What does it take to build an iconic brand in 2024 and beyond? Takeaways from our event with Pearlfisher


In a world where change seems a constant, great brands can offer us comfort and inspiration, evoking feelings of trust and joy and enriching our lives in some way.

But how do you build an iconic brand that does just that, becoming an irreplaceable part of a consumer’s life? Active recently teamed up with global brand design agency Pearlfisher to host an event that delved into this question.

At the heart of the evening was a panel discussion bringing together perspectives from across the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Led by Pearlfisher’s Founder & Group Creative Director, Jonathan Ford, we were joined by Polly McMaster, Founder & CEO at The Fold London, Vivien Wong, Co-Founder of Little Moons, Tom Profumo, Partner at Active Partners and Yael Alaton, Partner of Vision and Strategy at Pearlfisher.

The wide-reaching and insightful conversation navigated through the challenges and triumphs of the current market landscape, exploring the delicate balance between maintaining a brand’s core essence and adapting to the ever-evolving demands of consumers. From the significance of brand purpose to the intricacies of scaling across borders, the panel revealed the complex process of nurturing a brand that wins in consumers’ minds for years to come.

Here are some of our key takeaways:

Stay true to your brand fundamentals:

The paramount importance of adhering to your brand’s fundamentals was emphasised by all our panellists as they shared insights into navigating today’s challenging market.

Vivien highlighted the tightrope walk between responding to trading conditions and staying true to your brand in today’s market. Polly echoed this sentiment, stressing the importance of making strategic decisions to adapt to evolving trading conditions while “sticking to your guns in the truest brand sense.”

For Tom, being as versatile and tenacious as possible while staying close to your customer is key to success in today’s market:

“Brands provide a safe haven for consumers. It’s times like this that they want to come back to brands that they resonate with and have an emotive connection to.”

Embrace the unexpected and the element of surprise:

The current business environment requires brands to strike a delicate balance between upholding their core identity and embracing innovation. Yael emphasized the need to merge challenger and iconic behaviours, advocating for stability while introducing elements of surprise and adventure.

This balance ensures brands remain relevant without losing their essence or succumbing to sameness. For Yael, “These two dynamics always need to coexist, otherwise, we get into sameness, or we get into chaos.”

Polly illustrated this with a fantastic example from The Fold’s recent partnership with Manchester City Women’s Football Club. Becoming the club’s official formalwear partner has resulted in some of the highest levels of engagement they’ve had to date, demonstrating how unconventional collaborations can yield remarkable results when aligned with a brand’s central identity:

“It took the thread of what we believe in as a brand and the real purpose of empowering women and combined it with something on the upswing – women’s football. It really caught people’s imagination.”

Iconic brands forge emotional connections and become irreplaceable in consumers lives:

Trying to define what it means to be ‘iconic’ is no small feat. With both Active Partners and Pearlfisher having spent over 20 years each partnering with brands aspiring to reach iconic status, Yael and Tom offered their perspectives on what it means in their eyes.

Tom identified emotional connection as a hallmark of iconic brands, rooted in authenticity and capable of having a timeless appeal through generations. “We look for high levels of customer engagement and excitement around a brand and natural levels of advocacy that are building cult-like followings early on.”

For Yael, the nature of iconic brands makes them indispensable elements of people’s lives:

“Whatever you create, eventually when it becomes iconic, you don’t want to remove it from people’s lives because otherwise, something huge will be missing.”

Establishing a strong purpose emerged as another critical element for reaching iconic status. It not only steers every business decision but helps build an emotional connection with an audience. Vivien and Polly shed light on their business purposes: The Fold mission centres on empowering women and dressing them for success, while Little Moons is dedicated to bringing joy and providing unparalleled flavour.

International expansion requires brand clarity, cultural understanding and flexibility:

For any growing brand and aspirational founder, expanding into new markets will be an appealing prospect. But what do you need to consider when brand-building in international markets?

According to Yael, the key to international success is understanding what the universal core of the brand is and what needs to adapt culturally.

“The most important thing is defining what is actually going to enable you to take the brand beyond where it is. Identifying what is really universal versus what needs to be adapted culturally is crucial. If you don’t have a universal core that defines the brand, and that establishes the equity, then it’s very difficult to scale, and know exactly where you’re going.”

By crafting a strategy that balances universality with cultural adaptation, brands can pave the way for successful expansion into new markets while staying true to their core identity.

Vivien shared insights from Little Moons global expansion strategy, emphasising the importance of selecting markets that shared cultural norms conducive to embracing new products. This guided their expansion plans, initially targeting regions like the Middle East, France and Germany where their unique mochi texture resonated among consumers, and a recent successful launch in Australia.

The Fold now have customers in 80 countries and the US makes up 50% of its sales. When they first entered the US market, the response was immediate, demonstrating that the need they had identified in the UK market was very similar. The focus now is to really delve into the US cultural references, specifically the female role models most relevant for their US customers to establish a deeper connection with the audience.

Brand plays a key role in investment decisions:

Closing the panel, the discussion turned to the role of brand in securing investment. As brand investors, Tom shed light on Active’s approach, emphasising the importance of a deep customer connection and intangible brand value:

“A deep connection with the customer is something we look for right from the beginning. How is the customer interacting with the brand, and how regularly are they interacting? Ultimately, we’re looking for brands that are going to build intangible value which can’t be easily replicated. So, there’s some sort of magic to what they’re doing which will be sustainable and last through generations.”

Polly and Vivien concluded by imparting their lessons for fellow founders when fundraising, stressing the importance of shared vision and thorough due diligence when selecting partners.

 “You want to have people around the table who have a shared vision and are prepared to go on a journey with you because you don’t know what different things are going to come around the corner,” shared Polly.

Thanks again to our panellists – and to our audience – for joining us and bringing such valuable insights.


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