Putting Brands on T-Shirts is Innovative? Yes, and It’s Showing ROI, Too!

In this Brand Innovator Spotlight, Amish Tolia and Jared Golden share how a business they started in college has consumers, brands and investors all knocking on their doors.

Amish Tolia and Jared Golden are Co-CEOs of Apparel Media Group, the first ever apparel advertising network which allows consumers to choose which brands they want to endorse. After launching their first business as college roommates, both Amish and Jared did a stint on Wall Street only to return to their entrepreneurial roots and perfect what they had started almost five years earlier.

Brandon Gutman: Can you please summarize your business model?

Amish Tolia: Apparel Media Group’s Interactive Apparel Advertising network utilizes a nationwide custom apparel distribution system to create high engagement campaigns for brands seeking to reach difficult to reach demographics. Consumers purchasing custom apparel for sports leagues, community and college organizations, fundraisers and other special events receive a price discount in exchange for prominently displaying Apparel Media Group’s brand partners on their shirts. Our platform provides a means for brands to make a meaningful impact on their target consumers while driving traffic to broader branding initiatives such as social media and viral campaigns.

How did you come up with the business?

Jared Golden: Apparel sponsorships have been around for decades. Sportswear companies and designers have long understood the value of celebrity brand advocacy. But the idea of leveraging group custom apparel as a platform for delivering grass-roots engagement with everyday consumers actually came from our customers, and was shepherded by a college professor Amish and I met as undergraduates.

Why does the industry need this medium?

Amish Tolia: Media consumption habits are changing faster than ever, and some of the strongest trends are seen in unexpected demographics. For marketers, this presents a myriad of challenges, not the least of which is keeping brands relevant. How can a soft drink stay relevant in today’s high tech marketplace? How can a laundry detergent stand out from the pack? The proliferation of technology is making these age-old questions harder to answer. Our platform enables brands to make a difference in consumers’ lives; to show they really mean it by helping the causes they care about most. When brand messaging is timely, relevant and most importantly authentic, consumers respond.

You have some great brands jumping on board. How are you helping Hertz for example?

Jared Golden: Connect by Hertz is a perfect example of a brand that seeks to stay on the cutting edge of marketing by understanding the habits of young consumers. While having a car on campus used to be a status symbol, that has changed as more colleges and universities discourage personal cars and encourage car sharing. With a presence on 35 campuses and rapidly growing, Connect by Hertz has first hand insight into the attitudes and behaviors of the latest generation of drivers. Apparel Media Group is helping Hertz to use those insights to position the Connect brand as one that wants to make a positive difference in consumers’ lives. We’re further activating the Connect partnerships with their college partners as well as developing campaigns with summer sports leagues and other community groups. Ultimately, this national effort via grass roots style programming will result in the Connect by Hertz brand reaching wider audiences but in an embraced and intimate manner.

How are you proving ROI?

Amish Tolia: We track and report ROI for apparel advertising campaigns with a proprietary system called Apparel Analytics. It’s a system managed completely in-house that makes t-shirts as traceable as an Internet banner advertisement. Each time a consumer engages with the interactive features (SMS/mobile callouts, microsite visits, QR code scans, et cetera), we collect lots and lots of data. This captures audience engagement and allows for our brand partners to engage with consumers over the lifespan of the apparel.

Jared Golden: Lastly, to gauge the impact of the campaign in the local community, we interface with the consumers who received the direct benefit of our brand partners’ campaigns. This opportunity for custom-tailored surveying and database building provides the hard data necessary to harvest fact-based consumer insights.

Brand protection is a key concern for marketers. How are you insuring brand integrity?

Amish Tolia: We’ve developed a redundant brand protection system that ensures our brand partners’ campaign requirements are met and all parties at the table (brand, agency and licensing concerns) have approved each custom apparel design before any shirts reach the backs of consumers. We call it BrandGuard.

What is the next step for your business? How will you be investing your next round of financing?

Jared Golden: Our top priorities will always be development of strong relationships with key brand partners and continuous improvement of our proprietary network management technology. We keep a policy of open and honest talks with existing and potential investors, so when the time is right, we’ll be positioned to invest most heavily in those crucial areas.

What is your secret to remaining innovative?

Amish Tolia: The most important factor is open dialog. Innovation is a team effort and customers are the most valuable members of that team. The best innovators are adept listeners and are not afraid to experiment in fun ways with outside of the box ideas that are often overlooked.

Jared Golden: I look for opportunities at the intersection of unmet market needs and relatively cheap, readily available resources. The insights necessary to identify those opportunities are distilled from the digestion of lessons learned through trial and error. Since those insights can only be captured by a clear mind and with a fresh perspective, I strive to maintain a healthy balance between professional and personal pursuits.

Brandon Gutman is a founder of FOCi Group, a Digital Management Consultancy building and optimizing digital practices for the Fortune 500 community. Brandon and FOCi Group are helping brand innovators utilize emerging technology and new media in order to achieve ultimate performance. Follow Brandon on Twitter at http://twitter.com/brandongutman.

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