Robin Albin believes that successful brands can be distilled to one word. For her, that word is “insurgent,” a choice that captures Robin’s rebellious nature and her view of herself as an outsider.

Robin’s never been good at following rules or taking the most straightforward path to anything. Take the SATs. Though she graduated top of her class at a prestigious Long Island, New York, high school, Robin took the SATs seven times before she could break 1,000 because she can’t answer questions sequentially. This meant that at the end of every test, there were many gaps on the answer sheet, which affected her score. 

As a young person, Robin saw these qualities as a detriment. However, today, as founder, brand strategist and sherpa at Insurgents (see what she did there?), she’s found being an outsider is actually her competitive advantage. 

“It’s an inspired form of leadership,” she explains. “It’s been my secret sauce and a key ingredient in my personal happiness, creativity and success.” 

How the One-Word Approach Works IRL 

Robin points out that when you think of the world’s strongest brands, their one word will probably instantly come to your mind. For example, when you think of Google, you probably also think “search.” When you think of Coca-Cola, you might think “happiness.” 

Robin has put this philosophy into practice for years with outstanding results. Let’s walk through a real-world example of what this looks like.

  • Project: Origins Brand for Estée Lauder
  • Word: Respect
  • Context: When Robin worked on this project, her team recognized that the beauty industry often belittles consumers. They wanted to change that, so they chose the word “respect.” 

Here’s how “respect” showed up throughout the campaign:

  • Choosing natural ingredients → Respect for consumers’ skin
  • Empowering customers to make their own choices → Respect for intelligence
  • Pricing model → Respect for consumers’ budget
  • First-of-its-kind recycling model → Respect for the environment 

You can see that while the word “respect” never showed up in the campaign copy, it was brought to life in every aspect of the brand, from the ingredients chosen to the service model — and it paid off!

Robin recommends that you find your brand word early on and commit to it. “Keep your word and you’ll create a strong, lasting bond with your audience,” she promises. “But break your word, or fail to deliver on it, and your brand is screwed. You have my word on that.”

Messed-Up or Miracle in Disguise?

Robin’s had an incredibly varied and interesting career. In addition to working for some of the most prestigious brands in the world and starting her own company multiple times over, she co-created Everlusting, a brand aiming to intensify the five senses for the 55+ demographic.  

How does she find the tenacity to work on such different projects and tolerate the uncertainty involved with new ventures? Put simply, Robin isn’t afraid of a challenge. 

“My greatest accomplishments, insights and creative efforts have come as a direct result of a disruption to the status quo, of being pushed to think out of the box, quite simply, because the box suddenly disappeared into thin air,” she says.

“As a consequence, my entire career has been a series of detours and unpredictable disruptions followed by moments of incredible serendipity: being in the right place at the right time and open to opportunities that to some seem risky,” Robin adds. “I’ve become a master of the jig and jag. I believe the messed-up things that happen in life — the shit you think is going to sink you forever — actually present moments of incredible transformation.”

Passing on the Band-Aids to Tomorrow’s Leaders 

Robin’s dedicated to helping others grow through her volunteer and mentor work, serving in capacities such as business mentor for Columbia University’s Almaworks Accelerator and New York University’s Female Founders Fellowship. 

She recalls the three mentors who shaped her life and career along the way. The first, Joyce, taught her everything about the beauty business and helped her deal with the emotional and mental turmoil Robin’s imposter syndrome caused, pushing her into therapy. 

Her second mentor, Mary Ellen, set an example with her confidence and self-awareness, telling Robin, “I will never be a chief creative officer. I won’t play the politics. But I can get up every morning and look in the mirror and like who I see.”

And her third mentor was Lois, a famous copywriter with a long list of accolades who told Robin, “I will teach you everything I know, but I expect blood in return.” Lois walked Robin through the art of ideation, advertising and strategy — showing her how to carefully craft every single word until the ideas behind them sizzled.

“I recently read this question: How can someone teach others to ride a bike who hasn’t really skinned their own knees?” Robin explains. “I am forever indebted to these three incredible women — mentors and role models who endured their fair share of skinned knees from misogynist bosses and stereotypes about what women could do.

“They paid those lessons forward to me, along with a great big box of Band-Aids. Today, I pay it forward in their honor.”