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The Strategy Room

3 Lessons for Brands Inspired by Iris Apfel

By: Emily Wenstrom

Last week, fashion icon Iris Apfel kicked off her second century with a birthday party littered with celebrities and signature style.

The self-declared “world’s oldest teenager,” best known for her striking round glasses, bright lipsticks and bold patterns, has become renowned by the fashion industry’s biggest players, from Bill Cunningham to Anna Wintour, and by fans all around the world.

And even at 100, she continues to lend her singular style to brands from Zenni Optical, to Lowe’s, to Magnum ice cream.

How did this interior designer and textiles professional gain such an illustrious following? With charisma, curiosity, and creativity—three characteristics of successful and innovative brands

Here are three lessons for brands inspired by Iris Apfel:

1. Being true to yourself is far better than being on trend.

This may be the ultimate takeaway to come from Iris—be yourself! Don’t worry so much about what’s trendy. Instead, know yourself and make choices that are true to you.

As a brand, there can be a lot of pressure to keep up with trends, whether it’s to forego a signature look for a more modern sans serif font, or to go all in on the latest emerging social media platform. There’s nothing wrong with such moves, and they can even trigger resounding wins, but such wins start with a deep understanding of brand and audience, not chasing whims.

2. Be bold or don’t bother.

Iris does nothing by halves. She’s unapologetically extra in every breath she takes. The result is show-stopping magnetism.

As a brand, if you aren’t drawing attention, you aren’t doing your job. There is an ever-increasing amount of competing noise in the digital market. If you aren’t authentically distinct (admittedly no small task), your brand is missing big opportunity and getting overlooked by potential fans.

3. Drive from curiosity.

 Even while sitting for a photo shoot amid a wildly busy morning at 100 years, the thing that struck the reporter was that Iris’s mind never seems to stop. Instead of sitting still, she took the opportunity to question the photographer.

Likewise, a brand must always stay hungry—about its industry, about its audience, about itself. It’s crucial to keep a constant eye to the pulse of change and new opportunities. It’s even more important to experiment with new tactics and approaches to get your message in front of your audience.

As the maxim goes, change or die. (Just be sure to do it in a strategic way—see #1).

Bold, Authentic, Distinct

Iris Apfel has built a cult of personality over the years by being original and uncompromisingly herself. Along the way, she’s led with a flair for curiosity, innovation and a signature something that’s always distinct no matter how she evolves (the glasses, perhaps).

Though she may be young in spirit, there is wisdom in her persona that matches her years, and offers savvy guidance brands would do well to follow.




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