Whatever it is you're looking to do or make or sell, you build your business on the assumption that you can do it better, smarter, and more efficiently than the competition. Otherwise, what's the point?
The more I thought back on my mother's experiences (in shopping for jewelry) in high-end stores, the more I recognized an opportunity for a luxury jewelry line created for modern women based on their lifestyle needs and tastes, women who weren't waiting around for their husbands or fathers to buy them a fine piece of jewelry as a gift. I had in mind a customer with a sense of flair and fashion that perhaps wasn't being reflected in the designs of some of the more traditional, high-end jewelers; women who wanted to invest in fresher, more vibrant heirloom chic pieces. And above all, women who were perhaps looking for guidance from their more fashion-forward daughters on what to wear—as opposed to looking to their mothers.
As I kicked things around with Moshe Lax, a diamond vendor who's now my partner in the Ivanka Trump Jewelry Collection, I realized there was a void in the marketplace waiting to be filled, so we struck a partnership deal and set about filling it. Moshe already had a location on Madison Avenue, so our first move was to close his family-owned store and redesign the whole space from top to bottom. The first order of business was retrofitting the space and creating a signature style, identity, and logo for our emerging brand.
Along the way, I made some mental notes on what we'd need to do as we introduced our collection, and I share them here for the way they apply to the launch of any new business, product, or service:
Do a comprehensive trademark search. This is an obvious first step, but you'd be surprised how many startups hit a wall when it turns out someone else already owns their brand name. In our dot-com age, this means you'll have to secure the accompanying domain name as well.
Develop a powerful identifier. Your look and logo are incredibly important. These days, your Web site design is also a part of that "look" (check out ivankatrumpcollection.com), along with your packaging and collateral materials. Spend some time on these, because they'll be the image that goes home with your customers, whether or not they make a purchase or sign on to your service. Be memorable.
Do not confuse supply with demand. Another basic: Just because you have an item in plenty doesn't necessarily mean a lot of people will want to buy it. Identify the demand for your product first, and then dive in. Luxury condos offer a great case in point. Developers will pitch a site as ideal simply because other developers are building similar projects on the abutting properties. But we're not talking Field of Dreams here. "If you build it, they will come" might be a powerful message in a tearjerker baseball movie, but an overdeveloped resort area can be a huge negative.
Identify the void in your market, and position your brand so that you uniquely fill it. If you mean to provide a product or service that's currently unavailable at your planned price point, be sure to know your competition at the high and low ends. There might be a reason why no one is trafficking in that unclaimed middle. If not, find it, and fill it.
Create a strong and consistent identity. Whatever you want your image to be, establish it early and stay true to your identity. Without an established reputation, you don't have a brand, so take pains to keep on point and on message. Otherwise, you'll miss your target. For example, Trump is synonymous with luxury, glamour, and elegance. Every project we undertake reinforces that reputation. To deviate from these principles would undermine our brand's values.
Define your market. Figure out who your target customer is, even if it's not obvious at the outset. The better you know your customers and their needs, the more easily you can sell to them.
Make sure your team understands your mission, your vision, and your objectives. You'd be surprised how many salespeople I meet who don't understand their own product or share their boss's vision. At our hotels, we have a two-day acclimation program to thoroughly explain to our new hires who we are and what the Trump hotel collection stands for. Get your team on board, or you'll have a team of free agents moving to their own agendas.
Focus on customer service. In a competitive market, every business is a service business. The customer is always, always, always right. Even when he or she is wrong. Be sure to put a system into place that gives your customer a voice—and, just as important, be sure to listen to it. The CEO of Orient-Express Hotels (OEH) randomly connects to three rooms across the portfolio each day, introducing himself and asking guests how they're enjoying their stays. Do the math: three calls, 365 days a year … that's a lot of feedback.
Foster brand loyalty at every opportunity. One of the indicators of our success on the real estate front is that we have many condominium owners who buy units in more than one Trump building. We nurture these relationships and make sure our repeat buyers know that we value their business by giving them a first look at some of our properties in presales, supporting their philanthropic initiatives, or perhaps even offering them accommodations in one of our hotel properties.
Hold off spending whenever possible. You need to spend money to make money. This is especially true when launching your new brand, but if you're not careful you'll find that the majority of your expenditures will have minimal impact on your success. Do your research first before spending heavily in any one area. Look closely at your product design, your target segments, and your marketing strategy—then allocate your money to where it will do the most good.
Adapted from The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life (Touchstone, October 2009).