Ten Years of Brand Building

Fred and I are building physical spaces. We just love to build. One component of this project is branding. For anyone who has gone through a branding exercise, it is not just about the execution of the plan but the foundation that everything falls under.

There could be an entire study about brands built over the past from the ground up and how they actually represent the person who started them. If you spend the day walking into offices of the biggest brands from Google to Warby Parker to Tesla you don’t have to go past the lobby to get a feeling for the management, the culture and the overall vibe. Everything starts from the top.

While we were working on our brand, I couldn’t help think about how I thought about new brands a decade ago. I have spent some time over the past year really reflecting on what I have invested in and then of course what worked, what failed, what wasn’t I thinking about, what I should have thought about and what can I learn from it.

Ricks Picks was the first consumer product that I invested in. What drew me in? The packaging and the belief that pickled products were starting to stream upward. That more people, like Rick, was going to leave their corporate jobs and start companies they were passionate about. That it was the beginning of the shift to the next generation who would follow their hearts first and foremost in their work life. I saw that everyone was becoming their own personal brand and that would down stream into everything they touch including the products in their refrigerator. I am pretty sure that I got that right.

What I didn’t get right or didn’t understand is the old school business of how grocery works. How shipping glass products is expensive. How selling direct to consumer on a product that doesn’t turn as quickly as the eggs in your fridge is not like selling a bag of chips. I could go on and on but I know more about pickle production than I care to.

Having a seat at the table with many founders over the past decade has been an amazing educational opportunity. The brands that have been built over the past ten years is mind boggling. All made for a new generation of consumers. Of course, the best part of all of this, is the founders I have met and worked with. That will always be at the heart of everything.

Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    I learned my grocery lesson in the meat business…..tough lesson.

  2. William Mougayar

    What are you trying to brand specifically? A building, your “construction company” or other? What position do you aim to own in the mind of the market you are targeting? A common mistake is to start with the look and feel (visual identity) of how you want your brand to look like, before defining its positioning strategy and supporting elements behind it.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Agree. It’s an umbrella over a group of buildings that will all be roughly the same.

      1. William Mougayar

        It’s a good approach, as your brand will allow you a pricing premium.

        1. JLM

          .Not a chance.Pricing for premium real estate — defined by having common characteristics as to building type and services — is based solely on location — horizontal on the land, and vertical within the building.A building at Hollywood-Vine is better than one five blocks away. The top floor with the balcony is more expensive than the fifth floor.The “brand” is not important and is not relevant.Customers have no brand loyalty when it comes to real estate. Every deal is a one off deal.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. William Mougayar

            What i meant to say is that certain builders with a brand name around them (based on historical performance or work) end-up commanding a premium for projects they build, like a signature stamp that’s worth a bit more.If builder/designer X is known for quality apartment and projects, their next project will be more coveted than a project with no-name associated with it.Agree there?I’m sure your name / firm’s reputation was well regarded when you were building stuff.

          2. JLM

            .In the new high rise office building business, yes there was a bit of brand equity. Perhaps a thimbleful.But, these are often 10-30 year leases and the building was managed by an onsite property management firm (that I owned), so the developer was a ghost.I’d get calls from people looking for a deal or a quick turnaround, but that was personal, not brand.In renovating mid-rise buildings, no. The building’s character is set.In the apartment business, no. Apartments are a commodity. People will not pay a penny for brand.The brand in apartments is the manager, the staff, the maintenance team, and how clean the pool is. The experience is who the neighbors are.All the professionals building apartments (10,000 to be built in ATX this year, 20,000 in NYC) are buying the same stuff using huge quantity discounts negotiated through the professional apartment associations.Amateurs v pros is a 30% difference in $/SF. That is just knowing how to build. The amateurs use general contractors while the pros take a construction management approach and hire the subs directly using competitive bidding.I did get a bit of loyalty when a tenant moved from Austin to Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, but that was driven by my sales force who asked, “Where are you moving?”You would have to have 10,000 apartments to make a ripple in that pond. The largest MF owner in the US has 100K units. Back in my day, 20,000 units would make you #8 in the country. Now, that wouldn’t even register.Remember also that developers own their apartments in a lot of different ways, but often with institutional partners such as pension funds, insurance companies, endowments, and unions. They don’t want to be held hostage to a developer’s portfolio glue.A huge % of apartments are let by agencies who know where the vacancies are and the rents. Even in a huge market like NYC, you could screen for borough, neighborhood, size of unit, price, and get a qualified list. Then, you would see pics before you even went to visit them. It is not necessary to know the name of the owner to rent an apartment.Apartments are a very sophisticated, large, but commodity business.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          3. William Mougayar

            So a list like this doesn’t yield to any comparisons amongst its members, pertaining to the fact that some builders are known for top quality, others for design, others for optimizing something, etc…..https://www.builderonline.c…Dunno, but if I’m buying something substantial already built by someone, I will research their reputation.

        2. awaldstein

          for the rental market today that is not the reality on the ground.sure there are names.but it is building by building.this could change but in this market today not so.

          1. JLM

            .In the condo business Trump had that allure once upon a time. Much of it was international.Lots of RUSSIAN buyers. Of course, we both know why they were buying his units. Right?Otherwise, I agree with you. There is no brand driver.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…,

      2. LE

        Are these buildings rentals or for sale as condos/coops?

        1. Gotham Gal


  3. LE

    Separate thought my feeling is that the only play for food brands in this day and age is to build it and then unload (get acquired). To many people want to do food ideas and it’s much easier with less barriers than it ever was (for a multitude of reasons). So sure if you can build it and then sell it good. But if you hold onto it there will be someone nipping to take the shelf space. This is not the day and age of Ben and Jerry’s or Elios Pizza or Entenmanns cake or even Snapple. Now at retail level at least you can lock up real estate. (It’s common knowledge that McDonalds is or was a real estate company at the core ‘good locations’ ever notice they have the best stop at all interchanges?).

  4. awaldstein

    Value of a brand, how it relates to community support and where it hits the balance sheet is a never ending discussion.I can’t think of a branded property in the NY rental market that doesn’t really work past building by building. Sure some are held as luxury and are but that is just one layer and a filter for search.If brands don’t create emotive connection they are really spurious. And for the real estate market a complex equation.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Interesting insight.

      1. awaldstein

        I have never built a real estate brand but I think some cross over behavioral qualities exist.In luxury condos or rentals where the customer base already defines themselves as high income for example, buildings with an environmental impact, especially solar, have branded solar on top of the quality of the building and people are fine to pay a premium. The Solaire on River Terrace was one of the first of these. Their heat may be less expensive but they are already paying a premium to support that practice so it is an emotive support incentive.I think it is worth looking at it from that perspective as a whiteboard experiment.Feels Right is a super strong motivator in life.I know that carbon neutral is in your purview so maybe starting with a category of renters/purchasers where the economics is not the determinant but choice is, is a place to start the brand understanding and positioning process.Just a thought.

  5. GB

    Re: “you don’t have to go past the lobby to get a feeling for the management, the culture and the overall vibe. Everything starts from the top.” Looks can be deceiving. Take Zuckerberg’s behaviour. He refuses to appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee in the UK to address concerns about Facebook. Look at how he is refusing to step down as Executive Chairman, even though other investors want him to step down. And, how about Elon Musk being fined by the SEC for his irresponsible tweets… so, as I have said, looks can be deceiving – a lobby’s vibe is no criterion whatsoever by which to judge a company’s leaders. Far from it.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I am just making the point that each company’s culture is totally different.

      1. GB

        I beg to differ. I would argue that the culture in most organisations is fairly identical, rather than ‘totally different’ because the vast majority of ‘business leaders’ lack moral courage (I’m interested in deeds/actions, not words). ‘Organisational culture’ is a largely a nonsense as what that really means is, ‘you guys need to behave like this, but, as a CEO/Board Member, when push comes to shove, I don’t.’ My assertion is based on observations that I and others have made over the past 30 years.

  6. angela sum

    I wish I could see with your lenses. To see all of which what works and what failed~