1,000 COSIGN’s: Meet Brittany Applegate, Founder + CEO of Brand Chicago | COSIGN #102 of 1K
For those who may not know, who is Brittany Applegate? What’s your story?
Prior to developing the concept of Brand Chicago, I worked in the advertising industry. Throughout this time, I learned first-hand experience and skills from some of the best in the industry in regards to what it took to make a brand successful and profitable. In my first role as a multicultural advertising agency, my workflow was limited, so my good friend and co-worker at the time, Johnnie Lovett, took me under his wings and introduced me to brand strategy and research. I soaked up all his wisdom like a sponge. Actually, within any position or opportunity in which I was positioned to learn, I became a sponge.
Throughout my time in the industry, I was able to work on brands including Nike Chicago, MillerCoors, Corona Extra, Modelo Negra, and many others. From experiential marketing to shopper marketing – my experience was quite vast.
One day, I noticed that others were naturally referring their entrepreneurial friends and associates to me for marketing and branding advice. I found joy in helping small, minority business owners in the beginning stages of their businesses develop the foundation of their brand. I was taking my experience working with multi-million dollar brands, studying various brand strategy tactics, and applying my knowledge to these small businesses. From pinpointing their target market to defining their unique value proposition and brand identity – I began developing brand strategies after work and word-of-mouth spread from there.
As a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? If you’re not doing that, what do you think happened?
As a child, I wanted to become a Gynecologist/Obstetrician! I loved the idea of childbirth and used to watch a show called “Birthday” on the Discovery Health Channel everyday after school. What happened? I quickly realized science was not my ministry after a few Biology and Chemistry classes in High School. I switched dreams up real quick!
What lead you to create Brand Chicago?
In the summer of 2016, I hosted a virtual “brand camp”, in which over the course of 3 months, I bi-weekly shared lessons and insights geared towards helping budding entrepreneurs develop and launch their brands by the end of the summer. The social buzz around it was eye-opening and my network expanded! I taught a group of nearly 200 subscribers how to position themselves for success in business through branding – and by the end of the summer, people within and outside of the brand camp were asking for more.
The following summer, I gave them more. I wanted to meet these individuals in person. As a result, I planned and executed a sold-out conference in Chicago’s Bronzeville community and titled it, Brand Chicago. After seeing much success with the conference and positive feedback after the event, I decided to officially make Brand Chicago an organization which now serves as a hub for Chicago’s most ambitious multicultural entrepreneurs, creatives, and business professionals to commune, connect, and collaborate with a purpose of building the best version of themselves, and their businesses.
Today Brand Chicago is a community of Chicago’s most ambitious multicultural entrepreneurs, creatives, and young professionals. Through a series of small workshops, networking events, opportunities through exclusive partnerships, and most importantly access to each other, we commune, connect, and collaborate to become the best versions of ourselves and to build better businesses.
We specialize in providing access to information and partners geared towards serving our three targets. We listen to the tough questions around business and professional development, and we source and present the answers. I’m most proud of the Brand Chicago community because of its diverse-minority audience and the fact that it is filled with both men and women hungry for knowledge, access, and a community of like-minded individuals.
If an aspiring entrepreneur wanted to follow your footsteps, what was your blueprint to launching/creating Brand Chicago?
The blueprint when creating an organization or any business is to always attract people to you. If you want the opportunities that seem far out of reach – you have to build your own bridge. You have to become very self-aware of what you’re good at. Listen to what people say about you. Perception does matter because often times the way that someone sees you and what you have to offer can be the very mirror you need to see yourself for who you are, and what you’ve been created for. From there, it’s about labeling your gifts and remembering that your gifts are meant to give away. Find who needs to receive your gift, learn everything about them, and continue to serve them day after day.
If you want to get into brand strategy, you must fall in love with strategic insights and learning consumer buying behavior. Everything that flows from your strategy will come from insights about your target market. If you’re general with target market identification, you’re not serious. If you can get your start in a in a creative ad agency, or just drench yourself in the industry – you’ll work among experts who will truly teach you the game. I worked in advertising for 5 years, and when you work alongside strategist, art directors, copywriters, and brand managers, you truly learn how it all comes together. That experience is more pivotal than we often discuss.
Tell us about your personal brand and what differentiates you from your competitors?
As a brand strategist, I work with small business owners in the beginning stages of business development. I help them develop a marketing strategy which serves as blue print for branding success! What differentiates me from most competitors is that I focus solely on developing entrepreneurs. If I can work with them before they launch their businesses, that’s even better! What also makes me different is my experience before branching out on my own. I’ve worked in ad agencies like Ogilvy & Mather, Upshot, and Jack Morton on brands like MillerCoors, Corona Extra, and Chevrolet! I spent 5 years in this arena and the same strategies I apply to my clients are very similar to the ones applied in these larger agencies on these multi-million dollar brands. Lastly, I’m super cool and down-to-earth. I think my personality plays a role in making me attractive to and sought after by potential clients.
As much as we love success stories, can you tell us some of your pain points as an entrepreneur and how you overcame them?
My pain points developed around the forks in the road you experience as a first-time entrepreneur and truly learning what that word means. My first challenge was with the name. Brand Chicago was originally called “Brand Camp Chicago” and not even one week after launching the conference and opening registration, I received a cease and desist letter from the owner of the trademark.
Just because the domain was available, and I noticed everyone was hosting brand camps across the nation through my Google search, I thought it was okay to use. I never properly researched if it was legally protected. I had to quickly change the name, which involved me dropping the “camp” and simply naming it Brand Chicago. It worked out for the better looking back on it. I love the name “Brand Chicago”.
It’s been through my own mistakes, I’ve been able to develop programming geared towards equipping budding entrepreneurs with the knowledge to avoid those type of errors. For example, after that happened, Brand Chicago hosted an “Entrepreneurship Law and Your Business” Masterclass last Fall with two intellectual property lawyers (Patrice Perkins and Jamal Jackson), who are also entrepreneurs. I now look forward to making the mistakes, because they serve as the catalyst for new workshops and resources.
We believe the Power of a #COSIGN is real. Can you tell us how a #COSIGN has impacted your business? Whether it’s been through word of mouth? An influencer #COSIGn or celebrity #COSIGN?
Word of mouth is everything! Before I ever had a website or called myself an entrepreneur, I had some amazing people in Chicago talking about me and recommending me for contract work. It was the power of the #COSIGN that gave me the confidence to launch my business.
COSIGN Media specializes in increasing a company’s digital presence, can you tell us a few things you did early in your business to market your brand?
Social media was key. There really wasn’t an intricate strategy, it was just talking about myself and my capabilities on Facebook, and visually showing what I was working on via IG. My personal brand is strong so whenever I hop on social media to drop a few gems or make an announcement, people listen up. They share what I share, and then more people become aware of who Brittany Applegate is, and what Brand Chicago is all about.
If a stranger asked a co-worker or friend about you, what do you think they would say?
“BA is a BOSS!” lol, I hear that all the time.
Where do you see your company a year from now?
I see Brand Chicago developing more programming with partners who are invested in the future of developing Black and Brown entrepreneurs and young professionals. I see our community growing, and the impact expanding all across the Chicagoland area. I see us really becoming involved in the West Side of Chicago and exploring ways in which we can add value to those communities. We don’t want to grow too fast, but we want to continue pumping out quality programming and providing our community with access to the people and information needed to achieve their goals.
Last but not least, who do you #COSIGN and why?
Britney Robbins, Founder & CEO of The Gray Matter Experience. @bask_n_robbins | Her organizations makes entrepreneurs of Chicago’s inner city HS students @graymatterexp
Eric Seals, CEO & Founder of Digife. A Black Owned Video Production Company in Chicago @e_seals, @digife
Francesa Fontenot, One of the most popular and best DJ’s in Chicago @thefranchiise
DeAndre Tillman – Alderman of Calumet City (Chicago Suburb), @tillman_esq
Candace Armour – Strategist and Founder of Epic Fab Girl, @candacejunee
Adrienne Anderson (@adrienneaa)- District Attorney in Portland Oregon, Founder of Women of Color Outdoors @woc_outdoors
Patrice Perkins, Principal Attorney of Creative Genius Law, @creative_esq, @creativegeniuslaw
Seobia Rivers, Health and Fitness Creative, @itsseobia
Alice Foy, Event Producer of Jane Ella Productions, @meetalicefoy, @janeellaco
Karen Spears, graphic designer @kareracter. @karespears