When Personal Brands Are More Powerful Than Startups

How One Tweet By Kylie Jenner Cost Snapchat $1.3 Billion Dollars

With celebrity and personal branding comes power. But how much power? Last week Kylie Jenner put out another tweet that sent shockwaves to the company Snapchat.

According to CNN Money, following this tweet Snapchat’s stock immediately fell 6% which equaled 1.3 billion dollars!

Now that’s star power.

Reading this tweet made my jaw drop. I knew the Kardashian brand was strong, but not that strong. It made me think about how little startups control some outside forces.

Maybe we should update Porter’s Five Industry forces to include a sixth component:

The Rise Of The Celebrity Influencer

Celebrities have been aptly compared to Greek gods and goddesses: teenagers with too much power.

Kylie, fresh out of her teenage phase, simply has too much power. I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve some of it, but do you think any government official would have that much effect if they said something similar online?

Not a chance.

This is the world we live in. Celebrities are key influencers, entrepreneurs, and entertainers/actors. In fact, currently I can’t tell the difference between the three. (I’m more interested in Matt Damon’s political opinion than a news anchor’s comments.)

Kylie is part of a long list of actor-entrepreneurs that includes Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah Winfrey, Ashton Kutcher, Paul Newman, and dozens more.

It’s amazing how these people have leveraged their popularity and the media to help shape entire industries.

Stars have always had this power. However, in the age of transparency, in many cases it’s more prevalent and believable than ever.

So can we really fault Kylie for her radical honesty?

She didn’t do anything wrong.

She just voiced her opinion. It was only a comment.

(Now her official endorsements, that’s where the real money starts rolling in. Over $386 million to be more precise.)

How To Build Your Star Power

What this means for you is that it can serve as a blueprint for your success and influence.

One of the things they don’t teach in school is personal branding and Kylie has it in spades. I’m not agreeing with what she does, but the basics are all there.

    • Build a (good) reputation by providing unique, in-demand value.
    • Build a tribe of followers by authentically connecting with them.
    • Sell, promote, and support others by leveraging high-traffic platforms or media outlets.
    • Do this for several years and then reap the rewards.

The blueprint is simple, but the process is hard.

The first two steps are the hardest and where most people give up. Do we have a signature talent that others can’t get enough of? That’s not easy to find for most people.

Surely, Kylie fell into a great slipstream of influence and power from her family. However, the value she offers is all her own.

“I’ve always been the ‘different one’ among my sisters.” ~Kylie Jenner | Image Source: Instagram

“I’ve always been the ‘different one’ among my sisters.” ~Kylie Jenner | Image Source: Instagram

Document The Journey On A Big Platform

I can’t believe I’m saying this because I know relatively very little about Kylie. What I can tell is that she does provide a lot of entertainment and fashion value to millions of her fans.

That’s good enough, and documenting it all appears to be eye-candy.

Reality TV, Twitter, Instagram, and Podcasts: These are all platforms anyone can use. As you know, they enable anyone to be instant editors and publishers.

This is where it gets weird.

Without a formal editor, there seems to be no filter on anything people send out these days. And influencers have a way with giving news legs.

Target Influencers Too

What businesses often forget is that some of the greatest influencers in their world are actually their ideal customer. They must be kept happy too.

I can imagine the Snapchat team putting together their user personas in the early days of the company. I bet even a revised version does not have a picture of Kylie Jenner or any other celebrity depicted as personas.

Big mistake.

These kinds of people might not be the typical user, but with their influence and reach, they should definitely be part of the target demographic.

It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback on this one. However, current startups and personal brands should learn from this Snapchat debacle nonetheless.

What Snapchat Should Do

What startups need to know is what should Snapchat do now, after this temporary setback?

[Snapchat, if you’re listening: Do this immediately!]

Privately co-create an app feature with Kylie.

That’s it!

Pick her brain, nail the unaddressed pain, and offer an elegant solution.

There’s a reason why many people stopped using Snapchat — find out what it is!

Lately, it seems like Snapchat isn’t talking to enough of its users. Lots of people outright hate their newest update and it has been petitioned by 1.2 million users to change it. (Frankly, didn’t know you could do that. Viva, vox populi.)

I find it so interesting how companies will spend a lot of time and money beta testing their product with typical users. Maybe they should test their product with influential users too.

This isn’t anything new.

Build A Better Kitchen

Nike and countless other brands have been doing this for decades. On the Nike campus, the most protected space is the Mia Hamm building.

I had a guest I invited to one of my business classes one afternoon. He is a legend at Nike named Tinker Hatfield. He designed most of the Air Jordan shoes we know and love today.

Tinker told us that few people can get past the building’s foyer because everything created and tested there is top secret.

There’s even a special name for the space where all the magic happens: “The Innovation Kitchen”.

Watch Tinker Hatfield on Netflix’s “Abstract: The Art of Design”, S1 E2.

People who do have access to the kitchen are star athletes, physicians, engineers, and designers. Each has a special role in creating the next hottest shoes and sports apparel.

The kitchen itself is unique. There are rooms and test areas that can simulate any weather, terrain, or condition imaginable to test out new products. Athletes are hooked up to monitoring equipment and the data is projected onto dazzling displays to analyze.

It very much looks like a set-up for a sci-fi movie, but more performance-driven.

As Tinker told me: if products don’t pass the kitchen test, Nike doesn’t make them.

Set An Extra Place Setting

Now apps don’t need extreme testing as I just described. But what does the feature-vetting process look like? Is it designer and engineer-driven or consumer driven? How deep and comprehensive is that UX/UI study?

Something like Nike has done on a digital level would be interesting for an app like Snapchat. I think it could change the face of digital media and news aggregation even more.

The point is, the Kylie Jenner’s of the world need to be invited to the innovation conversation if they ever want their product to win. No one is saying they will dictate any product outcomes, but they are one of many important factors.

As we can see, not inviting influencers to a company’s kitchen table could cost billions.

+ autograph

[This article originally appeared in Medium’s #1 periodical, The Startup–where 443,255 subscribers go to read leading stories on entrepreneurship.]