Branding Deleón with Derek Lam

A brand of any size has dreams of making an impact. To be liked, talked about, and propelled into a path of substantial growth. The people who manage said brands? They must believe in them enough to fuel that path. Where does that fuel come from? Join us as we find out with a series of interviews, delving into the minds of the people who build the brands we know and love. We'll kick off this journey with a chat featuring Derek Lam, a personal friend, and, the Brand Director of DeLeón Tequila.

1. You've been working for DeLeón for about 8 months now. Is the role what you expected, or have you been surprised by the culture/work? If surprised, in what way?

With any new job you have certain expectations based on research, interview conversations and other sources of information. During my interview process I had candid conversations about the role, how I can help, what would be expected of me, what the challenges are and what the ambition is. I definitely got a sense of how I could come in and what I would immediately start to tackle. However, you never understand the full scope of any job so there were things I wasn't exactly ready to focus on. You get in, soak information, ask questions and eventually you get comfortable to take on those challenges. Looking back, the most challenging part was doing this all through Zoom. I'm a very outgoing, personable person so attempting to make genuine connections was difficult. 

2. Let's get real basic. Why is "brand" so important to growth? 

Brands are important, because in a sense we are all brands. Brands evolved so much from the days of early advertising and marketing and continue to change from what Ogilvy first defined it as, "the intangible sum of a product's attributes". Today, Brands must have meaning and create an emotional and functional benefit to consumers. Moreover, Brands that continue to grow are those that come off as authentic and put people and communities at the forefront. I think of Brands like Ben & Jerry's and Patagonia. These Brands have not only stuck to their product's roots, they go way beyond and take hard stances on important topics. 

3. What's the most exhilarating part of growing a brand? The most agonizing? 

There's a thrill in growing a brand for so many reasons. First, you just don't know what will work so you're willing to generate off the wall creative concepts and take more risks. I love that shit. Second, you generally want to create an ambitious vision. Is it achievable? Not always. But that doesn't necessarily matter. It's the passion, hard work and belief that will keep the hustle in the vision which with the right mix of strategy, marketing, commercial and people you can get it done. On the flip side, it's the uphill battles. You will no doubt take a few L's along the way, but it's how you manage, pivot and remain nimble. You got to keep at it. Test and learn. 

4. There is currently an explosion going on in the market for tequila. With celebs lining up for a piece of the pie. We saw this several years ago with bourbon. How do you harness all of this attention without veering off too far from the brand's identity?

The demand for tequila right now is blazing! So much so it's almost becoming comical that all of these celebrities are going through this "agave rush" without any real thought to where tequila comes from, how it's made and what it means to Mexican culture. I'm lucky that DeLeon is a brand that was created in the early days by a man who paved the way for celebrity influence in spirits. What is disappointing to see are these brands that are essentially creating tequila that is not considered tequila at all. There was a recent Forbes article that highlights how these new liquid formulas are using added flavors, which take the essence of the spirit out and strip it down. I do think there may be a bubble with celebrity owned spirits; however, they are still doing quite well in today's market. 

5. What's some of the best career advice you've received either from a personal connection or professional?  

The rule of thirds. The rule of thirds assumes that when you start a new role, you have a third of it in the bag. You don't have to worry so much about that third because it comes naturally to you. The 2nd third consists of things that you have a general knowledge about, and may not be your strongest points, but certainly points that you can speak about intelligently. Finally, the 3rd third, that's the stuff you might not know if it slapped you in the face. And that's where the real opportunity for growth lies. That's the stuff you need to be resourceful about, network about, and study up to stay sharp. 

6. When we work alongside a brand, especially one that I'm around to help build, emotional ties come quick. Do you feel that you begin to embody the brands you work so closely with? 

Absolutely. I am so passionate about my industry and learning the brands from how they're made, how they're mixed and ultimately how we market them. I tend to take a favorite cocktail from every brand I've touched and master it. 

7. What is a personal process/ritual that keeps you on track in your day-to-day? The business side of things. Lists? Evernote? Voice notes? Espresso? 

It's a combination of things. Admittedly, my email is completely unorganized. I don't use folders at all. However, my filing game is on point. I also use One Note and a classic pen and paper for all of my notes and to do's. I'm a great note taker and anytime I hear an action item I draw a star with a circle around it. I continue my day reviewing those notes and crossing off those tasks once complete.

8. On the flip side, do you have a remedy for a creative drought? For instance, when you get so lost in the "process" or the bottom line that you lose sight of the magic in all this?

Whenever I'm in a project for a long period of time and I've been up late hours I definitely start to lose steam. My number one remedy is to walk away. Literally, I will go for a walk and get in nature. That totally clears my mind. Other times I'll reach out and phone a friend or family member – someone completely disconnected with marketing or my industry. It's always good to temperature check because a lot of times marketers end up talking to themselves, not the consumer.