He isn't as well-known as Martha Stewart. Of course, maybe these days, that's a good thing. But if Christopher Lowell, 47, hasn't become a household name since we last checked in with him in 2000, he's sure in a lot of households, from his paint sold on the Home Shopping Network to his bed linens and bath towels sold at the Burlington Coat Factory. In fact, the items Los Angeles-based Christopher Lowell Enterprises sells are too numerous to mention here. Meanwhile, he has two shows on the Discovery Channel, The Christopher Lowell Show and Interior Motives, which begat everything. Lowell funded the pilot himself in 1995 and now employs 75 people (he believes in teamwork and almost always says "we" instead of "me"). But it's Lowell who's the brand. As he says, "I'm a classically trained pianist and a good actor, but in America, I'm known as 'that interior designer guy on TV.' "
What is the secret to successfully branding yourself?
Christopher Lowell: I put together two marketing plans-one was to be branded as a personality, and the other as a label. If we made that [personality] connection with the public, we knew that's where we wanted to go. We wanted to put a face to the project.
We waited several years before we brought the product out. That was tough, with the offers we were getting early in the game. But we wanted to build credibility with the public. We knew if we could effectively do that, when people saw my face on the tag at that retail outlet, they would recall the impressions they had watching me on television--they would say "Oh, Christopher's looked at this, so it must be OK."
But you can't run to the marketplace with a brand that's going to have emotional attachment to it unless you've spent time in front of consumers, letting them make a judgment call about you.
If there's one strategy to employ before branding yourself, what would that be?
Lowell: Be clear on what the brand stands for, before you get into deep waters. My brand is based on telling the truth and saying "Start here; upgrade later."
A brand must have at least three complete points of distinction from anything else on the marketplace. You've got to stand for something-you can't just put out another widget. Your brand cannot simply be about the personality, because the personality can come and go. One of the problems with Martha Stewart is that she branded everything with her specific tastes--outside of the obvious troubles she has now, if Martha goes, or if she's a bad girl, it affects her profits. [Laughs.] We expect the Christopher Lowell brand to last a lot longer than me.
- Christopher Lowell Enterprises
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.