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with Jasmine Bina

2: Where Identity Meets New Behavior

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We speak with luxury branding expert Ana Andjelic about the imagined communities that form around identity brands, the importance of hacking subculture over hacking growth, and the gendered stories that tap into our collective psyche.

Podcast Transcript

December 6th, 2019

8 min read

Where Identity Meets New Behavior

00:12

Jasmine Bina:
Welcome to the Unseen Unknown podcast. I’m Jasmine Bina, and in today’s episode, we’re speaking with Ana Andjelic. Ana is an amazing brand strategist. I’ve been following her writing and her work for quite a while now. She has an incredible career, and most recently, she’s been named to the Forbes CMO Next list, and she’s really just an incredible thinker in this space. 

I think this is a really interesting episode because we dive deep into a few hot topics. We start by talking about commerce first media brands, something that I think is top of mind for a lot of people who want to build something that works like a great DTC brand or works like a great community-built brand, but don’t quite understand the initial planning and things that needs to go into a company like that. We move on to talk about aspirational branding, something that is very personal to me. I do think aspirational branding is fool’s gold, and we’ll dig into that a little bit more. 

We talk about how hacking a subculture is probably a lot more important than hacking growth, something that Ana has written about a lot. Then we ended by talking about a different set of consumer narratives, specifically motherhood. That’s something that’s personal to both me and Ana, and we explore how it sits in the cultural psyche, how it’s been positioned for us as women and as a community, and what that means for how you navigate the world, both as people and as mothers, women, consumers, everything. I loved this talk, and I hope you guys get something out of it too. 

Okay so Ana, I was trying to think of how I would introduce you for this episode, and the thing is you’re so many things. I’m going to list the things that you are. You’re a strategist. You’ve had many incredible roles, but two of the big ones are, you’re the former chief brand officer for Rebecca Minkoff, you’re the former SVP and Global Strategy Director for Havas’ LuxHub, which sounds very interesting, I hope we get to talk about that. Now, you’re an executive brand consultant for companies like David Yurman and Mansur Gavriel, not to mention the fact that you’re a doctor of Sociology and you’re a ridiculously prolific writer who writes about all kinds of things, including brand strategy, retail, consumer behavior, marketplaces, everything. Did I miss anything? 

2:42

Ana Andjelic:
I don’t think you did. It’s like, I mean, I don’t know how anyone can actually listen to all of this and not be humbled. You know what I mean? I’m kind of like, “I wish she would stop.” But no, we really need to own everything we do, I think, and whatever accomplishments we achieve. 

Jasmine Bina:
Absolutely. 

Ana Andjelic:
So I’m going to own it. 

Jasmine Bina:
Own it. 

Ana Andjelic:
Thanks for the lovely introduction.

3:09

Jasmine Bina:
I think what’s fascinating about you, and what I really sensed when I first met you is, that you really straddle two extremes, you are very well-versed in the high level conceptual side of brand strategy, but also the extremely tactical side. And I think what’s interesting, and why I wanted to have this conversation with you today is, that most people are either on one side or the other of the spectrum. I know I lean on one side more than the other, and when you lean on one side, there’s a lot of room for BS. Because I think you need both ends to pin down what an actual viable brand strategy is, or any kind of strategy is for a company. And I think that’s what’s interesting about you.

I’m going to start with a big question here. There’s so much going on around brand strategy right now, people talking about the role that it plays in our lives, what it means. I think it vacillates between being something that’s really revered as an amazing superpower to be able to really think of a brand strategically, and then other times, it’s seen almost as the negative connotation to it, but there is talk that’s been going on for quite some time that you’ve also addressed about brands being the new religion. That’s such a loaded term, but I’m just going to ask you straight out to start this conversation, are brands the new religion? 

4:27

Ana Andjelic:
I did not say that actually. I think that the conversations are, the one that I wrote recently about, was more that there are no new sources of nationalism, but not nationalism in a… It was more like how do we bond with other people, how we identify with values and symbols, and what role brands play when now we don’t have the civil society institutions, and we don’t have the role that press, for example, had.

Jasmine Bina:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

5:00

Ana Andjelic:
When I refer Benedict Anderson, who is a political scientist, and he described the imagined communities, his term is, for how he wanted to capture the rise of national consciousness in Europe in 18 and 19 centuries, and he attributed to the rise of press. Everyone was reading same things, everyone knew about same people and ideas, and what you identify with is how you’re different from everyone else. So there, the question is then, do brands now like Other Voices, for example, or Tracksmith or Rapha creating that bonding and identification, and the sense of belonging to a specific community, which is imagined because we don’t know those people. We just know that we like similar things, that we share the same values with them, so that was the idea. 

In terms of brands and religion, I love how confident you went after that. I really do, and I think that if that resonated with you, that you should certainly explore more, but I believe something has been more explored. I’ll tell you why, because there was a lot of writing and people commenting on how wellness is a new religion. Healthy eating, and then how our belonging to SoulCycle or other fitness classes or fitness group, Body by Simone or Tracy Anderson, that that actually replays the rituals and the communal aspect. We are going through transformative experiences with other people when we do SoulCycle. So that sort of that almost religious or spiritual transformation, it’s physical, but then when you look who SoulCycle trainers are, there is a lot of that element of spirituality there. 

So, I think that I was not talking about that because for me that was something that’s been already explored. I was thinking more about now that we don’t have mechanisms of social cohesion that we had in the past, which is a country club, which is, as I said, the press or the media, we are watching all the same channels, or we all hang out in the same neighborhoods or like whatever, there was something that kept society together. Now, all of a sudden, the brands seem to assume that role and for me, that’s not neutral territory.

7:26

Jasmine Bina:
Right. What are some examples? You mentioned Rapha and Outdoor Voices, is it the actual community building events that they have and it’s the in-store experiences or is it more than that? 

7:37

Ana Andjelic:
I think it goes beyond, because it’s first of all… Well, I think Outdoor Voices is a good example, so let’s stick to that one, if that’s fine with you. So when the people who are buying Outdoor Voices, they’re like, “Oh, I finally feel understood,” which is all good advertising mantra, like “Oh, we got you, we respond to your need. We recognize your need. We see you. We hear you.” So that like what the founders of Outdoor Voices figured is like, “Well, people just want to look good, they want to have fun. They don’t want to run until they throw up.” [inaudible 00:08:08] for Nike that you just want to move, do things, and look good when you’re doing that, not look like… I don’t know, like Silver Surfer or something. So I think that was the first. The product was something that a lot of people sort of identified as something they need in order to do XYZ. 

Then when you see Bandier ripped off the design, they were like, “Whoa.” because it’s such a big part of who their identity is as Outdoor Voices consumers. So think about that for a second, because you would just didn’t have that identification, you would be like, “Who cares? I’ll just buy from Bandier the same. Fine. It doesn’t really matter. I’ll just decide on price.” But here they’re not deciding on price. They’re not deciding on convenience or availability, they’ve deciding, “No, no, no. I belong to this imagined community of people who value the same things as I do. This is who I identify with, with this group of people who look like me or do think like me.” 

Then started the hashtag, the social object, which is a hashtag, which is still doing things. And it was like, “Oh, doing things is better than not doing things.” So it’s like, own it, have your life, live your life, be the boss, you know however it tapped into culture. So that’s a cultural moment of like doing. 

Yeah. so I think it is basically it’s more. I think there is just the entire brand building from saying, “Hey, how am I going to bind this community together? I’m going to use my products as symbols. I’m going to use the social hashtag as that the glue of social cohesion, because we all use the same hashtag when we are doing things that belong to this brand footprint in culture and in society. 

9:44

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. I think that’s really interesting because what we tend to forget is, I always talk about how brands should elicit a sense of transformation. You should be a different person after you’ve engaged with them, but what’s maybe even more important is, that you have this understanding that there are other people who you haven’t met, who are in this imagined community who have also experienced the same transformation and that’s why you would go to bat for a brand. That’s why when Bandier does something that infringes upon Outdoor Voices, you’re going to go and defend them online, which was actually a surprising outpouring. I remember when I first met you too, you were talking to me, I don’t know if it was that day or if it happened earlier, but that Outdoor Voices was having some sample seal and the line was around the block, and you never see that with brands anymore. Not even luxury brands. 

10:32

Ana Andjelic:
Totally. You’re so right, because I was going to meet you and I was walking and I’m like, “Wait, what? It goes around [inaudible 00:10:38]?” And I’m like, ” “Who are you wait?” I ask actually, because it was nondescript and there are Outdoor Voices. I’m like, “Wow, that’s rich.” Because like they’re waiting for athleisure brand? And then [crosstalk 00:10:47] like more staff started unpacking. That was a couple of years ago. That’s a good point. That’s good. I forgot about that.

10:55

Jasmine Bina:
Another brand that keeps coming up in conversations that I’m having with our clients, or even when I’m doing user interviews for some of our clients is Glossier, which I know is a hot topic brand right now. Not least of which the reasons being, because of their really, really high evaluation, but they’re a brand that I think has built a very strong imagined community. I don’t know where I saw it, but somebody had tweeted about the fact that if you look at brands that are DTC, they have like a certain multiple. If you look at marketplaces, they have a bit of a higher multiple. But if you look at commerce first media brands, brands like Glossier that started with media first and then monetized it around a product, there’re multiples are even higher. Is that a testament to where brands are going and where actual value is? Or do you think that’s just a trend right now that VCs are getting a little short-sighted by the hype? 

11:49

Ana Andjelic:
Well, I think it is definitely a lot, like the hype machine is really long with banks and like Goldman Sachs and with VCs and then with places like Fast Company that they’re hyping the new brand models, if you will, or those who are up and coming and so on. You see that with Farfetch, which was unique, when you see that with Vivax, IPO, so you’ll see that a lot. But they’re just saying, “All right, let’s all chill for a second, and let’s just find some more objective criteria. There’s just no rush.” 

I think that what Emily Weiss is doing really well is that how considered her growth is. So that’s something that she has going on for her. She doesn’t want to cut corners, she walks the walk because when you see the product lines she launched with, it was very one product and then add another one and then another one, and then create like dog toys. It’s very focused when it comes to product. She’s not everything to everyone.

Then if you go back one step and you said for those who are media, I think she just replaced one mean of social cohesion, which is content with another, which is product. I think that she benefits from being in the industry where everyone has an opinion. Everyone will tell you an advice on beauty. That’s like [inaudible 00:13:12] low denominator. If you talk about, I don’t know, like physics or something, not everyone is going to have an opinion, but when it comes to makeup or beauty or care, moisturizing, or nighttime mask, everyone is passionate about. Everyone has an idea. So that is easy to start that conversation because the barriers of participation are low and the sense of recognition is high if you will. You’re not going to say something stupid. Everyone is an influencer in that sense, because there’s obviously someone who’s like, “how do I get rid of acne?” Five people are going to have an answer. You know? So that’s something… Well, that’s true, there is the glue is very strong there. 

13:56

Jasmine Bina:
I see. That’s very interesting. I was just talking to somebody about this recently about, I think it was Flex. It was either Flex or [inaudible 00:14:02]. They were looking at maybe launching a community in a private Facebook group, and they point to the fact that, I think it was Flex had done really, really well there. And I thought the fact that, yes, but women want to talk about this. There’s no place to talk about this and it affects us every month. It’s very top of mind and it touches on so many other issues like fertility, endometriosis all kinds of things that aren’t necessarily taboo, but people have opinions and there’s a bit of a glue there. And I would argue that that community would have done well, no matter where it was planted. It wasn’t necessarily the channel, but it’s interesting the way you described it.

14:38

Jasmine Bina:
I want to ask you, what did you think of Glossier play? 

Ana Andjelic:
What do you mean? 

14:42

Jasmine Bina:
Well, you talked about how her product launches are very deliberate and that came out to a lot of fanfare. I was very excited about it. They teased it really well, but it did seem like an extension of what they already had, but into maybe a more colorful, playful territory of a different makeup. Do you think like that was on brand for them? Like what do you think they were trying to do with the trajectory of the company with that launch? 

15:07

Ana Andjelic:
I mean, again, I’ll go back to that. I don’t think it matters. I think she has a very strong base. She is clearly profitable. A lot of brands look at it like BFF chatty tone of voice so it’s easy to have it at a very, very low price point. But that’s good because the price points are very accessible, so everyone can participate and that’s an idea. 

You know what? The other thing that’s very smart is really like her customers do the advertising work for her. You know what I mean? Because they are basically talking about how they use products, what they can do. So I don’t think that it plays any different in that sense. Yes, sure you can have its iteration and that’s smart. You don’t need to invent new products and services all the time. You can iterate in what’s been working before. So I think in that sense, it’s on-brand and iteration of what she has already done.

15:58

Jasmine Bina:
The other thing too that I think is interesting, because everybody’s trying to figure out what the magic sauce is with this brand, is that they are talking about natural beauty at a very interesting time to be talking about natural beauty. They’re creating space for a conversation around what it means to have natural beauty for girls at a specific age where they’re negotiating what their femininity means. They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to present themselves in the world and I think she created a voice and a media and a product around that idea, that new definition of beauty, new or re-imagined or whatever you want to call it-

Ana Andjelic:
Got it. 

Jasmine Bina:
… that created a little bit of tension. It got people talking and interested in a different way. It was an alternative narrative that maybe didn’t exist the way that she brought it up. 

16:46

Ana Andjelic:
I agree with that a lot. Especially think about the demographics she is after, like millennials and younger millennials, Gen Z as well. So how they actually relate to each other, to brands and to themselves and how their identity is because when you look for example, Rihanna Fenty, Beauty, her entire thing is beauty for all and she has men wearing her foundation. So for them, that is really… and she sort of introduced the 50 plus collect. Started with 40 and that was sort of something that traditional beauty industry didn’t do. 

I think this BFF tone of voice that Emily Weiss introduced and how she allowed basically her customers to do the work of the brand, not in a negative sense, but in a positive sense in terms of, “All right. We know each other already. We exchanged content. We talked about different things for years on into the gloss blog and now I’m giving you this products. There’s a bunch of products. Go show me what you can build with that.” I don’t think that any beauty company they’re talking about to express yourself and blah, blah, blah, but then there is no place for that. There is no call to action beyond just the advertising tagline in a sense, “Oh, if I’m going to experiment, however, I want to make a foundation and I’m going to share to that. I’m going to get feedback that everyone has a little influence of feedback loop in their little own community. 

Jasmine Bina:
Right, right. 

18:18

Ana Andjelic:
Yeah. And one final thing, I think that it also coincided with the extreme rise of beauty tutorials on YouTube. So let’s not forget about the entire media ecosystem that allowed that to thrive. 

18:30

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah, absolutely. That brings me to the next point. You wrote something once that just stopped me dead in my tracks that I think about all the time. You said that hacking is subculture is greater than hacking growth and you had talked about Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club. I don’t want to paraphrase for you. Can you describe that a little bit more? 

18:49

Ana Andjelic:
Yes. I think that the article you’re referring to the analysis is how hacking culture is more important than hacking growth in a sense that, what we think that most innovative products and services are actually results of the effect of social influence, which means they were not able to exist in a vacuum. The social processes gave rise to them and often they mistake disruption for social influence. So what that means in plain language is, that if society is ready to embrace a trend, anyone can start one. And I [inaudible 00:19:28] Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s as examples because they’re like, “Oh my God, there was so innovative companies. They disrupted the industry and made it as well be.”

The thing is that the report a year before those companies launched, was already capturing the changing grooming habits of men. So men’s behavior was already starting to change. The atmosphere was already starting to change. Japanese have a great expression [foreign language 00:19:56][inaudible] which says, read the room, read the atmosphere. That means what is unspoken, what is going on in the zeitgeist that no one really captured tangibly yet, but it’s in the air in a sense. 

So it was, I don’t know rebellion in fashion a few years ago, or that sort of changing notions of masculinity and changing notions what men’s grooming is. So when those companies came in, they piggybacked on that wider social trend of changing notions of masculinity. That’s why I say social influence is often mistaken for disruption because what you’re seeing that those companies capitalize on social influence, basically. Their message was met with the fertile soil for people to say, “Hey, we understand. This is for us.” So it was only the fertile soil, but if they tried to do that five years earlier, three years earlier, they wouldn’t have been as successful. 

20:53

Jasmine Bina:
I don’t know if people would read this and think it’s obvious, or if they think is profound. I think it’s profound because a lot of people miss this. They think disruption has to be in the product and they don’t understand how companies like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club can be such huge successes. It’s because they don’t understand that really… I mean if I can paraphrase, they were reading a trend before it was apparent. Trend is isn’t the right word. They were reading a real fundamental shift in what people were willing to consume, how they were willing to relate to not just a product, but also their own masculinity and their own identities. They created a story around what that could mean. They gave people a pathway to realizing what that was. That’s not a small thing. I personally feel like that’s what’s really exciting about branding. 

There’s a similar parallel in technology. I don’t remember who said it. This is a fantastic conversation of not remembering who said what, but-

Ana Andjelic:
You can [inaudible 00:21:56] babies. At least you have two. What was my excuse?

22:00

Jasmine Bina:
I should take better notes. But yes, they’re… In technology there’s a similar thing where people… It’s widely believed that when a technology comes out, it changes our behaviors, but there’s a body of research that suggests that no, people are already starting to exhibit some of the behaviors that would make that technology adoptable. So the idea was that maybe there were signs that people were more and more willing to share, to tap into the wisdom of the group, things like that, that translate into these technologies where you share cars, you read reviews, you trust user reviews and peer reviews, and that it’s not the technology leading culture, it’s culture leading technology. I think it parallels to what you’re saying here, even in CPG and DTC. 

Ana Andjelic:
That’s exactly that, yeah.

22:45

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah, 100%. So you mentioned Rihanna a second ago and I wanted to pause on her for a moment. Now, tell me why you think her brands are doing so well. I know a lot of it is because of her commitment to inclusivity, but is there more to it than that?

23:04

Ana Andjelic:
I think there’s a confluence. It’s the right time. So the time is really good, and I’ll tell you why. There is a confluence of a number of factors. For one, she is this strong entrepreneurial woman. So you can’t really take that. Even if she just stayed in music, that would still be something that is. 

Then when she goes and does Fenty Beauty and when she partners with LVMH and so that is some believability there. It’s not just celebrity because brands have partnered with celebrities for the longest time to move the needle of their business so that’s not really new. Also, it’s not new that celebrities launch their own brands. Look at the hip hop scene at the end of the 90s. With Jay Z Rocawear, with Sean John and so on. So I think that’s fine. She has that going on for her, but that’s something that it’s now anyone almost. With social media, any celebrity can be like, “Hey, I’m launching a fashion brand,” or something and many of them do. 

So for me, what was more notable is, how do you figure it out which celebrity brands are going to last longer than other celebrity brands. So it’s more like do you have some wider purpose or mission here? What is your role in culture? For Rihanna it was like that beauty for all, she has that inclusivity and she uses her own success story as a role model for a lot of people to see and get inspired by that. So she has that platform, but she’s more than just herself. What she represents is like what I said at the beginning when I started talking about this is, that she is strong female entrepreneur and now the time the culture supports. We root automatically for female entrepreneurs. We want them to succeed. We identify with them. So now there is that culture that’s like you go girl. So I think that’s really good. People are going to pay attention if a woman goes for it.

At the same time, she was one of the most innovative companies on Times list in 2017. That’s because she introduced 50 shades of foundation, which is something that crazy enough in 2017, no other beauty company has done. So a pair of celebrities underpinned product innovation. And even with her image, okay, her image may be like this or that, however, you want to call it, collaboration. But even there she’s like, “Well, you know what? I’m going to release when I feel like releasing. So I’m going to have this drop model. I’m going to have a website and I’m just going to check out and when it’s there, it’s there, when it’s not there, it’s not there. Forget about the fashion calendar, forget about the fashion system.” So even there, she’s doing her thing and that sort of innovation because there is no other LVMH brand that is doing it like that.

25:46

Jasmine Bina:
How would you compare someone like Rihanna to somebody like Kylie?

25:51

Ana Andjelic:
Well, for me, the thing is, I don’t really know. It may be me. I’m giving that possibility that I don’t know what Kylie stands for aside of being Kylie, aside of Kylie. So what is that wider purpose? What is the wider mission? Like Rihanna has beauty for all. What does Kylie have? I think that Kylie does have going on for her that girl boss female entrepreneur thing that we root for her, that she actually achieved something. But for me, she was on a billionaire’s list where Pat McGrath was a makeup artist launched her line. She also is a woman of color and is a female entrepreneur. And for some reason, Kylie got way more attention in media than Pat McGrath.

Jasmine Bina:
I see. 

26:32

Ana Andjelic:
So I don’t know what is the dynamic there, but Rihanna sort of went beyond that and say, “Hey, my idea is beauty for all and I’m really delivering on this promise through my unbelievably diverse foundation line. That is something that I’m going to keep innovating.” Also, Kylie, what is her innovation and her product? That’s what I don’t get. 

Jasmine Bina:
Well-

26:56

Ana Andjelic:
Is it innovative or is it one off? So for Kylie it’s a typical celebrity brand and just uses her celebrity to sell her product. Once people cancel Kylie, they cancel her business. It’s much harder to cancel Rihanna because her products are not about to Rihanna. Her products are about your, about all of us. 

27:18

Jasmine Bina:
You’ve hit on something so big. I think it also tracks with the way brands have evolved from 1.0 to 2.0. This idea of creating something aspirational is really… I feel like so many people try to build that with their brands and aspiration, I feel is fool’s gold at this point. It’s never going to take you in the longterm, but when you’re creating something that’s larger than one person, I don’t know if that’s lifestyle or something bigger than that, but like you said, Rihanna is so much bigger than just her name and you feel that. You feel the gravity of the message whenever you engage with the brand, whether it’s at the counter at Sephora, or through any of the content that she’s putting out, or even just seeing what she puts on Instagram. It’s something that, like you said, you can’t cancel it because it’s a larger idea that, by the way, also will evolve and grow and can be reinvented and redefined and change and live a much longer life than something that’s just attached to one aspiration one person’s specific image.

Ana Andjelic:
Absolutely. 

28:20

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah, 100%. So while we’re on the topic, I feel like I hear people saying influencers are dead long, live the influencer. Where are we with influencers? What’s your take on that? 

28:32

Ana Andjelic:
Influencers are not dead. They’re alive and well, and they’re moving product like nobody’s business. So let’s keep that in mind because beauty brands, I mean biggest, let’s say that the fastest growing beauty brands, comparatively, are those created by influencers or propelled by them and so on. So I think that we are now seeing… It’s like with every industry that is maturing and then you have certain practices that are no longer very efficient at the end of the day. That’s the same thing when you had for luxury advertising, print, print, print. Conde Nast, he has like black cars for everyone, refinance your… Like unbelievable amount of salaries and so on because like, “Oh, you will advertise with Vogue.” You pay him, I don’t know, like millions of dollars and you know, money makes the world go round. So it’s like life is good. 

Then all of a sudden there is changing of how you commune in new generation of consumers, new technologies of communication. And all of a sudden it’s, “Oh no, no, no knocking on the door. Vogue is calling. No one wants to pick up the phone.” You know? So that’s what I find. It’s like that early influencers, they really capitalized on that newness of the new technology and the fact that people were like, “Oh my God, if no one is reading print and everyone is on Instagram or on social media, we are going to employ influencers as media actually.” 

The problem is, no one actually said we are using influencers as media. Everyone was like very muddled about what does that really mean? Does it drive product sales? Well, not necessarily because you basically bought a TV ad. So you don’t have any idea of which percent of your advertising is working because you’re just a wellness play. Like, let’s be honest. You’re not going to necessarily drive sales if you hire an influencer. You may get impressions. You may get rich, the same as mass media. So it’s always like how you pay influencers they’re very obscured and also, what do you expect from influences? What is the ROI? What are the KPIs? Again, very obscure, but it doesn’t have to be, because if you say we are going to pay influencers CPM the same way we are paying publishers or media companies when we place advertising there? 

So, I think it’s more around strategy around it and more about business rigor than the actual, do influencers work, don’t work? They work sometimes, they don’t work other times and it depends on which area. Like Opera can do anything, but you’re not going to go Kylie for a book recommendation. You know what I mean?

30:57

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. I think it’s just like what you said. We’re moving from aspiration to something bigger and the influencers that are diversifying their portfolios in a way that shows that they believe in something larger than themselves, that’s interesting. I think Chriselle Lim is… I don’t know if she’s actually announced it yet, but she was talking about coworking space for parents. I think that’s what she was going to announce, which to me sounds very exciting because it shows that this is not just trying to have her lifestyle or to emulate who she is. It’s trying to explore what it means to be a different person in this world, a professional mother, a girl boss, like you were saying, which is apparently a-

Ana Andjelic:
I hate that name. I hate it. And I hate that-

Jasmine Bina:
Why? Why do people hate that? 

Ana Andjelic:
I don’t know.

Jasmine Bina:
Why? 

31:43

Ana Andjelic:
I think it don’t… because it’s kind of like… I mean why girl boss? First of all, why infantilizing that? Like if you infantilize it, then it’s what? It’s less threatening to guys? It can’t be like a woman? You know what I mean? It’s like the fearless girl and has to be a girl because it’s like girls are not as intimidating as grown women. I don’t know. So that’s one. 

Then second of all, it just became like this blanket thing? 

32:13

Jasmine Bina:
Well, yes. So I think that’s also its strengths. I don’t know the full origin of that phrase because the first time I heard it was Sophia Amoruso’s book, which was called Girlboss. So I’m guessing there’s a reason to it and I don’t know what it is, but terms like that, even though we come to derive them after a while, they did something. They did some heavy lifting at some point. Like they-

32:36

Ana Andjelic:
For sure. I think that’s again, that thing like they capture the moment when we all are willing to support more openly and we really champion those who are very entrepreneur like yourself, you’re the girl boss but I would not… I mean, you know for me, it would be hard for me. You’re so much more. I think you’re right. I’m going to take that back because I think you’re right. They do the heavy lifting and they actually the capture the moment in a very tangible form, as words, as labels, as symbol. So, yes. Absolutely. 

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah, I think so too. 

Ana Andjelic:
You’re a badass girl boss. How about that?

Jasmine Bina:
I’ll take that. Okay. Thank you. 

Ana Andjelic:
You should. Yeah, we didn’t talk about your credentials. I’ll introduce you at the end. 

33:22

Jasmine Bina:
Okay. We’ll let you do that, but let’s talk about some more personal stuff. I do want to talk about you as a person. I feel like a lot of times when I’m listening to incredible people speak, I want to know them as people. I’ll let you do that however you want. I will say though I did notice that you were reading recently, Sheila Hetty’s book Motherhood, which I’m interested in reading as well, but I know it talks about some tough things around what motherhood is. I recently became a mother. Motherhood is top of mind for almost everybody in my sphere. I think also it’s while we’re talking about girl bosses, while we’re talking about female entrepreneurs, this idea of being a woman who can also be a mother. 

I’ll tell you personally, you see the challenge for me, when I was pregnant with my twins, I saw the challenge as exciting. I was going to still stay the badass girl boss that I was, and I was going to raise these twins and I wasn’t going to slow down. I was going to prove that… I know lean-in has kind of become a dirty phrase at this point, but I was going to find a way to make it all work. I just didn’t want to believe that I would have to compromise.

Then the kids came and you realize that you still want all those things, but it becomes really, really complicated because there’s a lot of emotional stuff behind the scenes that happens in terms of, you have to figure out what a mother you want to be. You meet your children for the first time. They’re their own people. You don’t know who they’re going to be before they come. You realize that your relationship grows in interesting ways and exciting ways, but in also ways that you want to protect over time. And you’re constantly moving between, who am I as a woman and who am I as a mother? I’ve always felt it was important… I mean it sounds cliche. Yes. Everybody should be able to define motherhood the way that they want, but I feel like nobody tells the stories that are really important. One, motherhood, I don’t-

35:17

Ana Andjelic:
It’s a conspiracy. I think that’s a conspiracy of those who have kids to lure us who didn’t.

35:22

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah, I don’t think it’s for everybody. Even if you’re a mother, that’s not… What I’m getting at is, even if you’re a mother, that’s not your whole being. I knew for me being only a mother wasn’t going to be fully satisfying and that’s a hard realization to come to because people will judge you for it. It’s hard to be a mother plus XYZ. That’s difficult. Anyways. 

35:48

Ana Andjelic:
So, I think what you just said is impressive and very eloquent and truly honest and amazing. I think it warrants a podcast of its own so think about it because I think that in a great number of cases, there is that lack of honesty. It’s not on purpose. It’s not intentional. It’s just that we are still conditioned to want certain things or feel like we are meant to feel or to follow a path that’s accepted and not… I mean it’s hard to self-explore and to question, and I’m on the other side of the same point that you were describing in terms of identity. Because for me, it’s like, am I missing out on certain parts of my identity if I’m don’t ever decide to be a mother? Am I closing the door? Am I not opening the door that is maybe great, that I never knew that I had in me? 

Am I a poorer person for not having kids? Or at the same time is, but do I feel that I need to have kids because everyone else is having them and that’s an expectation? I never paid much attention to what people think. I’ve been blessed with just not caring, but this is one of the things that is like on my individual identity level I am asking myself.

Then on also how we internalize society. I’m saying, “Well, am I being… ” Like the usual label is, if I don’t have kids, I’m going to be labeled as selfish. That is still very prevalent in this day and age, which is, we may be like surprised by it, but that’s am I going to be judged because I didn’t have kids? So that’s sort of like having a kid is almost like this ticket into belonging. Like doing things-

37:31

Jasmine Bina:
Oh yeah. Let me tell you. Yes. I felt like after I had the kids, there was this whole shadow world that I didn’t even see right in front of me. Suddenly, I was making new friends, meeting new people, being entered into new spaces that I just wasn’t allowed into before, because I wasn’t a parent. When you say that you were born without this gene or whatever that you don’t care about what other people think, that’s a gigantic fucking blessing. Because I felt when I was trying to make this decision for myself, I couldn’t even separate who I was from what the world told me I should be. I don’t think I even ever got there. I don’t think I ever got to a fully clearheaded space. All I know was that when I met the right person and I became more of a confident person myself, I stopped being afraid of it. That’s as far as I got.

Then other women, I think do really, really feel and I know these women who feel like it’s their calling and that’s a blessing too, but I don’t think it happens to most women, at least not in my experience. I think it takes a tremendous person to know… a tremendous woman let’s say, to really, really hear their authentic voice when it comes to motherhood because it’s tied to so many things. 

Like you talked about the selfish label. I felt an ugly label. I felt like if you don’t have children, it’s an indictment of your femininity, your value as like an actual female. Like you’re not a real woman if you don’t have children and-

39:04

Ana Andjelic:
Oh wow. I think… But you see, it’s also reflected through who we are, what we think, because I think that I am already a selfish person like just owning it. I think you see, for me, it was like, “Oh, they’re going to think like it’s ultimate selfish and that you care only about… You know, you don’t. And for you, however, that’s like retract that, how you feel about yourself, it was like, “Oh, I’m not fulfilling my potential,” or, “I’m not being fully a woman if I… ” You know? So maybe that’s your own sense of female identity, but you see how complex that is? 

And I think being able to honestly talk about it and not just be like, “Oh, I guess I have kids because if I wait, I won’t be able to have them,” that’s like the first I think decision-making process.

39:52

Jasmine Bina:
Yes, and that was the other big thing. I don’t want to mislead anyone but we heard plenty of stories of people who were afraid that they waited too long, but I was 37 when I had my children. It was only after I had them that I started to hear so many stories of women who waited quite long into their late 30s, early 40s, who were still able to have kids. I know that’s not necessarily the norm, but you’re always hearing… My husband calls it the survivorship bias. You’re always hearing the real extreme stories. You never hear the more moderate ones. 

I also feel like media is a little sexist because you always hear these negative stories in the media as well and it just feeds this constant fear machine that women have. Again, I really want to be respectful of people who have legitimate fears about things and I realized everybody’s experience is completely different. I get that, but I do not feel like enough experiences are being put out there for people to consume so that they can find themselves in other people’s experiences.

There’s one place though, and I just remembered it. So the New York Times’ conception series. Have you seen that? 

Ana Andjelic:
Mm-mm (negative). No.

40:55

Jasmine Bina:
It’s amazing. So it’s an animated series and it’s like two or three minutes shorts where women speak about their experiences with motherhood, non motherhood, abortion-

41:06

Ana Andjelic:
Well, I probably blocked it. No, I’m kidding. Mentally blocked it. Yeah, because for me it’s a conspiracy. Everyone who has kids conspire against those who don’t, you know what I mean? And they’re like, “Oh no, no, it’s amazing. It’s amazing. It’s just if you have kids, like unlock emotions.” And blah, then you do it, and you’re like, “Oh my God.” You know? I mean I don’t know, but like that’s why it was like so refreshing and how honest you were really and how complicated it is. 

41:35

Jasmine Bina:
It’s very, very complicated. Then of course, there’s the question of afterwards, like these two perfect little humans were born to me and you fall deeply in love, and then you’re suddenly have this new fear of how am I going to protect them in the world? All of a sudden, you’re trying to negotiate a career at the same time. Like all that is happening at the same time.

41:54

Ana Andjelic:
There is that also like indoctrination that is like, “Oh, you can do it all.” Well, maybe not, you know? And maybe not everything perfectly. I think that’s very detrimental that you think that you can do it all. And also why? Okay, fine. If you have financial reasons and so on, then you manage the situation, but just because you compare yourself to others and you think they do it all? Well, no one does it alone. 

Jasmine Bina:
Yes, oh that’s an excellent point. 

42:22

Ana Andjelic:
Yeah, and I think we need too more of that collective narrative of success. Who are those people who help you, who have your back, who prop you up? There is this credible narrative of success is individual achievement and that’s my problem with Cheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”. It’s individual. It’s not a collective version of success. 

42:43

Jasmine Bina:
That’s such a good point. I feel like when I tell people about my experience, I have to tell them there are so many people helping me. And I’m so, so fortunate that I have so many people supporting our little family. That idea of the lone genius or the lone hero, it’s a very American thing. I don’t know if you see that too much outside of the U.S. I might be wrong, but if you look at all of our literature, if you look at the people that we turn into heroes, the stories that we tell about them, it is always the individual, for sure. 

43:16

Ana Andjelic:
Well, that is the… the American individualism is a very real trait so absolute that part of it is like lone inventor, the discoverer who goes into… Like the lone rider definitely is a big but I think, especially in this modern femininity, I think for so long, women are predicated, there is one seat at the table, there is competition, and I think I loved it. I’m seeing now more and more talking about like women helping each other, propping each other up, having a network. So, it’s sort of recognizing that you can’t achieve anything alone. 

And I think that is like there needs more of that feminine aspect to say, “Hey, it takes a village or it’s my entire community it’s not… ” but I think there is still undue pressure of women to do all of that, be successful in their job and be great mother and hold the family. It’s still a remnant of the past I would say.

44:11

Jasmine Bina:
Now that I’m thinking about it, I have definitely felt shame that I have needed help, which is ridiculous to think about it like that.

Ana Andjelic:
Totally.

44:20

Jasmine Bina:
… because why the hell wouldn’t I need help? And why shouldn’t I be looking for it wherever I can get it but I’ve definitely felt that and it’s very detrimental. Absolutely.

44:30

Ana Andjelic:
Yes, because not all of us need to be super women. It’s not about being a super woman at all. It’s about being smart and knowing how to emphasize your strengths and how to live a full life without killing yourself.

44:41

Jasmine Bina:
Yes, and that’s only half joking, the killing yourself part because you can get there so fast-

44:50

Ana Andjelic:
It really is. You have to ask yourself for who, for what? Who are you trying to do impress? Because it’s not even yourself. Like we would be more gentle to ourselves and you should mother yourself as much as you mother your two boys.

45:04

Jasmine Bina:
That’s very, very true. I don’t want to tie this back too much to branding, but I did want to ask you about women’s brands. We talked about Rihanna and Kylie and Outer Voices and all these women founded companies. And now we’re talking about motherhood and really femalehood, what it means to be a woman. What do you think is going on with major women’s brands? Do you feel like we’re having a true Renaissance? Do you feel like there’s something big on the horizon? What’s happening in the gender world when it comes to branding? 

45:34

Ana Andjelic:
What I think is, now everyone is on like a lookout. It’s like a high alert situation. Then across industries, it’s more advertising. Output is very aware of portrayal of women. The truth will be told, there is still too many men selling products to women and that’s very true across agencies and companies. And there is not still enough diversity. There is still not enough multiple voices overall. So let’s say that’s overall state of affairs. But I think that there is that like high alert, high sensitivity about representation. 

46:13

Jasmine Bina:
Right. I totally agree. It’s funny. I was looking for examples of men’s brands that were founded by women, purely men’s brands founded by a woman. I even put a core question up. Nobody could think of anything. 

46:29

Ana Andjelic:
But Prada is one of them.

Jasmine Bina:
But Prada is men’s and women’s.

Ana Andjelic:
True. So you wanted just men? 

46:36

Jasmine Bina:
Like some… Yeah, because there are plenty of men who have created products just for women. There’s… I think they’re called something in Alps or they’re a self-care brand for men that got big in Target recently. They, I know, are one of the few modern brands where it was, I think it was two female co-founders that founded it and created something for men. But it’s just absolutely not the norm. It goes in one direction, but not the other.

47:01

Ana Andjelic:
But I think we are still very early in that entire evolution and I think like 20 years, like next generation consumers are going to look back or advertising people are going to look back and think how primitive we were-

Jasmine Bina:
That is great. That’s great. 

Ana Andjelic:
… and how unenlightened, because right now, we are still at the stage of celebrating women being entrepreneurs. There’s that. And then we are celebrating human making things for other women. Like you’re just that. Oh, women are starting companies in fashion or in beauty or in, I don’t know, wellness. All is very like soft. 

Then I think the next step is, okay, the same way when the female CEOs of companies are there, you’re going to be like, “Okay, it doesn’t really matter if you’re a man or a woman, you can just go and if you’re passionate about making a cleanser for men or men skincare, or even if you’re passionate about providing like a software technology go for it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman.” So I think right now, we’re still … because when you think about it, it’s like forever VCs wouldn’t get women funding. In the longest times, and then the VCs’ wives were like, “Oh yeah, you should fund because I would use that,” or blah. 

I mean, it’s not a blanket statement, but the point is, that first, it was very hard for women to get any funding, even the areas they were absolute experts on, maybe instinctively so. And let’s get first over that hurdle and then when a woman goes in and she’s an engineer and she wants to pitch a new, like a biosilk or there’s a spider silk, or a new biotechnology then that is going to be that. 

48:40

Jasmine Bina:
Yeah. So we’re in the early stages then?

48:42

Ana Andjelic:
Very, and it’s a systemic challenge, but again, it’s good that we have words, as you said, like girl boss, and it’s good that the representation is changing and that we’re seeing more diverse ethnicities in advertising, because that’s also a challenge.

48:57

Jasmine Bina:
Yes. That’s a big conversation. Maybe you and I can have it next time. Who is allowed to tell which stories? Are you allowed to tell a story that isn’t your own? And I think a lot of people bristle at that, but it’s because they haven’t really paused to think about the question. Maybe you and I can talk about that next time.

49:16

Ana Andjelic:
Maybe next time. That’s a real… Like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Because if you talk about your own culture and your culture happen to be male and white, then you are accused of not talking about other cultures. But when you talk about other cultures then you’re appropriating them and you’re disrespecting the depth of those cultures. So, yeah, again, let’s see how this plays out because we are seeing a great acceleration and I think there’s a great positive steps in direction of being more equal. Let’s first close the pay gap, please. 

Jasmine Bina:
I agree. Let’s tackle that one first. 

Ana Andjelic:
Yeah, yeah. 

49:59

Jasmine Bina:
Well, thank you. This was a fascinating conversation. I’m sorry that we have to wrap it up. Thank you for being so generous with your thinking and your insights and the self-reflection. It was really a delight talking to you. 

50:12

Ana Andjelic:
Likewise. Thank you for such amazing and thoughtful questions and a fantastic atmosphere that you created of honesty or of exchanging ideas. You know what? I’m going to do like few more female podcasts. This is so better than talking to men kind of like… I mean you are one of a kind like all of us are, of course unique, but I think that you’re really very special in both the way you think and what you achieved and how… You have your own company. You’re the CEO of your own company.

Jasmine Bina:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

50:55

Ana Andjelic:
And you have two kids and you were also very, kind of thoughtful writer because when you write, I read that stuff.

Jasmine Bina:
Good, I’m glad.

51:33

Ana Andjelic:
I mean we are bombarded with so many drifters and just like people. So it’s very hard to find someone who thought things through. That’s I think how we initially met, because I read something of yours and then I sent you a note. And honestly, I never do that. It’s just that the [inaudible 00:51:18] is very high. So I was impressed by how curious you are. You are wearing sort of many hats at the same time as well. So I don’t know how would I describe your ideas. How would you describe your… Give me like three words. How would you describe yourself? 

51:34

Jasmine Bina:
Ooh, okay. I would say definitely exploring. I feel like really, I always want to explore the frontier of whatever it is I’m studying. I try to be generous and I try to be reflective too. Those are the three words I would use. So not my titles, but the way I try to live my life, I guess. 

51:55

Ana Andjelic:
Well, it comes across very clearly. So you nailed that in terms of brand consistency. And I kind of mean for the greater things that you’re going to do.

Jasmine Bina:
Oh thank you.

Ana Andjelic:
And so thanks for allowing me to be part of your journey.

Jasmine Bina:
Oh, Ana, thank you so much. All right. Shall we talk again?

Ana Andjelic:
Absolutely. Thanks for having me. 

Jasmine Bina:
Of course.

Interesting Links & More Reading

Read all of Ana’s writing: http://www.andjelicaaa.com/

Read the article we discussed where Ana describes the value of hacking culture: https://medium.com/@andjelicaaa/hacking-culture-hacking-growth-a0cbf22917cf

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Jasmine Bina

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