When you've got the Godfather of all things men's undergarments willing to share his insights on success, you cut right to the cotton and spandex-covered chase. Here, Joe Boxer founder Nick Graham fills us in on his process for starting and growing a powerful brand.
1. Before starting anything new, what are the three questions you ask yourself?
The first thing you need to do is define your customer. If that customer is you, then is the product you're creating useful to you? Joe Boxer was started because I needed new underwear. Needless to say that got out of hand. Most great brands are started by an individual's personal need or their observation that there is a missing opportunity in a market. I guess the 3 questions would be:
- What do I need, and does anyone else need it?
- What is the competition and how can I differentiate my product?
- How can I create emotional value to the product?
2. What are the ways that humor or being clever drives growth when thinking about a brand?
Humor (or humour, if you're Canadian) has always been important to what I do. But I rather think of it as irony. It's shifting people's perspective of what "marketing" is and by putting a brand in unusual situations, it just comes out funny. Not knee slapping funny, but WTF funny.
Irony has a longer term effect than humor, and it's smarter. I once did a fashion show in Iceland, JOE BOXER GOES TO ICELAND, that was for me the height of the brand in many ways. We closed NY Fashion Week in Reykjavik, all because my Icelandic friend bet me $10 I couldn't do it. We got over 700M impressions (that's such a 90's term). They still talk about that event in NYC even now.
I think it's important to push the boundaries of reason, but keep people on their toes and smiling.
3. What are some of the most important pieces of advice you received when it came to starting your own business?
It's funny, I'm starting a new business now, and am still learning. It's a different business, still apparel, but I'm learning so much as I go. I have a vision of what I call "Post-Prep", which is a new way of thinking for Menswear. But no one really knows what that means yet, and I’m still developing what it is, so I'm trying a lot of different stuff. Starting a business is not static, it's a fluid situation that can change course rapidly, especially in tech. It’s important to keep an open mind while still on course, even though you don’t know where that course will take you.
The important thing is to keep moving forward, because you may end up in a place you never imagined, that can be even better than you thought. The business model of eBay didn’t start as eBay, it became eBay. The business model of Twitter didn’t start as Twitter, it became Twitter. But one of my favorite stories of a flaccid business model that hardened into a multi-billion dollar business is Viagra, which was originally developed for hypertension and angina. And now Viagra has been discovered as a good cure for jet lag, which gives rise to the new meaning of "upgrade".
4. How do you get your product to resonate with consumers?
My saying is "The Brand is the Amusement Park, The Product is the Souvenir." Branding is creating an emotional relationship with an inanimate object. But everything starts with the Product. The product has to deliver on its promise of being useful, both emotionally and practically. I always say that there are two different types of gross margins in a business; emotional and financial.
Financial gross margin is the cost of the product to make and deliver. Emotional gross margin is completely dependent on where you want your product positioned in the market. It's why Prada underwear costs $125, but the actual cost of the underwear is about $5.00. It's why Apple can charge more for their product than other brands. People want to be emotionally attached to the brand, to the community of that brand, and are willing to pay for it.
5. What rookie mistakes do people make when starting something on their own?
I think a lot of people believe that you need to go raise a lot of money to get something started. You really don't, unless of course you want to start an electric car company or an airline. Start by bootstrapping and let it grow. Avoid money as long as you can, so long as it doesn’t hinder the growth of the business. If it's a good idea then it will find its market and it will attract money on better terms. I say it's all about the work, and always will be.
The other thing that is important is to talk to everyone you can in your area of business and even those who aren’t. Take every meeting, even if you think that it may lead to nowhere. You will learn something every time. Look at other business models for ideas, even if they are not related to your own.
6. I see that you have a new tagline, "Because He Can" for your new line. What do you think makes a good tagline? Are taglines vital for a brand?
Taglines are supportive of the brand mission and help define the premise of the brand. Sometimes you don't need it, but it can be helpful.
"Because He Can" is what I call a rallying call for Mens fashion--that guys can dress better. But it's also the punchline to a joke about a dog's ability to bend its neck to achieve personal hygiene.