By Maria Brito
Branding Lessons One Century Apart – Frida Kahlo, Lady Gaga and why Authenticity, Uniqueness and Individuality are still Paramount when Developing a Successful Brand.
As an entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of my company, I must admit that it took me quite some time to be 100% clear and consistent about my personal brand and my business brand. Not because I didn’t know who I was or who I am or what’s my mission or my company’s vision but because I was always too concerned about how the brand would be perceived and about what it is that people (clients, editors, bloggers, investors) were looking for out there. It turns out that being who I really am and making my company the best possible showcase for my talents without trying to fit into preconceived models or into the expectations of someone else, has made me and my business happier and more successful than when trying to find the golden nugget or the “it” factor that I mistakenly thought the market was expecting I could have.
Recently, I thought about two creative women who have inspired me by developing strong personal brands that are unique and identifiable everywhere in the world: Frida Kahlo and Lady Gaga. A century separates them but their strategies are quite similar for purposes of creating brands with enormous traction and success. Here’s what I found:
1.) Using “disadvantages” to leverage the uniqueness of their brands: Frida started painting and expressing herself through her art after breaking her column in a bus accident that changed her life forever. She also had polio and her right leg was disproportionately skinnier next to her left. None of these obstacles deterred her from being unique and special; she developed her style and essence and wore long, colorful skirts that covered her legs and the scars from the surgeries she had been through.
Similarly, Lady Gaga has told her story over and over in the same consistent way and has found millions of loyal fans by identifying herself as a “weirdo” who was completely different from the rest of the “pretty” girls who attended the same catholic school she did; not being the most attractive was not and is not an obstacle to be the most successful.
2.) Willingness to express strong points of view that are unique to each of them: Nobody is 100% original, it's the combination of factors, flavors and experiences what makes a brand truly unique. Frida was quite opinionated about life, love and politics. Her stance and her art were pretty consistent with who she was. She took risks, was adventurous and behaved consistently whether she was hanging out with the Rockefellers in NYC or with the members of the Communist Party in Mexico City. It was her contradictory life, her passionate attitude and her surrealist art what magnetized all kinds of different people toward her.
Lady Gaga, a self-proclaimed "Mother Monster" to her fans who she calls "Little Monsters", has made her mission to be the unifying factor and the role model for the underdog, the not so good looking, the geeky and the wacky, and they all love her because she is one of them. Even her most recent world tour was called "The Monster Ball" and her previous album is "The Fame Monster". See why building a successful brand relies so much on sending a consistent message?
3.) Daring and inimitable styles: Frida developed her own trademark both in her paintings and in her physical appearance and style: thick eyebrows, flowers in her braided hair, long earrings, bright colors, bracelets, necklaces and long skirts that she always wore no matter what. Frida was photographed next to the cream of New York society wearing her distinctive “Tehuana” outfits and was photographed lying down in the hospital wearing a plaster corset that she painted with bright motives, her hair braided with colorful bows and her makeup always done. Talk about determination and consistency…
What can I say about Lady Gaga? I have never seen her on any public appearance without a crazy and over-the-top outfit, shoes, hat, wig or theatrical makeup. It’s her brand and people might not like what she is wearing but people will talk about her regardless. Gaga isn’t Gaga without making a fashion statement. Both women took risky approaches that got them noticed one way or another. In a world of cookie-cutter styles, packages, products and solutions, taking risks and being different are crucial to creating a memorable brand.
4.) Using the best means available to get their message across: Frida expressed herself not only through her paintings but also through her letters addressed to friends, family and lovers; letters where Frida freely spoke her mind and which have been immortalized in books and museums. Being bold and daring positioned Frida as a very attractive personality and helped her gain countless of “fans” and “followers” from Leon Trotsky to Marcel Duchamp. We got to know her and like her more through her legacy and part of such legacy were all those letters she wrote.
Lady Gaga, as we know, has embraced technology and social media in a way that no other celebrity has done, she was quick to be on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter increasing her followers and building her communities (she’s the person with most followers on Twitter – 11,780,000 on the last count) and she strives for posting messages offering brand new content and breaking exclusive news to her fans through social media – constantly. By using social media, she is strengthening her brand and positioning herself as progressive in the face of a world ruled by technology. She is telling her fans that she cares about them and because this is the best means available to quickly disseminate her content this is the way to go.
I reflected over these findings for quite some time and I know that I will have to keep evolving and refining my message and my brand - but I am and I will stay truthful to who I am. For now, I have learned a lot about branding from these women and I’m passionate about building my own, following the footsteps of inspirational and bold people who are not afraid to show their true essence to the world.
Maria Gabriela Brito is an accomplished interior designer, tastemaker and authority on why, where, when and how to display and mix contemporary art and interior design in any environment. She is the CEO and creative force behind of Lifestyling® by Maria Gabriela Brito www.mariabrito.com, a company that offers a unique approach to interior design by incorporating art into every interior, taking decorating to a new level. She lives in NYC with her husband and two sons.