Tattooing Your Logo: When Branding Becomes Literal
Journalists who cover businesses like mine in the leather industry feel compelled to maximize the pun potential of “skin the in game.” In the past year, a dozen or so publications that have featured ROYCE have characterized me as having such (admittedly, Entrepreneur, too, succumbed to this trend in our profile “A Family Business That's Literally About Having Skin in the Game”). Moving beyond mere financial collateral, how can business owners further demonstrate the extent to which they truly have skin in their own game?
There is extensive news coverage highlighting brand evangelists, who on their own volition have inked anything from their favorite burger to their go-to motorcycle brand. It’s every marketer’s dream come true: having customers who demonstrate a raw, bona fide commitment to a brand because of the powerful role that the brand plays in their lives, beyond just a product or experience, thereby creating a community of hyper enthusiasts. Given the increasingly mainstream rise of tattoos from its previously castigated state in the shadows of subculture, there is little risk to a brand’s reputation. The only notable drawback is that as brands undertake identity changes, or worse, experience controversy, consumers may be regretful of the permanent association they have formed.
Conversely, incentives catalyze branded tattoos as well, when we witnessed the tattooing of the Romney/Ryan 2012 logo on a man’s face for a hefty $15,000. The head-scratching paradox is that if it is meant to generate buzz, which in our 24-hour social media cycle is increasingly evaporative and fleeting, why pair it with something so permanent? If long after the Facebook newsfeed has moved on to the latest Trump gaffe or Kardashian “I can’t believe she wore that” moment, the ink remains deeply penetrated in one’s skin. The key takeaway: you can put a monetary value on virtually anything, just with the hopes that you know an incredibly talented ink removal specialist.
Ultimately, when it comes to reasoning behind it, there’s a clear dichotomy of “tatvertising” that emerges: love or money. Or so I thought. What if it could be both?
In what will undoubtedly be the only time I have the honor of sharing a sentence with the venerable former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, my inspiration to tattoo the ROYCE New York Est. 1974 logo, is analogous to hers (the T from the Times’ masthead): respect for the institution that shaped us. “Strange form of personal hieroglyphics” she aptly deemed it in an interview with Out Magazine, noting that while she does not flaunt her tattoos, they coalesce into a visual storyboard to communicate the experiences she has accumulated and subsequently influenced by. Her authenticity is reaffirmed that despite being ousted by the Times, in her commencement address at Wake Forest, she insisted she would keep the tattoo. While it not the only tattoo that she or I have, having our brand’s logo tattooed epitomizes the indelible mark that it has made on our lives.
The difference between she and I (amongst many!) is that hers marks the end of a tremendous four decade career, akin to the one my father recently concluded in our family’s business. As the newest torchbearer of the family business, despite my eight years working out of college dorm rooms and high school classrooms to build sales and manage production, I was met with skepticism about how seriously I would take the company. Despite the fact that, unlike my Bauer predecessors whose circumstances precluded other opportunities, I was not involuntarily relegated to ROYCE; I was globally educated and thus, had the freedom to choose my career, and yet I was still captivated by the family business. And while, on average, they have been with our company for over a decade, our employees had pledged their allegiance, not to me, but to my parents. How could I assuage their fears about my management, amid justified concerns of both nepotism and nescience?
Yes, I relentlessly publicize my affinity, no actually my passion, for both our product and our people at ROYCE. But talk is cheap, particularly when our employees’ incomes and thus their families’ livelihoods are at stake. Beyond my demonstrating sweat equity and investing significantly in infrastructure overhauls, that tattoo is an assuring reminder that I truly have skin in the game.
Inevitably, actions speak louder than words. Except, of course, when those words are permanently inscribed within the depths of my skin.
William Bauer is the managing director of ROYCE, a handcrafted American accessories brand based in New York City. His small-business marketing and entrepreneurial acumen have been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, BBC, CNN Money, and other prominent publications.