Creating Brand Recognition: The Marketing Behind AJ Fernandez Cigars

A.J. Fernandez has become a household name in the premium cigar world. Now Starky Arias, his company’s marketing director, is working to make his brands as renowned as the cigarmaker.

As a graphic designer, Starky Arias has always been focused on appearance and visually communicating a brand’s message. He got his start in the tobacco industry working at Cigar Rings, a graphic design company based in the Dominican Republic that provides bands for a significant portion of the cigar industry. While Arias didn’t know much about cigars or the industry when he started, Cigar Rings offered him the chance to fine-tune his design skills and to also learn what it takes to get a product to market.

AJ Fernandez Cigars Ramon Allones, Starky AriasIn the summer of 2014, Arias moved to Miami, the center of the U.S. premium cigar industry, where he served as the stateside representative and designer for Cigar Rings. Arias worked with numerous brands in the industry, including A.J. Fernandez Cigar Co., and he soon became their go-to resource for brand designs, both within the company and for the many collaborations Fernandez worked on. It was Arias’ creativity and design skills that caught the eye of Fernandez and the company’s chief operating officer, Selim Hanono. In February 2018, Arias joined A.J. Fernandez Cigar Co. as the company’s new marketing director, a position that will not only utilize his skills as a designer but also as a visual communicator in order to connect with cigar enthusiasts around the world.

Because the A.J. Fernandez brand has already become a household name throughout the industry, Arias’ focus is clear: He wants each of its brands to become as recognizable as their creator. The company’s diverse portfolio of premium cigar products, along with Fernandez’s many collaborations, positions the company for growth opportunity in various retail channels, from premium tobacconists to e-commerce businesses and brick-and-mortar retailers. Arias shares his insight into how he will achieve this and how you, too, can build a buzz around your own company’s tobacco brands.

Tobacco Business: When you joined A.J. Fernandez Cigar Co. as marketing director, how did A.J. Fernandez himself describe what your job would entail and what your focus would be?
Starky Arias: When A.J. and Selim [Hanono] reached out to me for this position, I couldn’t have been more excited and honored, and I immediately accepted the challenge! A.J. is a great friend. Since I met him three years ago, he has given me the opportunity to grow with him. He’s trusted me with the new packaging design of all his brands and most of his latest collaborations. Thanks to this relationship, I have always known his aspirations for the company. When Selim joined the company, it was a priority to create a marketing department for brand development, trade promotions, sales improvements, strategies and digital marketing.

Frank Santos is a significant part of our management team, and he has over 20 years of experience in our industry, giving him immense knowledge of all aspects of this business. He is in charge of public relations, customer service and our overall sales and distribution strategies. The next step is to improve our website for better SEO results, data collection and increased customer knowledge.

What is one thing you’ve learned about business while working with A.J. Fernandez?
Although I’ve learned an incredible amount of things from A.J., the one that stands out is that sacrificing quality is never an option.

How exactly are you building brand loyalty and awareness?
Social media is essential for us. It is by far the easiest way for us to interact with our consumers. I personally interact with the audience in the comments and direct message responses. By doing this, I’m creating a direct line of communication with consumers all over the world. I strongly believe in quality over quantity. Most of our postings feature the experiences that our consumers share with us under #AJFCigars. We also share behind-the-scenes pictures of our brands, factories and farms.

AJ Fernandez Cigars, Starky Arias

What tools or resources are you using to help your marketing efforts?
Some of the tools I use are Hootsuite for social media management, the app SparkPost to create social media content on my phone and Mailchimp for email marketing. Nothing can replace interacting with customers and consumers. Since becoming part of the company, I’ve increased my knowledge of the market by attending events and visiting retailers nationwide. This experience has helped me understand our deficiencies and enabled me to come up with innovative solutions.

What’s the biggest marketing challenge you’re facing at A.J. Fernandez?
Increasing the brands’ recognition and customer engagement is my No. 1 priority. My focus is our brand names, such as New World, San Lotano, Enclave and Bellas Artes. We want them to become worldwide staples in humidors and become a household name for all cigar smokers.

With so many brands, how do you define the brand voice of each one so they are unique and have a personality of their own?
Before I joined the team, the company’s focus had been to build up the A.J. Fernandez name. Now our primary goal is to extend the legs of the brands by building unique campaigns and profiles for each one. We’re redefining our portfolio and teaching our sales force and customers about our history, passion, discipline and great tobacco. We’ve already achieved this with the early success of the Ramon Allones brand.

How are you helping to drive consumer traffic into retail stores and draw attention to the company’s various product offerings?
Our sales and marketing teams have collaborated to create tailor-made promotions for our retail partners. They also work hand-in-hand to create different strategies to achieve our company’s sales and marketing goals.

In your opinion, what’s it going to take to push A.J. Fernandez Cigar Co. to the next level?
A.J. Fernandez Cigar Co. is a fast-growing company. With our unique tobaccos and innovative blends, we are continually creating a buzz in the market. Our relentless pursuit of brand awareness, consumer interaction and a unique smoking experience will be the key to our future success and growth.

This story first appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.

– Story by Antoine Reid, an editor and digital content director for Tobacco Business Magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @editor.reid.