Thursday, June 16, 2011

Branding Guidelines: Brick by Brick

Branding can be a dicey subject for small to mid-size companies.

For some, it feels like you roll those bones and take your chances.

Branding is more readily associated with the world of packaged goods or the Fortune 500. Branding books (including my own) use examples like Apple, Starbucks or Southwest Airlines; stories that don’t always resonate with small to medium sized enterprises, business-to-business companies, or industrial product firms. But, these types of companies share more in common than you think with some of the biggest brands in the world.

Take for example, Proctor & Gamble.

The world's largest advertiser.

In 2010, the estimated total spend from P&G was $8.6 billion. It works out to nearly 11% of net sales produced by 24 brands, including Tide detergent, Pampers diapers, and Gillette razors. When it comes to sheer numbers, Proctor & Gamble sets the gold standard when it comes to spending money on advertising.

Knowing those numbers will give you added perspective on a legendary story about a former P&G chairman. It seems this chairman was addressing a high-level advertising conference many years ago, discussing the billions spent annually on marketing, advertising, sponsorships, coupons and many other promotional programs.

The chairman announced to all the other suits in the room, “I’m positive we waste half the money we spend”.

The he paused and admitted with a sigh, “I just don’t know which half.”

Whether your company is a global behemoth like Proctor & Gamble investing $8.6 billion or a small enterprise forking over $8.6 thousand dollars, no one wants to waste half of their advertising budget. More often than not, this is precisely what happens when business owners and executives fail to grasp several guidelines that provide the foundation for successful brand building.

Three things to keep in mind:

#1. Your choice of Message will ALWAYS be more critical than your choice of Media.

Think less about who you are targeting and how often your message is getting out there. Success in this game is less about "frequency" and "reach" and much more about what you actually say in terms of a "message". What can you be best in the world/country/state/province/city at and can you back it up? In what ways are you remarkably different from your competitors and how is that difference relevant to your customer?

#2. Your Message must be DRIVEN by emotion; supported through logic.

Will the message be one that an audience actually cares about and see as relevant? Or will you spread marketing fluff that sounds like "fast, friendly, reliable service at low prices', "we have a full range of products to meet all your needs" and "come and meet our friendly and knowledgeable staff". These phrases lost all meaning and credibility more than a decade ago. No one gives a rats ass about your staff and how helpful they are. That's a given.

#3. The level of COURAGE it will take to develop an emotionally-driven message and share it with your customers and employees.

Do you have the courage to make that leap - even without having all the facts? The courage to face complaints about your ads or videos? The courage go out on a limb, take a calculated risk, listen to your gut and follow your heart?

Never forget, fortune favors the brave.

No matter the size of the firm or whether it falls into the B2B category, any company can apply these principles. Just the other day, I stumbled on to the story of Acme Brick, founded in 1891 and based in Fort Worth, Texas. Acme sells most of its products through the building trades and a good portion of their $1.5 million marketing budget goes into strongly branded tactics including partnerships with pro sports celebrities and teams, supporting charitable causes or PR events (like setting the Guinness World Record for building the world's largest brick as pictured above). In 1995, Acme Brick also introduced an unheard of 100-year producht guarantee (3 to 5 years was the industry standard) to further differentiate themselves from others.

These brand-building efforts have paid off.

A 1998 survey of homebuyers showed Acme had achieved 84 percent brand preference when no other supplier was above 10 percent in their regional market. In fact, Acme estimates their brand is worth an extra ten cents for every dollar's worth of Acme brick sold and $250 in incremental revenue per home. The company also believes about $20 million of Acme's annual $200 million brick sales represents R.O.I. on the yearly investment Acme makes in brand-building. In other words, a 13-fold return on an average annual budget of $1.5 million.

Acme Brick has proven a strong message (100-year guarantee, for example), harnessed with emotion (you'll see in a minute) and the courage to put it out there (watch the video) can pay off in spades.

If you can create a brand of distinction out of a brick, can you see how almost anything can be branded to create value? Acme's efforts may not be on the same level as P&G's "Old Spice Guy", but the same principles hold true when it comes to giving any product or service a little more sex appeal.

A brand of distinction is so reliable and rare that people spread stories about them.

A brand of distinction will never be viewed as just another brick in the B2B or small business wall.

Regardless of size or industry, brands of distinction enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage since word of mouth and referrals are still the most powerful form of advertising. But, the reverse is also true. If your company wears little more than a badge of ownership, your competitors have a major opportunity to beat you to the punch and start building their brand of distinction.

Brick by brick.

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently"


P.S.... Can't help but think of diehard Bruins fans like Mark Eagles, who must be flying like Bobby Orr today after Tim Thomas takes Boston to 7th heaven.

You can learn more about Gair's seminars and speaking programs at In the meantime, his book, "NUTS, BOLTS AND A FEW LOOSE SCREWS" waits patiently for you at and

If you want the goods on The Seamless Brand and how this team can help sharpen your message and anchor your story, explore You can also follow The Seamless Brand on Twitter -!/seamlessbrand or press the "like" button and plug into The Seamless Brand on Facebook -


Brain Diesel said...

Gr4eat post Gair. I like that you compare the video to the Old Spice Guy.

What strikes me about this in comparison is that this shows that you can do a campaign like this without the special effects budget of the original "I'm on a horse" Commercial.


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