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What Can Design Learn From Kim & Kanye?

You might think “not much”, but there are many industry lessons to be learned from the world’s most famous couple.

  • Official ‘Kimojis’ designed by social experience company, IMVU, commissioned by Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

  • Official ‘Kimojis’ designed by social experience company, IMVU, commissioned by Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

  • Official ‘Kimojis’ designed by social experience company, IMVU, commissioned by Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

  • Official ‘Kimojis’ designed by social experience company, IMVU, commissioned by Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

  • Kim Kardashian and Kanye West on the red carpet of the 2016 MET Gala: Manus x Machina Ball, Photo: Kevin Mazur.

Ok, I get it, but hear me out. I totally understand that from the outset, holding up Kim Kardashian and Kanye West as aspirational architecture and design industry figures is batsh*t insane. But stay with me here – I promise I’m not crazy.

Kim and Kanye – or ‘Kimye’ if you’re into the whole celeb portmanteau thing – should be used an industry resource for one purpose: brand and marketing genius. Say what you will about this controversial couple, they know how to make a brand out of practically nothing and with almost no marketing budget.

Let’s look at Kim in particular here. Ok, so she’s the daughter of someone vaguely famous, but Mrs. Kardashian-West has managed to forge her personal brand with nothing more than a bit of ambition and a pink bedazzled Blackberry.

Before she became one of the most famous women on the planet with her hit reality show Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Kim Kardashian ran a humble closet organisation business. Young Kim would clean out the closets of Hollywood celebrities and sell all of the unwanted clothes on eBay for her clients. Before she was a big-shot in her own right, celebrities including: Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Brandy, Rob Lowe, Serena Williams, Cindy Crawford, Kenny G and Sugar Ray Leonard numbered among her employers.

Some major industry networking coups and one sex tape later, Kim is worth over US$85million and has become a global household name by making her personal brand (herself) a consumable digital commodity. But how did she do it, and what can we learn from her success? One: Kim knows her audience. Her target audience is those people on your Facebook feed who would describe themselves as a “meme junkie”.

These are reality TV binge-watching folk who are regular subscribers to People Magazine. Kim delivers to her target audience. She gives them what they want to see: sex, money, fame and all in the form of carefully constructed Tweets; Instagrams and Snapchats.

Everything from her holiday in Bali; after-parties; red carpets; photos of her daughter’s Kid-chella party; behind-the-scene snaps of photoshoots and selifes in her bathing suits, is all custom-made content, designed to share, consume and engage with.


Not only does Kim know how to create content for her audience, she knows how to get a return on her investment. The most obvious example is turning her most embarrassing and public moments into merchandise.


The “Kim crying” meme was cleverly worked into a series of items for purchase – emojis, clothing, press-on nails, birthday cards, coffee mugs – all developed to drive revenue for her brand. The less obvious revenue stream is the monetisation of her very own fans and followers on social media, where her Instagram numbers can mean millions in lucrative endorsement deals and promotional partnerships.Second: Kim is relentlessly consistent in her approach to marketing. From her magazine photoshoots, her Tweets and Instagram selfies, through to her many global appearances, Kim delivers ongoing and relevant content for her fans – Every. Damn. Day.

Kim’s content is meticulously crafted (yes – it is actually a well thought-out strategy) to satisfy her audience’s ongoing demand to access her brand through original material – direct from the horses mouth. She ferociously updates her social channels – almost 24 hours a day in fact – and keeps her content forms varied by understanding the types of content that give her a point of difference. The infamous PAPER Magazine cover shot for example – Break The Internet – set her cover shot apart from all the other standard celeb cover shots. Kim Kardashian’s cover photo, together with the other photos in the spread inside the issue used a sheer genius combination of shock value, marketing savvy and of course, her famous derrière.

Finally: Kim and Kanye stay front-and-centre in the limelight. They never shy away from exposure and, in fact, they make sure that they are photographed on a daily basis in order to stay current and relevant. Unlike other celebrities, they never complain about being in the public eye. And why would they? Having their lives out in the open – the good, the bad and (especially) the ugly – is their bread and butter.

Remarkably, they know their imperfections and they make money out of them too. They don’t seem to view putting on weight as a massive blow to their self-image because they know that they can make hundreds of thousands of dollars while losing the pounds through diet pill and workout gear endorsements. Kim has uploaded countless selfies with her waist-trainers, diet pills and detox teas. It has actually been reported that for each Tweet and Instagram post in which they endorse a brand, they can earn as much as US$200,000. Just for one lousey social post!


So, what lessons are there to be learned here? Sure, the architecture and design community need to play it slightly more conservative and professional than the Kardashian-Wests. But there are three main pearls of wisdom to take away from the Kimye marketing machine.


A) know your audience and how to leverage it. Is your target audience not super design-savvy? Create bespoke content around educating them on your work and the ideas and principles that drive it.

B) be consistent in your approach to market and know your point of difference. If you’re brand is silent, then how can you expect your audience to hear you? Is your key demographic millennials or boomers? This will make the difference between posting custom video content or creating academic white papers.

And finally, C) be present and active in the industry and encourage the exposure of your brand. Get out from behind the desk and network, baby! The Asia Pacific in particular, is a culture driven by doing business with people you know – or at least know-of. Attend every industry function, event, cocktail party and seminar series you can. Introduce yourself and repeat, repeat, repeat!

And who knows? You might be selling your own Instagram posts for a cool million one day!

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