Brand Famous

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Agency people love to say “great ideas can come from anywhere”. And while this is technically true, it is usually invoked by spineless hacks as they fill a brainstorming session with all manner of ignorant, undisciplined and unimaginative moron, under the misguided belief that if “great ideas can come from anywhere” we should fill the room with as many “anywhere’s” as we can to improve the odds that a “great idea” might spontaneously “come” from one of them.

The smarter interpretation of that old saw is that different people have different areas of expertise, and that it is the wise marketer who taps into them. The trouble, however, is that most people don’t spend even a fraction of a second thinking about marketing because they’re usually busy being experts in whatever the hell it is they’re good at.

So what should happen is that instead of asking people who aren’t marketers to come up with marketing ideas, one should either make an effort to frame the marketing problem in a way that makes sense to the particular expertise you’re talking to, or one should try to use those people as a resource against which to sharpen your marketing thinking. And in this way uncover something that is truly new, exciting, and will win awards – I mean achieve the client’s goals.

Unfortunately, this requires critical thinking, planning, subtlety, fore-thought and nuance – all of which are in short supply at most agencies. Which is why you often wind up with everyone in the room writing taglines or describing their favorite TV commercials, or making ridiculous pronouncements like “everyone likes music!” or “Let’s OWN summer!” Ultimately nothing substantive is accomplished except that a terrific opportunity is wasted and we are all that much closer to death.

In a way, this is the trouble with Linzi Boyd’s Brand Famous.

Clearly Ms. Boyd is successful. Clearly she knows a lot about what it takes to build a fashion line from the ground up and more importantly, how to promote a fashion line in that highly competitive world. And for these things she has our deep and abiding respect. For even within the rarefied air of fashion, promoting a fashion line is rarified air, and promoting one successfully is territory somewhere north of K2.

When Ms. Boyd writes about these things she is at her best. The stories on page 128 about clothing manufacturing, or on 149 about clothing production and retail are detailed, insightful, and, for this reviewer, informative. Indeed, she provides the kind of personally-learned expertise that would be invaluable to someone who is trying to understand that industry or is trying to make her own success in it.

Unfortunately, a book on the fashion industry, or fashion marketing, is not what Ms. Boyd has written.

Instead, she has tried to write a book on general branding and marketing, relegating us to the equivalent of the aforementioned god-forsaken brainstorm.

For she believes that the idea of leveraging a star’s power through endorsement is not just marketing, but “new school marketing”. She believes that Myspace, Facebook, and Youtube were extant in 2000 and appears to have a spotty understanding of social media generally. She refers to Apple as a “product”, is curiously silent about online retailers like Amazon, and is at times just plain incomprehensible (“Free PR has an ad value of three times the amount of the advert. This means that free PR is five times more valuable than placing an ad.” – wait, what?).

Which would be fine if Ms. Boyd were just ignorant or even stupid, for we could dismiss this book as we have others. But she’s not. There are clearly valuable things she has learned from marketing her fashion lines. Like “You only get one chance at selling product to them and trust me, your product is only important to you at this stage and not them” or “Own your space and always remember who you want to talk to and why. Your target audience will dictate the content you produce, what you say, how you say it and where online you are most active.”

Or even the book’s real insight, which she never directly articulates but which runs through Brand Famous like a hidden river: “Nothing is finished. Make your product, then think how it’s a tool to get the next thing. Like maybe a store. And when you make your store, then think how it’s a tool to get the next thing. Everything you thought was a finished product is actually a potential tool that will help you get the next thing.”

You know, the kind of breakthrough insight that’s drawn directly from her particular area of expertise, and that you aren’t likely to get on your own. Because, you know, good ideas can come from anywhere…

Brand Famous by Linzi Boyd was published by Capstone/John Wiley & Sons on 7/8/14 – order it from Amazon here, or Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).