Inspire, don’t sell. Lifestyle brands are more about showing & telling rather than hard selling. They are the combination of aspirations, beliefs and style that synergize into magic that is so much more than the mere sum of its parts. Value increases when customers are willing to pay a premium for your brand over another one that has the same features and benefits. It buffers from price sensitivity and infuses specialness at every touchpoint.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Norman.
Jennifer is an award-winning author, Founder of The Human Beauty Movement, and CEO of the lifestyle brand Humanist Beauty. She delved into entrepreneurship after spending 20+ years as a marketing executive in the beauty industry. Jennifer holds a BS degree in Marketing Management with a minor in Graphic Design from Virginia Tech and an MBA from Georgetown University. She presently lives in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I would be delighted! I am a Korean American adoptee, raised by a loving Caucasian family on Long Island. I have three white siblings and two Vietnamese American siblings who were adopted after me. My parents were very compassionate people who had a soft spot for orphaned kids. Growing up Asian in a white community had its challenges. I became preoccupied with the way I looked. I poured through magazines, gravitating toward beauty and fashion as well as art and design. I developed a penchant for experimenting with clothes, makeup, and hair as a creative outlet. I loved the imagination of it all and was fascinated with the notion of reinvention.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
My obsession with beauty landed me a job at L’Oréal in New York City. I would then go on to work for the likes of Victoria’s Secret and Neutrogena, then for the next 2 decades I would work for various companies across the beauty industry either as an employee or as a strategic consultant.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Back in the early days, I worked on a print ad campaign for L’Oréal nail enamel where the headline read, “This is the Polish!” It wasn’t long before I received some angry letters from offended Pollocks! Capitalization matters! All kidding aside, it did teach me to have heightened awareness for cultural sensitivities in marketing.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckart Tolle had a profound impact on me. I read it at a time in my life when I was seeking answers to some tough existential questions. I was looking for ways to elevate my consciousness and intuition, and the book helped me refocus my efforts inward to find many answers. An important concept in the book is recognizing that we are not our bodies nor our minds. Rather, we are the awareness of our bodies and our minds. This knowing separation helps remind us of our power over body and mind issues. It helps us deal more healthfully with stress, pain, frustration, fear, disease, and any other negative frequency that befalls our physical and mental selves. It also helps us realize how energetically connected we are to everyone and everything in the universe. That’s why it’s so important for us to manifest economic contributions that will serve the greater good of regenerating and healing rather than extracting and stealing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” — Maya Angelou. I believe life is a journey of lessons, and we are all beautiful works in progress. To me, this quote resonates, because I want to live a life of purpose and integrity through every phase of my development. I will always strive to know better and to do better every day.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, let’s define our terms. How do you define a Lifestyle Brand? How is a Lifestyle Brand different from a normal, typical brand?
I define a lifestyle brand as an emotionally driven consumer brand. I exclude basic trademarks and B2B brands from my definition of a lifestyle brand.
What are the benefits of creating a lifestyle brand?
Emotional connectivity creates a wonderful bond between a brand and a consumer. It allows consumers to identify with specific feelings (hopes, dreams, wants, desires) by having that brand in their lives. It eases the ability for consumers to determine if the brand is right for them given their current or desired lifestyles. It helps to foster the brand stickiness that leads to recommending, repeat purchases, and loyalty.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved Lifestyle Brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Target is a great example. Through its ‘Design for All’ philosophy and careful execution in merchandising, pricing, creative messaging, store formatting, Target has done an incredible job over the years to consistently create value for its guests. I have been impressed by Target’s ability to execute so brilliantly on so many aspects of its philosophy, even when it was perhaps not fiscally prudent. For example, it introduced adaptive clothing for kids under its stylish Cat & Jack label, a move that helped to reinforce its ‘Design for All’ philosophy, though understandably for a very specific segment of the population. The lesson is to set a solid vision for your Lifestyle Brand, then innovate and execute in a creatively ownable way to actualize and develop your brand for the long run.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a lifestyle brand that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
A lifestyle brand must have passion and purpose. Also, as the name suggests, a lifestyle brand should convey a highly desirable sense of style to a specific audience. The brand’s look, feel, fervor, and executional elements must all orchestrate to optimally resonate. More importantly, the brand must be able to consistently deliver hope, solve problems, or fulfill unmet needs. Just as described in the Target example above, it must have a singular overarching brand philosophy that it is committed to living out. There are millions of tiny details that ladder up to the brand’s philosophy. It is in the everyday decisions, the company operations, the hidden and visible elements of delivering on the brand’s core promise. Ultimately, it is the trust that a brand can amass by delivering consistently and appealingly on its core promise that supports the chance of a brand’s longevity.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a lifestyle brand? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I have worked with a lot of entrepreneurs interested in starting new beauty businesses. Some think it will be fun and frivolous. Many do not realize the painstaking, detailed work involved in developing a new brand and the resources needed for go-to-market execution. Most want to rush the process to get it on the market as soon as possible. Quite a few start chasing dollars, thinking about an exit plan even before launch. The result can be a half-baked brand introduction followed by quick deterioration. Despite the perceived capriciousness of lifestyle brands, strong management leadership is needed for careful planning and prudent brand development to avoid these kinds of pitfalls.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a lifestyle brand that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
First, develop the overarching brand promise — the brand’s reason for being. Assess it against the current market landscape and where the market is headed. Next, discuss it with a mentor and people you trust. Determine if the brand concept has a core proposition worth actualizing. Be open to evolving the idea. Your first idea is rarely the one that will make a successful launch. After that, map out resource requirements — what it will take to bring the brand to life, why it makes sense coming from you, and what you will need to make it happen.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Dig deep into your definition of ‘success’. Starting a brand for the sole purpose of making lots of money is the wrong answer. You need to be in business to serve your customers, not just to serve yourself. When you create a brand specifically to help others, and then you consistently make decisions that align with improving their lives, then you will likely conceive a business that will be a real benefit to society. Success is putting people and planet before profits. That’s when the whole world wins.
- Find your niche and own it. Create, don’t copy. It’s okay to be inspired by the work of others, but a blatant copycat strategy doesn’t allow your own originality, expertise or heart to shine through your brand. You will gain far more fulfillment in your work if it truly represents your own unique point of view. Similarly, following the suggestions of too many others can lead to brand dilution. Start by keeping it simple. Do a few things well. Carve your niche, then grow from there.
- Execute gloriously on your vision. Carefully compose all aspects of the user experience. Work with creatives that align with your brand philosophy and style to help you fully bring your concept to life. These are the designers, copywriters, photographers, web developers, and content creators that dimensionalize your brand and give it a heartbeat. In my past experience, it was common to set up tableaus or mood space rooms complete with furniture, décor, clothing, music, and scent to help create brand atmosphere. We made it fully tangible and immersive.
- Inspire, don’t sell. Lifestyle brands are more about showing & telling rather than hard selling. They are the combination of aspirations, beliefs and style that synergize into magic that is so much more than the mere sum of its parts. Value increases when customers are willing to pay a premium for your brand over another one that has the same features and benefits. It buffers from price sensitivity and infuses specialness at every touchpoint.
- Engage, engage, engage. Listen. Learn. Empathize. Cheer. Become your customer’s best friend. Seek out ways for your brand to deepen its personal connection and enrich its one-to-one relationship. Validate and incorporate constructive feedback as soon as you can. Recognize quickly when you’ve messed up. Own your mistakes, and take swift corrective action. Oftentimes, it’s the way a brand handles a crisis that can make or break the relationship it has with its customers. Honesty, transparency and humility are always the best policies.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Well, that is exactly the intention behind the The Human Beauty Movement, the company I recently founded. Rather than focusing on outer beauty, I want to spark self-love and self-acceptance from inside each human being. To me, it’s all about healing the perceptions we have of ourselves to help reduce the incidence of major social issues like depression, low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, bullying, shaming, and obsessive behavioral disorders. I want to ignite a self-empowerment revolution, one human at a time.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oh hi there, Oprah. 👋🏽
Oprah needs no explanation.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
About The Interviewer: Vicky Colas, Chef Vicky, is an award-winning chef in the Caribbean food arena. In 2012, Chef Vicky was awarded a silver medal for Caribbean Chef of The Year at the Taste of the Islands completion hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. She was called to represent her country and be a part of the Culinary Team Haiti as a Culinary Chef Ambassador competing with 10 other Caribbean nations. The team was also awarded a silver medal for the Caribbean Team of the Year and received an Award for “Best Team for Taste of the Islands”. A published nutrition researcher, her study was selected in 2013 in the International Journal of Child Nutrition. Her recipe and interview have been featured in Essence Magazine online, Island Origin, and most recently the cookbook Toques in Black: A Celebration of 101 Black Chefs in America. In 2019, she was nominated in the “40 under 40” class of Legacy Magazine as one of South Florida’s “Black Leaders of Today and Tomorrow”.
Most recently, Chef Vicky was selected as one of twenty women candidates awarded for the 2019 James Beard Foundation Women Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) fellowship and is also part of a selective group of talented Chefs in the James Beard Foundation local food advocacy training programs. She is a wife, a proud mother of 3 boys, a business, and a food influencer in her community. Chef Vicky has been featured in her local news stations such as WSVN CH 7, Deco Drive, WPLG Local 10 News, 6 on the mix CH 6 and Good Morning Miramar.
Vicky is also a subject matter expert in the Hospitality, Culinary Arts, Restaurant Management, and Public Health (Dietetics and Nutrition) arena. She is a graduate of Florida International University (FIU) and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.