The Marathon Clothing store (TMC) is the brainchild of Ermias Joseph Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hu$$le, the 33-year-old Grammy-nominated rapper, entrepreneur and community activist, who was murdered outside of his Los Angeles store in March 2019. There have been many articles detailing his life, music, speculations about the why of his death, and his charitable efforts. This work focuses on the branding and marketing of TMC.
In the beginning, Nipsey sold custom-designed t-shirts and mixtapes from the trunk of his car. He created the Proud 2 Pay marketing campaign, making 1,000 copies of his 2013 Crenshaw mixtape at $100 per copy. In less than a day, he profited $100,000. With his 2015 Mailbox Money mixtape, he sold 100 copies for $1000 a piece, repeating the success of the first campaign. How did he do it? Nipsey knew the dedication and commitment of his most loyal fans. He was able to capitalize on this knowledge by offering limited, non-retail distributed copies of the physical records at a premium. This particular segment of his fan base did not disappoint; even Jay-Z bought 100 copies! The following day after each campaign, the mixtapes were available for free download. The fans became part of the movement and they related Nipsey’s story and music to the masses. This is revolutionary, genius-level music marketing and promotions. Who needs a flack and record label?
In 2017, Nipsey launched TMC, the world’s first retail smartstore with an app featuring apparel ranging from t-shirts, jerseys and fitted caps to swimwear, sneakers, and children’s clothing, and also music and accessories. He solidified the business around the company’s vision, and exploited communication opportunities to engage consumers and create loyalty to his brand.
Nipsey hired Idris Sandu as the chief technology officer to create the TMC app, which is an innovative piece of technology.The app links customers directly to the TMC smartstore, a physical retail establishment primarily known for hypertargeting and Beacon technology, RFID embedded products and Wifi. When the app is launched in the smartstore, customers can hold their smartphones near any merchandise purchased on the app and have access to exclusive content streaming directly from the merchandise.
Nipsey was interested in delivering “content to a physical space as opposed to a digital space.” His goal, which he realized, was to mobilize all value to the TMC location with total control over his content and provide customers a unique and organic experience. The self-made millionaire created the content (music), built products around the content (apparel and merchandise), and then secured a physical space to house, curate, and distribute the content (TMC).
He and partner Dave Gross saw the need for Vector90, a 4,700 square foot, two-story communal workspace for underrepresented entrepreneurs to have a place to create and collaborate free from distraction. Styled as a co-working incubator and cultural hub, the space features hot desks, a kitchen, private conference rooms, and indoor and outdoor lounge areas. Vector90 is also a space to educate and train young people in STEM, with the goal of bridging the gap between South Central LA and Silicon Valley. “There’s minimal representation there, and I’m concerned about the low numbers of Black people at major tech companies,” said Nipsey.
Nipsey called it vertical integration. Business gurus say it’s omni-channel retailing, and still others view it as digital convergence. Either way, it seems Nipsey managed to navigate the delicate balance between content and commerce using elements of all three strategies. He saw service provision as a critical element in his business: “These days, people pay for service. I’m providing services to curate everything, and we will own and control the curated experience.”
Nipsey mastered the fundamentals of marketing and branding from personal experience. He delivered quality content stemming from his roots in South Central LA. He engaged others by sharing his vision and bringing like-minded others on board. He brought an undeniable work ethic from his days of selling merchandise out of his car to the purchase of the entire strip mall on Slauson and Crenshaw, where he was once a tenant. And there are lessons to be learned tying Nipsey’s marketing and branding savvy into this equation:
• Know your business
• Know your value
• Build, nurture, and maintain healthy and productive relationships
• Understand and connect with the audience• Promote yourself/your brand all day and every day
In the end, Nipsey sought to create jobs, educational opportunities, and ultimately a model for building generational wealth in the Black community. And if one considers his clever marketing and branding strategies, it now seems obvious that he planned for his businesses to be everywhere at once with a link back to his music.