Naked Brands are a new kind of brand — enabled by social media, powered by personality, and built for the digital age:
Naked Brands are transparent.
Naked Brands are founded by social media influencers.
Naked Brands prize on-going communication with fans and customers.
This book project requires an extensive research process. I plan to conduct many interviews with writers, influencers, and entrepreneurs. The interviews will all be public and will live right here on my website. We'll go on this journey together — you and me. Together, we'll cross industries, speak with experts around the world, and explore the past, present, and future of Naked Brands.
If you have ideas or feedback, please send them my way. You can find my contact information here. I look forward to hearing from you.
Note: You can keep up with the series by subscribing to my “Monday Musings” newsletter.
My guest today is Eric Jorgenson. Eric Jorgenson is the Director of Growth at Zaarly and is building Evergreen Library, which I highly recommend. He’s a curator and an author who writes about startups, operating and decision-making.
A cheeseburger connoisseur, Eric is on a 50-year mission to build the world’s best business education system.
You can follow Eric on Twitter here.
David: Who is your favorite Naked Brand and why does it stand out to you?
Eric: I’m not sure this fits your exact criteria of a Naked Brand, but I think Elon Musk is very interesting to look at through this lens. Across many companies (Tesla, SpaceX, Boring Company, SolarCity, HyperLoop, Neuralink) he is able to will ideas into existence and almost immediately create an interested, loyal following for the idea.
He’s engaging directly with people on Twitter. He tweets announcements rather than creating press releases. His communications are informal, full of personal humor and inside jokes. He is infusing his companies with his personality. The scale of the companies, the audacity of the vision, and the lighthearted whimsy of the marketing create an incredibly fun thing to be a part of.
Another tactic from Elon that will certainly go in the Naked Brands Playbook is using Wait But Why as a storyteller of his brands. He saw a huge overlap in audience between his followers and Wait But Why, then recognized and leveraged Tim Urban’s unique genius as a teacher and entertainer.
The power of this move comes from two different aspects: audience expansion and third-party validation. By putting yourself in front of an audience with overlapping interests, you will naturally gain some of those as new fans and followers. Third-party validation is key because you need to build credibility with your audience. People get tired of hearing YOU talk about how great you are -- find someone ELSE to talk about how great you are. Third parties are easier to believe and they create more trust.
David: In a post called Advertising: Misunderstood, Underestimated, and Neglected Genius of Advertising, you wrote about the basic building blocks of stories. How can influencers use these techniques to tell their story in a way that’s short-term catchy and long-term sticky?
Eric: I love the framing of “short-term catchy” and “long-term sticky” -- and there are two very different answers.
Short-term catchy comes from causing a pattern-interrupt in your audience. A pattern-interrupt should be a surprise or small shock -- enough to get someone to stop their deadpan scrolling and get their eyes to widen or jaw to drop. Something different that causes them to give you enough attention to make a memorable impression. That could come from a unique medium, like Richard Branson driving a tank into Time Square. It could also come from a shockingly precise match with your audience’s desires. (Like our “cooking for bodybuilders” example.) You want the reaction of “oh my god that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.
Long-term sticky I think can only come from an engaging story. The brand tells a story that its fans are invested in. You have to find your quest, define your enemy, assemble your team, and keep your audience in suspense. Involve your customers in the narrative as a supporting cast. There is an entire Evergreen post dedicated to Storytelling -- I was fascinated by how much structure there is to stories. It always seemed so mystical, but the story is formulaic and can be engineered. Learning to build stories and engage audiences with them will be a key tool for Naked Brands. (Study top YouTubers for great practical examples of this.)
One remarkably successful example here is graffiti artist Banksy. Each of his pieces are short-term catchy, because of the medium (illegal street art), and are often giant, eye-catching pattern interruptions. And his long-term stickiness comes from the ongoing story -- his worldview and commentary as an artist are reinforced and expanded with each piece, and the ongoing mystery of his identity keeps fans curious.
David: Many startups believe that advertising is proof of weakness in the product or distribution strategy. But Naked Brands are essentially marketing companies first and product companies second. What gives?
Eric: The startup world tends to start with the product idea. People believe they are building products that are so innovative and compelling that they don’t require marketing or sales. (This is rarely true.) But that is the mythology people believe, so marketing tends to be an afterthought. In the valley, companies emerge from products or technological innovations.
In comparison, Naked Brands are companies that emerge from audiences. People build a following by sharing something they are interested in or skilled at (art, bodybuilding, writing, cooking, etc.) and find that they have an interested audience. Then, they observe (or create) demand for products and services to sell into that audience.
Companies can evolve from very different starting places, different initial assets. It’s very interesting to see how that leads into their strategies and eventual fates.
David: You are active on Twitter, where people have grown businesses through entertainment and education. What are the essential ingredients of their success?
Eric: They are successful because they are 1) Authentic and 2) Niche.
“Authentic” is a bit of an overused term in marketing and social media, but it is especially critical for Naked Brands. This is because in an environment where transparency is a must, people have to feel enough substance and expertise to respect the authority of the person behind the brand.
“Niche” is important because this is where the most dedicated and sustainable audiences are built. If we use the mental model of evolution, a business wants to carve out a unique environment where it’s specializations allow it to thrive and grow. Often this starts smaller than anyone expects. If I am interested in learning to cook, I have a lot of competing options. If I want to learn to cook and I’m on a very specific kind of diet because I’m also a bodybuilder, when I find someone who does “cooking for bodybuilders” they will own my attention and my business.
Shane has incredibly deep fluency in the topics that he’s writing about, and he’s a world-class curator. It’s only possible for him to be so good because it is his lifelong passion to study these topics. I trust his taste explicitly, and I respect every opinion and recommendation. He is authentic.
Farnam Street serves a niche audience (or a few niches now, as they’ve grown.) It is a bookish audience who is probably already reading Munger, Buffett, and Taleb. They create content and experiences for teaching decision-making, strategy, innovation, etc. The audience is mostly executives, investors, and founders.
David: You recently published a book called Career Advice for Uniquely Ambitious People. In a world where people are businesses, how does marketing apply to the future of careers?
Eric: The same rules that apply to successful Naked Brands should be observed by anyone building a career: 1) Authentic, 2) Niche. It goes without listing that you also have to be good at what you’re doing.
One of the chapters in my mini-book is about Specializing -- creating your niche. Keep improving yourself AND redefining what you do until you are the best at something. (And that could mean becoming an incredible generalist by overlapping a few different skills.)
These are, not coincidentally, some of the core principles of marketing. In “The 22 Immutable Rules of Marketing”, the first ones are about “Creating a Category” and “Leading the Category.” Find your niche, then dominate it. Expect to iterate multiple times on the way to both.
In career-stage terms, there are two distinct phases we alternate between throughout our careers: “Explore” and “Exploit.” Find your niche, dominate it. Redefine your niche, dominate that. Repeat.
Note: You can keep up with the series by subscribing to my “Monday Musings” newsletter.