Who do we trust?

An investigation into the future of media legacies

Hi, everyone! Exciting news from the Smooth Media Global Headquarters (the WeWork by my apartment) today: Our fearless leader, Josh Kaplan, is taking the reins for this edition. He wrote this thoughtful piece while he was OOO (do as he says, not as he does). Hope you all enjoy! And I know how hard it was for him to write the Marvel line down there so please show him some love.

—Kinsey, cofounder and head of editorial handing it over to Josh, Smooth cofounder and CEO

What Does it Take to Build a Legacy Brand?

Bernard Arnault and his children

Reminder in case you missed it in the intro: Josh wrote this piece. Kinsey does not have a girlfriend named Nadia. Okay, please enjoy now.

Earlier this month, I was traveling through France with my girlfriend, Nadia. And it got me thinking a lot about trust (don’t get the wrong idea—Nadia and I just signed a lease in Boerum Hill and we have each other on Find My Friends).

Trust in the world. As a business, how do we build a reputation for trustworthiness? As consumers, how do we form relationships with brands that are more than just time-tested?

Here’s how we got there: Nadia and I spent several hours (literally, IYKYK) on a drive through France listening to the Acquired podcast’s LVMH episode (guess who was on aux). A lot of the episode focuses on LVMH head Bernard Arnault’s ability to scale beloved, timeless brands. Dior. Louis Vuitton. Tiffany. Veuve Clicquot.

Arnault used brand to build business—and boy, did he build business. He timed LVMH’s rise (and turned a $15 million investment in a bankrupt French textile company into the world’s largest individual fortune) with the rise of international global wealth. Non-royalty came into disposable income and spent it on iconic names—and LVMH was there to sell.

Arnault’s path was the blueprint for anyone who wanted to invest in the highest and most unattainable business moat: brand. But how did he do it? How does anyone?

Nadia and I kept asking ourselves what made famous brands what they are. Soon, we were deep in conversation about how our own preferences might indicate what could come of the future of mega-brand building (romantic, I know).

What are those preferences? The trendy Parisian cafés tucked away from the crowds, not the white tablecloth, Michelen-starred, Infatuation-approved joints. The cozy, convenient Airbnbs, not the cookie-cutter chain hotels. Cool, not explicitly expensive.

That’s a distinct deviation from the Arnault-ified former reality we occupied. Nadia and I, along with most people our age, prefer comfortable or unique or creative to establishment-approved luxurious. The most expensive no longer means the most desired.

With that shift in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about what brands from the last 20 years might make it through the next 80. Chipotle? Uber? One of the countless sans serif-branded olive oil startups?

“People follow people” isn’t a new concept born of the internet. People followed Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, and Michael Jordan. But as chants of “power to the people” motor the creator economy, which of the new names will become timeless symbols, especially given the speed with which trends change online?

I think staying power requires prioritizing functionality (everything needs to be Ford tough, from our Away suitcases to the YouTubers we trust for news) and leveraging tech (not just using it but empowering it to shape culture) as table stakes.

But it also requires consistency, especially in media. Consistent delivery and consistent quality have become the marker by which we measure potential.

  • A24 is a rising star of consistent quality. Marvel had it…but I’ll recognize it’s risking it (ugh). Every Morning Brew newsletter is fantastic—we know first hand how hard it is to put it together each day.

  • And the inverse: Vice and BuzzFeed played the quantity game on an SEO gambling machine and lost sight of consistency (and real humans as customers). Cable news came up with too many reasons to press the Breaking News button and sacrificed any reputation for reliability.

Good Media™ is quality work from a creative team that keeps showing up. It’s hard work, and I’m not even the one writing or hosting or producing. But if it were easy, everyone would do it. We believe we’ll keep winning (read: building generational media brands) by showing up for our audiences, delivering true utility, staying inspired, and getting better each day—consistency, functionality, creativity.

#digibuzzcodevoxious is a term we coined back in our Morning Brew days—a portmanteau of Digiday, BuzzFeed, Recode, Vox, and Axios. Obviously, the year was 2018 and the interest rates were zero. But still, the sentiment of “interesting media trends and news” remains. So the name stays.

You try on your new motion sickness glasses on a call one time…smh.

Thanks for reading! Any and all LVMH products can be sent to Kinsey’s apartment for team distribution. She wears a size 41 in European shoes, apropos of nothing.