Building a strong brand and knowing your vision, purpose, values and mission is essential for the longevity of the brand.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Julian O’hayon.
Julian is a French serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of Blvck Paris. Julian has amassed a cult following online with over 273,000 followers on Instagram. Julian founded two new tech companies and participated in an Entrepreneurial show broadcasted on National TV whilst studying Business Engineering at university
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thank you for having me today! I have always been interested in design and entrepreneurship and founded my first company, a digital agency when I was 15. Back then, I taught myself coding and web-design and enjoyed it so much that I started making pocket money by helping other people designing their websites. By the age of 20, I had over 100 clients worldwide under my agency. Simultaneously, I was completing a degree in Business Engineering at university and was very involved in the tech start up scene. In all my projects, I honed my focus on beautiful yet minimalistic and functional design, which can be regarded as my distinctive signature.
At that time, I started being very active on social media, mostly sharing my passion for design.. Launching my own brand was always a dream of mine but being a perfectionist, I didn’t want to do it until I was ready and focused on the task at hand. At the end of 2017, after growing an online community of >100k followers via my instagram account @anckor, I started applying my personal black stamp to household brands. Through posting images on Instagram, I aimed to bring a memorable and aesthetically pleasing effect by ‘blacking out’ everyday items. My designs quickly went viral on social media, spurring an influx of followers globally with particular traction in the US and Asia. This is when I knew, I had a concept and wanted to explore it further. End of 2017, Blvck Paris was born out of my dual obsession for design and the colour black.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When you start your own business, you are bound to make a lot of mistakes and hopefully you get to learn from them along the way. The behind the scenes of Blvck Paris’ launch day was quite chaotic. While I smile thinking about it today, I was freaking out back then. As a direct to consumer brand, we started by creating an engaged community first before releasing our products. For our first collection, we hired a freelancer developer we met via Instagram. The developer was very enthusiastic to work with us and promised us a lot. We had set a very specific date for our launch and had teased our community weeks in advance for that launch day. We trusted the developer and did not question him too much when he kept delaying showing us any progress. The day before the launch, when it was time to see the website to showcase our products, we realised that the website was not ready at all and that we had to delay the launch day. My co-founder and I worked all night to avoid delaying. The lesson we learned from that very first day was that when it comes to your business, you need to make sure you stay in control of every detail.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Without hesitation, our branding and the customer experience you get when buying Blvck, are both what makes our company stand out.
Blvck Paris is a designer lifestyle brand and from the very beginning, we wanted our customers to feel this luxury experience when they shop with us. We aim to bring this lifestyle experience and constantly work to add values to our community. As an example, we regularly drop free wallpapers, some have been downloaded over 10M times. We have curated a special Spotify playlist featuring mellow vibes, melancholic moods to compliment your lifestyle. We have also turned your iphone keyboard black by developing our first iOS app, Blvckmoji.
I started the brand out of an obsession with the colour black and there weren’t really any similar brands out there. It is really exciting to see the community we have built in such a short amount of time.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In light of the current situation worldwide with COVID-19, we have pivoted some of our current production and made a set of 3 free face masks which we will be offering in the next few weeks to our customer ordering for more than $100 with us. Our cotton masks are made to help alleviate the pressure on medical grade supplies and to address the global shortfall we are currently facing.
With more time to be creative, we have released the first version of a free emoji app, available on the AppStore called Blvckmoji. The Blvckmoji app is an official Blvck Paris app which enables users to install a ‘Blvck’ keyboard to send emojis and stickers to their friends and family. Initially, we launched a private beta version available for up to 10k users. In just two hours, we have 10,000 users, it was a great hit. Now the first version is available on the AppStore and we hope it gives our audience a positive distraction from the news.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
Branding is about curating a strong image for your brand that is easily identifiable to people and that will help you build a loyal customer base. A distinctive logo, a unique experience, aesthetically pleasing visuals, a colour theme, catchy slogans are all parts of a strong branding. For example, when you see a light medium robin egg blue package, you will instantly think Tiffany. They have created such a strong link with that colour that their branding is quite noticeable for anyone who sees this colour without having to see their name. Similarly, if you hear the phrase ‘just do it’, Nike will be the first thing that pops up into your mind.
At Blvck Paris, we pride ourselves with a strong and unique branding. Blvck Paris is all black everything. Every post, every product, every caption is black.
Our social media page @black is very much about the all black and high quality lifestyle we portray and that we want our customers to associate our products with.
Advertising is how you encourage customers to buy your products. For example, by having a promo code for first time buyers. Having a good customer service along with a good shopping experience will help you convert first-time buyers into repetitive buyers. Advertising is also about how you promote your products via ads, TV or press coverage.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
Building a strong brand and knowing your vision, purpose, values and mission is essential for the longevity of the brand. When we launched Blvck, we had a very specific concept. From visual content to merchandise, we strive to pioneer a new type of lifestyle focused on quality and design. If you look at our social media account @black on Instagram, our branding is quite distinctive and unique. Every photo we post is edited in such a way that you will immediately recognise our brand Blvck Paris behind it. There is even a video trending on youtube with over 1M views of someone trying to show how to edit like Blvck Paris.
Similarly, we want to bring a luxury experience when you order from us. You can expect a premium packaging with a thank you letter from the team. Our designs have certain recurring details such as roses, snakes which help forge a strong identity.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Build a community first, a product second. At Blvck Paris, before launching our first product, we focused on building an engaged community and wanted to find our customers first and grow with them. We launched our first product when we reached 100k followers. I wouldn’t advise everyone to wait for that many followers, but rather to build a community; get to know them and grow with them.
- Focus on branding. I would stress how important it is to nail the whole process from the design of the product you are selling to when the customer receives the product. This is what your customers will remember and why they will come back to you
- Listen to feedback. When you get one, be it a positive or negative review, listen to it and act on it. We aim to email our clients after we have completed their order and ask for feedback. It helps us understand if the delivery went well, the product was what they expected and so on.
- Focus on what you are good at. When you start a company, I think it’s important to focus on what you are good at initially and outsource the things you cannot do. My background is in design and rather than focusing myself on customer services for examples, this is something we initially outsourced. It is also important to surround yourself with people with complementary skills
- Create a culture where your employees are proud and excited to work with you. I believe the new generation, millennials and gen z are looking for something different when they look for a job. They want to work for a company that values them, that is flexible in terms of working hours, remote working and reward them when they do a good job.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Apple has done an incredible job at building a beloved brand.. The company sells tech products which are not supposed to be the most exciting products to the average person. Yet, thanks to an impeccable design and customer experience, they have built one of the most trusted and loved brands out there. I had a friend working as a genius at the flagship store in London and I was impressed by how much their employees were proud and committed to work there.
As a designer, I personally love the quality and design of their products.
I think a great lesson to learn from them and that they advertised a while ago is to think differently.
Be creative and always challenge yourself to think differently.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
I think it would be misleading to measure the success of an ad with the number of sales. When you see a great ad for the first time, in most cases it won’t lead to a sale. However, it will do something much more powerful, it creates a first connection between you and the brand, it creates brand awareness. The next few times you will see this brand or the ad itself, then it is likely that this time around it will lead to a sale.
For me, a successful campaign can be measured by the number of impressions, the reach and how many times it is shared.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Blvck Paris is a direct to consumer brand and sells exclusively online at the moment. As a result, social media plays a central role in our branding efforts. The brand is growing extremely fast thanks to a strong presence on social media. In just over two years, we have built a robust following online with close to 700k followers on Instagram @black and over 1million unique monthly viewers on Pinterest. Thanks to social media, we have direct access to our consumers and I personally love this. As the designer of the brand, it is great to be able to get instant feedback on potential products before producing them.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
As an entrepreneur, you will get times when you struggle with your mental health and times when you are on the edge of burning out. I would advise to celebrate every success, be it small or big. When you have worked hard on something and it finally happens, take some time to celebrate the moment.
Take time to switch off, exercise and do something different, it will help your productivity and energy level.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am a big believer in being the change you want to see in the world. I think we all need to play our part to help others, be a good person and try our best to inspire and motivate people around us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
While I love trying new things and I am always keen to hear new business ideas and do things differently, I am also very pragmatic and would always focus on the big picture. As an example, when I was at university, I was involved in quite a few start-ups and co-founded a few. For me, before investing my time and skills, I need to clearly see a need for the idea and agree with the vision. I think you can waste a lot of time, money and energy, if you get involved in an idea without thinking it through and seeing the bigger picture.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
A story which I find particularly inspiring is the one from Philip Knight, the founder of Nike. He is a self made entrepreneur who turned his dream into one of the most iconic brands out there. I read his book and was impressed by his vision and perseverance. I would love to meet him and hear more about his entrepreneurial journey.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thanks for asking. They can follow me via my personal instagram account @anckor and my brand’s account @black and @white.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.