Identity master Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2010

What’s in a name? Quite a bit if you ask Daymond John, founder of clothing manufacturer FUBU and star of the hit TV show “Shark Tank.”

“Having a strong brand, whether corporate or personal, always creates a halo effect,” John says. “A lot of time, that’s the only thing that separates you from everybody else.”

Standing out from the pack was John’s intent when he named his nascent company FUBU, an acronym for “For Us, By Us” that conveyed the business’s original, largely African-American target market.

John has since stretched the FUBU brand to reach a broader market and expanded into entertainment-related products and services. Yet, he has always remained true to serving the company’s core customer.

“It always comes back to the mission statement and the base,” he says. “Like a building, if you have a weak base, the building will crumble. Whatever the identity and the product you’re building, you have to stay true to that first.”

John’s new book, “The Brand Within,” hit bookshelves in April. In it, he explains how branding relationships have become integrated with everything we do — from buying products and services to determining which television shows we watch, what music we listen to and the food we eat.

Smart Business caught up to John, the 2003 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winner in the retail category of the New York City region, and discussed the importance of personal brands, how to nurture a company’s identity and why you better sum your identity up in three words.

Q. How can a company benefit from having a strong brand?

In a tough time like this, when everybody is holding their purses and wallets very close, (what) they will end up spending the money on are the brands they are comfortable with because the brand is portrayed as something that gives them a comfort level.

Q. Should CEOs view their brand identity as an asset that can be managed, nourished, invested in and leveraged?

A lot of people or companies try to chase the market. If you chase the market, then you’re behind the market. ... So you always have to stay true to your customer base and what you created, but you have to come up with innovative ways and take those leaps and bounds and chances to improve the brand you have.

I believe that every brand should be able to be spoken about in three words. Whether it’s BMW — fine German engineering — or any other company, you need to be able to wrap up your whole mission statement and identity in three words.

Q. In your book, you detail how people are brands just as much as companies are brands. What does that say about the power of a personal brand?

A personal brand is actually more effective than a corporate brand because everything starts with a person. Think about it. If Steve Jobs gets sick, the brand itself, the stock, goes down 20 percent.

As a personal brand, you’re judged hundreds, thousands and, if you’re on television, millions of times a day. You’re selling every single action you take and every single word you speak. You’re selling yourself, and that is the brand you represent or own. That’s why that’s more important than anything else.

Q. Are there warning signs you’re stretching your brand too far?

Yes. Once you put it out there in that space — and you have to find creative ways to put it out there these days — and people just don’t like it, support it or ... are appalled by it.

The days of focus groups ... are over because you have the Twitters of the world. These people don’t owe you anything. You’re trickling it out there and putting out test balloons and seeing what happens.

You can’t have thin skin. People fall in love with their brands and ideas and don’t want to listen to anyone else and hear that they do have an issue. ... Egos have taken down way too many companies.

How to reach: Daymond John, www.daymondjohn.com

As the regional winners from Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards are announced later this month at awards recognition banquets across the U.S., it’s not too early to be thinking ahead for the CEO invitation-only Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum 2010, which will be held Nov. 10-14 in Palm Springs, Calif.

This program convenes more than 1,500 of the nation’s top CEOs, entrepreneurs, advisers, investors and other senior business leaders and is the country’s most prestigious gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies.

The forum delivers leading business advice designed to help entrepreneurs master strategies for company growth, discuss ideas on the transaction market and available capital, learn the critical success factors of mergers, acquisitions and IPOs, hear inspiring stories from game-changing entrepreneurs, and meet potential customers, investors, partners, acquisition targets and buyers.

It concludes with the 24th national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® awards, the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in America, hosted by Jay Leno.

This year’s speaker lineup includes a who’s who of business, such as:

  • Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO, The Coca-Cola Co.
  • A.G. Lafley, former chairman of the board, president and CEO, Procter & Gamble
  • Deepak Chopra, co-founder, The Chopra Center for Wellbeing
  • Tom Adams, CEO, Rosetta Stone
  • Arthur Levitt, former chairman of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Jeffrey Joerres, chairman and CEO, Manpower Inc.
  • Rob Enslin, president, SAP North America
  • Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder and CEO, Boston-Power Inc.
  • Debi Fine, president and CEO, Direct Brands
  • Greg Norman, professional golfer and entrepreneur

Learn more at www.ey.com/us/strategicgrowthforum.