What We Can Learn From Lupita Nyong’o’s Rising Brand

Overnight, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o has become the breakout star of 2014 awards show season. Snagging SAG and Critics Choice Awards for her film debut in 12 Years a Slave, the rising thespian has also earned fawning coverage for her razor sharp red carpet style as well as her heartfelt acceptance speeches. Add her natural, berry-black beauty and multilingual dexterity, and the Kenyan Yale grad has all it takes to be an inspiring new face—and force—for young women the world over.

We asked branding expert Julian Kiganda how she would leverage Nyong’o’s status for enduring maximum impact if the actress were her client. What she told us works for any brand on the rise, and we took notes for you.

–  Think Bigger Than Your Service or Product.

“She’s doing an incredible job branding herself as an extremely talented, but grounded, fashion-forward actress,” Kiganda says of Nyong’o. She adds, the emerging starlet should also be thinking beyond acting and fashion. “What kind of company would she want to create that would hold all of the things (products/services/philanthropic efforts) that she’s passionate about outside of acting? How can she develop multiple streams of income so she’s not always waiting on the next major role to pay the bills?”

 Don’t Believe the Hype.

If you’re an entrepreneur or aspiring to set out on your own, you’ve likely heard a lot about “building buzz,” but in the “’Hot’ today. ‘Who?’ tomorrow” world we live in, Kiganda says it’s more important to know what to do with buzz. “Regardless of how good you are,” she points out, “there comes a time when the next big thing replaces you.” Her solution? “You want to strike while the iron is hot and build your brand while the doors are readily open and folks [are] anxious to usher you in.” She cites Magic Johnson as a good model to emulate. “[He’s] done an incredible job parlaying his celebrity into a sustainable brand on which to build a successful business.”

Embrace the Big Issues.

Leverage your business to raise awareness of challenges and issues impacting your community. Speaking specifically of Nyong’o, Kiganda says, “Lupita has a major opportunity to use her celebrity to make an impact on the issues in Kenya (or elsewhere on the continent) that matter most to her, whether that be education, women’s rights, economic empowerment, etc.” Kiganda gives an example of one way she could authentically extend her brand. “Because she loves bold, bright colors and patterns, I would encourage her to promote African designers who don’t get the same play that the Pradas and Ralph Laurens do, but have some really incredible collections.”

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of the novel Powder Necklace and founder of the blog People Who Write. Follow her on Twitter @nanaekua.

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