believing.

– Alicia Johnson

In her work with a number of luxury brands, Alicia has noticed a shift, especially in the last six months, with people coming together around what they believe in. Consumers started to literally define their impact through their purchases. In one example, brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus pulled their advertising from Fox News amid the charges of workplace sexual harassment by Bill O’Reilly. It wasn’t until consumers started pushing on the brands that advertised on the show that the network had to deal with it. People are using their money to support what they believe in and the brands that believe the way they do.

Brands and Business Leaders should be Genuine

You can’t put a face on something that isn’t real.

– Alicia Johnson

Business owners and leaders should be clear on what they value and confidently move that forward, just as several brands did in this year’s Super Bowl ads that were super aggressive positioning around values, ethics and choice.

The most important thing a brand or a person can do is be genuine, because “you can’t put a face on something that isn’t real.” However, Alicia counsels brands to be very conscious of whether or not they desire to live in a political space as a business. As a company, if you don’t believe that you want to be there, you need to take a step back and look at some decisions you are making.

“My recommendation to clients is that they’re more thoughtful and move more slowly,” said Alicia. Even for fast-moving brands, reaction time needs to be much more measured. You are better off just taking a breath. It’s when you step back and get into product development or long-term campaigning, that it’s important to look at the shifts in overt alliances to ethics.

Brand Strategy Shifts when there is a Need to Change

When I’m creating strategies, I’m creating an outline for a brand story.

– Alicia Johnson

Change is really hard on an organization, so Alicia and Hal are typically only brought in to help guide a new strategy for brands when something really is not working.

In looking at making a big change for a brand you need to look at WHY and WHAT do we have permission to do? Oftentimes, brands just like people, get lost. They forget about what’s really awesome about themselves and what got them going in the first place. Sometimes it’s just coming back to the core. But sometimes the business that was started doesn’t exist anymore. So, they have to reinvent themselves.

To hear the entire conversation I had with Alicia, tune in to the full episode. We delve further into this unique time we’re living in, how she and Hal learned to take time off and preserve time for personal projects and her own creative project, Positano, a multimedia novel.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Profit. Power. Pursuit. podcast on iTunes to hear all the nitty-gritty details and conversations I have with my podcast guests about entrepreneurship.

$27 Nail Polish, Priorities, and the Luxury of Scarcity

Recently, over at Design*Sponge, Grace posted about a high-end designer showroom she visited near her home. In between the racks of pricey designer goods, she found something in her budget.

It was nail polish. The nail polish was $27 a bottle.

An unsuspecting commenter made an off hand comment about “budget” nail polish at $27 a bottle and how “successful” a woman must be to afford such a luxury.

Grace saw an opportunity:

“Comments that make women feel bad or guilty about being financially successful ultimately keep us trapped in a place where we don’t feel comfortable to demand higher salaries, raises or ask for freelance rates that are fair.

I don’t think we need to applaud or approve of perceived “extravagant” purchases all the time (though it’s important to note that just because someone buys a $27 bottle of nail polish it doesn’t mean they don’t cut back and conserve in places others might not), but I think female business owners deserve the right to enjoy the fruits of their labors.”

Grace believed (and I concur) that the comment was just a joke. But I think we all realize the Truth of these type of jokes. We make jokes and laugh at them because we’re uncomfortable.

I’m sure $27 nail polish made a lot of people uncomfortable.

But the problem with the jokes, as Grace rightly states, is that they create an atmosphere of shame around money & what we spend that money on.

Because we’re already uncomfortable about talking money, those off hand comments only silence us completely.

Silence is the enemy. Not money. Not even a bit of luxury.

Ultimately, spending money is about priorities.

Your every day purchases — and especially those luxurious little splurges — reflect your personal priorities. Those priorities are dictated by values and personal preferences. They’re dictated by what you perceive as “needs” and “absolutely hafta haves.”

We assume others priorities are the same as ours. We assume we know what others spend their money on. We assume that people that make the same amount of money we do live life with relatively similar lifestyles.

These assumptions are all false.

What I have learned over 3 years of growing a business, learning how to make more money, discovering how to lose more money, and launching new products & services with regularity, is that I can never truly understand how others will prioritize spending the money they earn.

Who’s to say that people won’t spend their hard earned benjamins on your crazy idea? Who’s to say that people won’t pay what you need to charge for your creation?

This isn’t about $27 nail polish. It’s about creating the success & multidimensional wealth you need to make the choices you want to make while empowering others to do the same. Give people a chance to choose you.

But what really gets me, is how easy it is sit back and say, “Not me!”

Living with scarcity is a luxury.

It is easy to sit back & make off hand remarks about other people’s spending priorities. It is easy to assume that what you have is all you will ever have. It is easy price your products or services in a way that doesn’t challenge your customers — or you.

It is easy to play the game you’ve been taught to play.

I dare you to discover abundance.

I challenge you to work towards financial candor.

I am pushing you to discover the means to splurge on what you truly love.

Will you?