Sunday, March 11, 2012

Communities and Branding: Learning From The Master

Over the course of my professional career I have been associated with some of the most recognized brands in apparel.  This association was behind the scenes as we either owned the license to produce the goods or we financed the turnaround of the troubled brand; this would include brands such as Spuds Mackenzie, Big Dogs Sportswear,  and Jimmy Buffett's Caribbean Soul to name just a few.

One of the great things about being behind the scenes is that you get to understand the brand, the thinking behind the creation, and you get to observe the personalities involved.

From the evolution of screen printing in four color process on white or pastel colored shirts to where we are today, you realize that the concepts of "branding" and "community" has been at the forefront of success and longevity of numerous tee shirt lines long before their current vogue with the advent of the internet.

Even after all these years and with the explosion in imprinted apparel graphic design, I still believe that Micheal Latona, who was the original artist of some of the best graphic designs that launched Jimmy Buffet's Caribbean Soul and who then went on to establish Harlequin Nature Graphics as the premier nature graphics screen printing company, is still the most creative artist/screen printer ever.  Here is the only sample I have of his work on my computer (he did everything by hand):

After 40 years Jimmy Buffett is still the absolute master of the concepts of  branding and community both on and off the web!  From Caribbean Soul, Parrotheads, to Margaritaville he has continuously and consciously developed his brand and his community;  lets be honest, would Florida be as popular of a vacation destination without him and his music?  That is the ideal of "lifestyle."

Today, we throw around terms without ever thinking about the core characteristic of the terms that we use.  We talk about "brand" when we probably should be using the term, "label." We can relate to, like, and recognize a "label" but a brand involves something deeper; an essence, a spirit, a quality.  Labels create, market and project their message on the consumer, while a brand has their message projected upon them by the consumer.

We talk about "communities" as something relating to individuals, with a shared interest, coming together and we believe that the future is about communities.  The reality is "a shared interest" can also be nothing more than a fad or a craze:  At one time things like hula hoops and pet rocks created "communities" also but these communities eventually moved on because they were not anything more than a craze.

The reality is a "community" has to be much more than about shared interests; it has to be about "lifestyle."  Virtual communities must become real communities as a first step to advancing to lifestyle status.  Lifestyle, like brands, must involve something deeper than just "shared interests."

Lifestyle is about perspective and attitude, most people don't realize that Jimmy Buffett started the Save The Manatee Movement back in 1981; that was the beginning of the broadening of the budding brand beyond music.  He did fall behind in the area of apparel, that was more the fault of the individuals behind Jimmy Buffett's Caribbean Soul/Caribbean Soul and Tommy Bahama ended up the dominant player in that market but Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville is attempting to re establish themselves in the apparel market, and doing so with the recognition that their "community" has aged.  One day even Threadless will have to grow beyond tee shirts!

Then, its fascinating to watch how Jimmy Buffett and Margaritaville can evolve and adapt as witnessed by their newest adventure, the "gamification" of a brand/lifestyle, which idealistically is the goal of every consumer product company:

The brilliance of wisdom!

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