This article was published on September 17, 2013

Building an authentic brand: Marc Ecko on selling without selling out

Building an authentic brand: Marc Ecko on selling without selling out
Josh Ong
Story by

Josh Ong

Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him a Josh Ong is the US Editor at The Next Web. He previously worked as TNW's China Editor and LA Reporter. Follow him on Twitter or email him at [email protected].

TNW Conference USA is coming up on October 1 & 2, and fashion icon Marc Eckō is one of our keynote speakers. We caught up with him to learn more about his keynote topic, upcoming book and the difference between labels and brands.

TNW: What will you be speaking on at TNW USA?

Marc Eckō: I will be sharing sort of the “summative” of my new book “Unlabel: Selling You without Selling Out.”

So what is Unlabel about?

It’s a business book for the creative class. The textbook I wish I could have bought in college, really.  I share my back story along the construct of a “formula” or “philosophical model” for authenticity.

I tried to thread a few needles at once. I did not want to do a fluffy memoir, or a boring management speak book that over simplifies “the path.”  In addition, I wanted to design the book in a way that would appeal to an 18-year-old (visual) reader – as well as a 40-something who is looking for a dose of inspiration.

How does the Authenticity Formula work?

The formula is my way of taking the piss out of how we, as a society, try to quantity everything in finite numbers. Success. Failures. Friends. Money. Loses. Fucks.  As if someone could quantify “authenticity” as a metric – as if?

It is a helpful and playful device to showcase the “best practices” of fulfilling the PURSUIT of being a true, and authentic to oneself – and your personal brand.

How has this formula played out in your own life and career?

Ups and downs. Good and bad.  I show that “playing it out” is in fact less of a destination and more of a journey. A differential calculus, measured along TIME and one’s actions along that curve.  When you are intellectually honest with yourself, your business, your goals, you see no one is sacred and that “gatekeepers” are a construct often in our minds.

Branding sometimes picks up a negative connotation, but you put it forth as a positive experience. How so?

WE think art and creation is only the work of the divine. Like that painting by Michaelangelo – “Creation.”  And because of that we don’t allow ourselves to “think or problem solve” like artists.  We allow the system to beat the artist out of us…by the end of 2nd grade when we retire our crayons.  That’s sad – and cowardly.  Then, the other way that knife cuts – is that we see “branding” as the opposite. The devilish work of the Don Draper set.  As if there’s a holy war between “art” & “branding.”  It’s a fallacy. A construct made up by very bitter and cynical intellects.  That’s not to say it is easy – or that you can’t fuck it ALL up if you “over indulge” your marketing card. You can.  But in the end, if you like it or not, branding and doing it well…is an art.

Which brands are being fabulously authentic?

So many.  Most importantly, those quiet brands, the personal brands – or people who effect you in your life.  A brand is a “device,” a “construct.”  It need not be measured by how “notable or famous” it is.

There are the obvious answers…the Nike’s, the Apple’s, etc.  For me, personally, the single greatest brand of the last century is Star Wars.  Massively emotive.  Wildly flexible.  Commercially responsible.  Yet creatively challenging and satisfying. Pure art.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs and creators looking to “unlabel” themselves and be more authentic?

Read my book.  NOW!!! Ha!!!!!

As you mention in your book, fear often keeps us from finding our voices. How did you overcome fear during your journey?

Man, it is a work in progress. We are designed, consciously or unconsciously, to default to some degree of fear – or “reluctance”.  You just gotta’ shake it off, get in your head – recognize the NOW.  And fucking go for it! Ask yourself why you are afraid?  If the answer is reasonable…like PHYSICAL well-being; your fear is valid. If the answer (more times than not) is that you may “lose” or be ridiculed…then you are a pussy.  Those are the sorts of people who need other people to pound their chests for THEM, rather than just besting out and pounding your OWN chest.  Dig?

Your twin sister challenged you to define success when you were first starting out. How would you define it now?

It’s deep.  And when I try to explain it I hear how saccharine one may perceive my answer – because it is really philosophical to me today.  I define success by creating wealth, indeed – but WEALTH THAT MATTERS. I have very clear internal benchmarks that satisfy me in ways that money can not.  It’s always the rich asshole that says this– but the dirty (and maybe sad) secret in life is that you will need to appreciate the mundane; as often that is the most peaceful place and where a lot of the beauty can be found.  Money doesn’t replace that.  As if once you arrive at money and notoriety, you won’t be happy sitting in your underwear eating Ben & Jerry’s.  And no, it won’t be about fancier underwear…or MORE Ben & Jerry’s.

What part did technology play in helping your brand succeed?

I love technology. It creates efficiencies.  Helps organize stuff, and indeed I have found advantages through technology. But contrary to popular opinion a “technological advance” need NOT be made up of some algorithm…or lines of code.  In my career, just doing shit differently – screen printing for instance (very analog) – gave me technical instances of differentiation.   I’d say the greatest gift technology gave – was the fragmentation of culture because of the cable industry. This created a NEED (and want), for genre specific brands like mine to organize- and scale.

Hear more from Marc Eckō about building your own brand at TNW Conference USA on October 1 & 2. Tickets are still available.

Image credit: Ralph Orlowski / Getty Images

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