How The Kardashians Built A $65 Million Brand


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This article originally appeared at American Express OpenForumThere’s a lot we can learn from the Kardashian family about running a business. Scoff and roll your eyes if you will, but the litany of licensing partnerships netted Kardashian Inc. a staggering $65 million in 2010. That’s more than Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie and Sandra Bullock combined.

In case you’ve managed to avoid knowing who the Kardashians are, they’re currently the most successful family of socialites-turned-reality TV stars in America. Viewed on the E! Network, they’re in the sixth season of their wildly-popular show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” and they currently have three spin-off shows with a fourth in the works. But their revenue streams exceed television. Led by matriarch Kris Jenner—a savvy businesswoman who has monetized everything from her daughter Kim’s famed sex tape, to diet pills, fragrances and clothing lines—the “famous for being famous” family has figured out how to live the American Dream while thoroughly and shamelessly enjoying the work.

Most of us won’t get paid $100,000 to $250,000 to attend a nightclub, store opening or product launch. We’ll never get a $25,000 check just to send a 140-character tweet mentioning a product. But we can glean something from this family hustle. Here are a few Kardashian philosophies to ponder for your small business.

1. Be relatable

Part of the Kardashian appeal is that as rich and famous as they are, the public relates and identifies with their personalities and issues. Consumers connect with transparent companies. They find it easier to trust them. They are approachable to fans, and nice and polite to boot.

“The Kardashians live an aspirational lifestyle,” says David Caplan, an editorial consultant for celebrity websites who has worked for People and Star magazine, TMZ and VH1. “Consumers want to live their lifestyle and people think, ‘I can be a Karadashian too.’ They are lucrative in that there are three core sisters, but now there are two younger sisters being targeted. With so many of them, there is a Kardashian out there for everyone.”

2. Extend your brand—as far as you can (and then even farther)

The Kardashians know their market and demographic, and it extends well beyond their initial small business retail foray as owners of the DASH clothing chain. They are full service and multi-platform. Lifestyle clothing lines, fragrances, diet supplements, and most recently a “celebrity destination” store at the Mirage in Las Vegas.

“What these women are showing us is that once you ascertain who and what your market and demographic is, you can look at ways to present the demographic all aspects of the lifestyle and product to use,” says Caplan. “They are showing they can brand anything, and lending their name or likeness to any product became a sure fire hit for marketers seeking to tap into the lucrative teen and 20s market.”

The fear of overexposure and overkill may seem negligible, but there is a too far. The Kardashians got involved in a shady deal with a pre-paid credit card they were shilling for that ended up ripping off consumers. They dropped the company immediately and have apologized.

“Kim has shown up to cut a ribbon on a public toilet!” says Bonnie Fuller, president and editor-in-chief of “They’ve really shown though that you can extend far and associate yourself with all types of companies without killing your brand. The Kardashian philosophy is let’s take advantage of everything we can while the iron is hot.’ They’re less concerned with a 20-year brand and more about the moment.”

3. Connect with the consumer through social media

 The Kardashians are proof of the powerful reach Facebook and Twitter can have in growing a fan base, that in turn grows their brand—and every brand attached to them. With six children of varying ages, their significant others, plus parents all in on the business, the reach is varied and tremendous. Collectively, the core Kardashians have roughly 13 million Twitter followers.

Through social media they’ve added the extra dimension void of privacy, and what they found is that the public (that likes them) finds it refreshing.

“You’ll never see Jennifer Aniston share like Kim or Khloe do,” says Fuller. “[But you also] see how much they work at it and how they never complain about their privacy or how hard it is to be celebrity. They seem to be really enjoying their fame, their work.”

The Kardashians are a transparent business and don’t pretend to be anything other than themselves working to make as much money as they can. After the pre-paid credit card gaffe, they admitted their error and moved on.

4. Collaborate with winners

Besides romantically pairing off with highly-paid athletes, the Kardashians seek out successful brands to attach their names to and connect with. They’ve partnered with Sears, Skechers and the popular Las Vegas nightclub Tao. Pairing up and partnering with other successful businesses brings a much wider reach to the Kardashians, and now because of their popularity, that success extends to those partnered companies as well.

5. Make the most out of the good and bad

The team that makes up Kardashian Inc. is by no means free of scandal. With Kris Jenner, virtually CEO, they make the most of all situations. The Kardashian family, thanks to some aggressive brokering, earned millions from Kim’s released sex tape. When Khloe or Kim put on weight, they make millions losing it and sharing their secrets and hawking a diet supplement. And now, Jenner—who wants to look her best at daughter Kim’s upcoming wedding—is sharing the bloody details of getting a facelift. Not to mention that when it comes to weddings and the celebrations around them, the Kardashians know how to document their partnerships in restaurants, nightclubs, registries, invitations and even the engagement ring.

“The Kardashians get the big picture,” says Caplan. They’ve branded the entire family and make use of each one as their own economy and as joint brands—mother and daughter, daughters—they cover a large demographic of people who aspire to their kind of imperfection and will buy anything related to it.”