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Grand Brand Builders
April 2006
Advantages Magazine

By Cynthia Ironson

Even a waste disposal company in Peoria can come out smelling like a rose with the right brand strategy. Here’s what you need to keep in mind and some examples from other distributors to inspire your own best branding efforts.

Consider Target, one of the best promoted and easily recognizable brands out there today. Distributor Maria Brady, president of Marakae Marketing Inc., sums up its success: “If you watch TV and you see an ad, you know just by looking at it, with the red background, white clothes, the style of music – even before that logo appears, you know it’s Target. That’s what you need to do with advertising from a branding perspective.”

If you had to write down a recipe for better brand promotion, it would be consistency, repetition and creativity. Throw in a wonderful slogan, sharp logo and cool graphics, and you’re cookin’.

But what if your client isn’t as huge as Target? What if your best client is a waste disposal company? Is it as important to create and maintain a strong brand? Absolutely, says Mike Ference, owner of Ference Marketing & Communications, who gives chamber of commerce seminars about branding small businesses. Having the right brand, he says, is essential to making any business fly.

“We are all trying to leave the impression that we are the person to turn to when they have that particular need. Whether it’s an auto body shop, a software house or an auto dealership, we have what you are looking for and we have created that awareness beforehand,” says Jim Santangelo, owner of Pin High Products LLC.

Salespeople who want to be a branding resource must “holistically” consider their client’s business, existing brand and promotional needs. “Promotional consultants can only help with branding if they understand what it is, determine what the client’s brand should be and crisply articulate the branding message in words, symbols, events and deeds,” says Joseph Scott, vice president of Scott & Associates Inc.

Repeat Yourself
Distributors are careful to point out that brand-building can’t be done with a single mailing or one lonely logoed giveaway. It is usually a program that includes plenty of complementary efforts. Sometimes distributors create branding campaigns that include reinforcement from things like press releases, billboards, sales calls, events and other marketing correspondence.

“Branding to me is consistency in how you present your logo, your theme line, your company and your ad messages. It’s not a one-time project,” says Brady. “It’s not something you do on a whim. It’s a consistent approach.”

Often in brand-building, messages, slogans, promotional products, graphics and more play off each other. Excellent brand-building campaigns are born from creative brainstorming sessions. Brady tells of a brand-builder Marakae developed for a community bank. The bank is well-recognized in the consumer market, but needed to gain momentum in the small business market.

In a brainstorming session, someone mentioned the client needed to make their profits pop. The word “pop” was significant and the entire campaign was finally centered on that word. A creative mailer was customized with the recipient’s name and contained a custom-logoed microwave popcorn bag. The theme was “Poppin’ By to Say Hi.” The goal was to get meetings set up between the bank’s representatives and the recipients – business owners or finance managers –to share ideas on profit improvement, and to “get the word out that they have all the products and services that the big boys do, and they can deliver it even better,” Brady says.

Wendy Wheatley, account manager at Image Element a division of Simantel, says her company regularly creates dimensional direct mailers to establish and affirm its position as a strategic marketing firm that delivers relevant and creative communications. “As a marketing firm, we work to help our clients build and leverage brands for bottom-line results,” she says, “so we better practice what we preach by using a strong, consistent message that is uniquely our own.” With direct mail, however, you also need to know when enough is enough and when to cut off mailings to certain prospects who are not progressing towards a business relationship.

Thousands of promotions conceived and executed by distributors, on behalf of clients and as self-promotions, have been part of excellent brand-building campaigns. We have gathered up some inspiring examples from interviews with distributors who love working on brands and who are proud of their work. These examples illustrate the many objectives that brand-building can achieve, as well as the varied approaches that can be employed.

Purpose: Capture Market Share
Company: LG Seeds
Method: Direct mail
LG Seeds targeted a potential customer list with three direct mailers to highlight a new seed product. The effort was designed to get attention for the new product and capture market share for all of the company’s products as well. The goal was to get meetings set up between the dealer and prospect to close sales.

The first mailing contained half of a puzzle piece in a promotional box. It contained instructions for the recipient to watch the mail for another puzzle piece. The second mailer, which arrived three days later, contained the complementary puzzle piece and instructions to watch the mail for the story behind the product. The third mailer, arriving three days later, was a lenticular postcard explaining the seed product. It notified recipients that an LG representative would be calling to set up a meeting to discuss the new product further. Wheatley, whose company developed the campaign, says it played off a message of “custom-built corn.” The building blocks accomplished this, and worked to play off the graphics and message used in other elements of the campaign.

Purpose: New Product Release
Company: Manufacturer of herbicides and pesticides
Method: Distributed by sales force
A brand-building campaign was created for a manufacturer of herbicides and pesticides by Kevin Dovel, vice president of Proforma PromoGraphix Inc. The manufacturer needed branding to help capture market share for a new herbicide product. The product name contained the word “flex” in it, and the company wanted promotions to communicate the aggressive nature of the product in controlling weeds. Since the client mentioned a T-shirt as a potential giveaway, Dovel thought a compressed tee would have more promotional power, since it performs two functions, as a wearable and a novelty.

Playing off the word “flex”, Dovel found a compressed tee shaped like a superhero with the physique of a body builder. “It was a perfect fit,” he explains. The tee was a big hit, and the company’s ad agency decided to build the entire branding campaign around the superhero idea. The tees were distributed to the client’s field salesforce, who in turn gave them to customers that sell the product.

Purpose: Community Awareness/Outreach
Company: Anna Jaques Hospital
Method: Seminar product giveaways
Anna Jaques Hospital, a small regional facility, wants to create awareness of all the services it provides to the surrounding cities and towns, according to Santangelo, the distributor who works with them on branding. The hospital conducts seminars as part of their community outreach effort. One time, the topic was menopause. The slogan for the event, “Circle of Fire,” was coined by the hospital’s director of public relations and marketing. That led to an attention-getting theme that drove the campaign and led to an interesting choice of promotional products for the menopause seminar attendees.

“When we finally landed on a hat for this event, I had to work with a manufacturer to produce something they had not done before,” Santangelo says. They came up with a red foam hat cut to appear like a flame, with the slogan inside a yellow and orange sunburst logo. Another product – a red, hand-held mist spray fan which bore the “Circle of Fire” logo – conveyed the message that menopause can sometimes heat things up in a woman’s life.

Santangelo said the fun began when the promotion picked up word-of-mouth exposure among women in the community. The campaign was successful enough to warrant the hospital to repeat the meeting for women who missed it the first time. And, the attention-getting promotional products and theme helped get the seminar front-page coverage in the local newspaper.

Purpose: Self-Promotion/General Awareness
Company: Simantel (Image Element)
Method: Direct mail
Marketing firm Simantel believes that in order for a mailer to make an impression, first it has to get opened. As Wheatley points out, “a dimensional direct mailer always has a better chance because most people just simply want to see what’s inside. The mailers just begin to touch on an area of ‘pain’ our prospective clients might be feeling in their current marketing efforts and then positions Simantel as a way to alleviate that pain,” she notes. The mailers are meant to be a creative tool that the salesforce uses as a reason to follow-up with current clients and prospects and expand on the company’s message.

This particular award-winning direct mail campaign centered on retro games, Spin the Bottle being one of them. The tagline was, “Is your head spinning?” The company also used Pick Up Sticks – “Need things to pick up a bit?” – you get the idea. Silly Putty, and Paddle Balls were featured in other mailers throughout that year. “The mailers are related in theme but do not have a message that builds off the others,” Wheatley says. This is important because it allows the company to add new prospects to its mailing list at any time.

Company: Eagle Mortgage
Method: Full-color brochure
Ference describes his client’s promotional brochure in a fitting way: He calls it a coffee-table booklet. The full-color booklet is a branding tool for Greg Incardona, a mortgage broker in the Pittsburgh area, and contains everything you want to know about buying a house, credit scores and other information about homeownership. On the front cover is a picture of the city of Pittsburgh in daylight, and on the back it features some dramatic night scenes.

“It’s all about why Pittsburgh is a beautiful place to own a home,” Ference says, adding that it stands in sharp contrast to the typical advertising method of other mortgage brokers. The booklet also features information about (and pictures of) the broker and his family, and contains fun facts about Pittsburgh on every page. Ference consulted with local experts and put together a top 10 list of reasons to come to Pittsburgh, and the top 10 reasons to stay, which appears at the back of the book. The booklet is passed out by non-profit agencies and by Incardona at free homeownership seminars he conducts. This brand-building effort was written up in a national mortgage publication as one of the best self-promotion ideas.

Purpose: Create Awareness of Services
Company: Focus Ink
Method: Variety
Sometimes, all it takes is a slight tweak to an existing slogan or strategy, and the branding begins to snowball into an avalanche. Case in point: Focus Ink is celebrating its 17th year as a full-service print shop. But three years ago, Nancy Denker, the company’s owner, realized that although her slogan was “We print everything,” people were not getting the message that the company did more than offset printing. Since the shop does pad printing, they decided to print the slogan on a walnut to demonstrate that they can literally print on everything.

That idea gave her slogan a lot more bang for its buck. Now, the company’s Web site features the walnut and all its print and radio advertising mentions the company “prints everything from walnuts to signs.” The company leaves a bowl full of imprinted walnuts on its counter and in its trade show booths. “The walnut idea has brought us an incredible amount of notoriety and business,” Denker says. “People will regularly say ‘you really do print walnuts’ when they see us at trade shows or come into the shop.”

She credits the success to “fabulous redundancy,” mentioning nuts over and over again in all its marketing efforts and in different contexts, like “We’re nuts about printing.” “I call it overt subliminalism, so that anytime someone thinks of a nut, they think of us. We get many referrals for printing odd items as people are directed to us with the thought that ‘If anyone can do that, Focus Ink can.’ The recognition has been incredible.”

And that’s it in a nutshell.

Purpose: Celebrate a Big Event
Company: Peoria Disposal Company (PDC)
Method: Events and logoed products
A local waste disposal company, PDC approached Image Element for ways it could recognize and celebrate its 75th anniversary. The agency developed a “75 Years Strong®” tagline and positioning statement to convey the strength and longevity of the company, and produced a variety of materials and products to carry the brand for continuity. The company’s logo also got an update and was incorporated into the “75 Years Strong” statement.

All of the company’s marketing and communications and business correspondence during the 75th year featured the tagline, and it appeared on containers, trucks and signage. Promotional products featuring the tagline and logo were distributed to employees, customers and vendors that year. Employees received a pullover jacket, hat, garbage can and water bottle during a company celebration for all employees and family members. Water bottles, polo shirts, golf bags and tees were distributed to customers and vendors during a golf outing.

“It was important to select products that could be easily used by employees, customers and vendors to help increase the visibility of the ’75 Years Strong’ logo,” Wheatley says. Since the company’s logo had been used for many years in the community on garbage containers, trucks and signage, the integrity of the original logo was protected with the straightforward positioning of the statement.

Purpose: Re-Launch a Company
Company: MoneyGram International
Method: Direct mail
Sometimes a branding campaign just hits a home run. Marakae Marketing developed a campaign centered around baseball for MoneyGram International. The target audience for the springtime campaign was presidents and CFOs of financial institutions. The campaign had several purposes. One was to inform the recipient that Travelers Express was now a subsidiary of MoneyGram International. Another goal was to build awareness of the company’s services that improve profits with check outsourcing.

The promotion had to be a winner. “You only have a few minutes to capture the attention of very busy senior officers,” says Brady. The theme was baseball, featuring a catchy “For Profits out of the Ballpark” tagline. A circular mailer, designed to look like a weathered baseball, was mailed out with a wooden logoed bat.

The campaign proved extremely successful in helping get appointments booked and deals closed. “We launched the campaign at the beginning of baseball season,” Brady says. “It was a great tie-in.”

Purpose: Differentiate a Business
Company: An American Family insurance agent
Method: Logoed products and direct mail
Traditional promotional products, distributed with a goal of encouraging business referrals, made for a successful branding effort for Andy Holloman, an American Family insurance agent. “He must differentiate himself from all of the other insurance agents and carrier companies,” says John Gurka, owner of High Impact Promotions. “This agent knows the power of word-of-mouth advertising and also the importance of keeping in touch with his book of clients.”

Gurka and Holloman brainstormed to come up with inexpensive, easy-to-mail products. One idea was a nail file, with the slogan “Let Us Sharpen Your Coverage With a Personal Insurance Review.” Other products used were a notepad and a glow-in-the-dark, house-shaped magnet. “The notepads are a marketing piece that he can hand out or mail to clients and prospects, or referral sources,” says Gurka. “Magnets are mailed to those who are insured. They are asked to give them to their two closest neighbors. The house magnet draws attention because it glows in the dark.”

Holloman has been so happy with this branding work that he has referred other agents to Gurka. “Andy does these unique promotions instead of just using what is offered by American Family’s corporate headquarters. This sets him apart and makes people aware of his name in addition to the American Family name,” Gurka says.

Company: A local bank holding company
Method: Direct mail, events, seminars and logoed products
How do you build your brand when you are the eighth bank in a community of 20,000? Scott suggested his client build its brand as a “banking community,” and not a “community bank.” “We turned their branch into a Banking Community Center by holding ‘un-bank’ events like an indoor block party in January, an outdoor block party in July,” he notes.

Scott also wrote a presentation called “The Story of Money” that he and the branch president presented to over 1,000 elementary school students. The students were also invited to see the bank. At each one of these events, the bank’s board members, owners, officers and employees wore logoed wearables, served food and mingled with the guests. “The other seven banks have never had any events of this kind,” he says.

“We also had musical entertainment and liberally passed out promotional items. This was a one-to-one branding approach that allowed clients and potential clients to meet someone who was affiliated with the bank and establish or renew a personal connection.” The bank went from zero to $75 million in assets in less than two years.

Purpose: Promote a Sponsorship
Company: Adelphia Media Services
Method: Special invitations
Sponsorships are a great brand-building strategy. Gaining visibility for a sponsorship became a work of art for Adelphia Media Services, which was an exclusive television media sponsor of an event at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for the King Tut exhibit. Los Angeles happens to be Adelphia’s largest subscriber base, so the company wanted to do something different to get attention.

Distributor Richard M. Blanco, owner of RMB Printing and Promotions, says his client wanted more that just a normal invitation and something that would draw on an Egyptian theme. He came up with a custom-made pyramid invitation, which was designed by Josh Glaudin, an Adelphia graphic designer. The invitation to the gala party, sent to advertisers, network partners, top clients and agencies, was printed on a sliding panel at the bottom of the pyramid-shaped box. “We added a coin that was struck in a very nice brass and was attached to the top of the slide floor,” he says. The coin carried the Adelphia logo and the date and time of the event. On the back of the coin was an engraved King Tut head to commemorate the event and serve as a keepsake. The pyramid was packaged with gold confetti filler.

“Adelphia actually had requests after the event from numerous attendees who wanted to acquire additional coins,” Blanco says. Adelphia named the gala event “An Evening in Pharaoh’s Kingdom.” Also another key branding tidbit: As part of its negotiation with LACMA, Adelphia’s logo was painted on the wall outside the museum entrance, which faces one of the busiest intersections in downtown Los Angeles.

Conclusions About Branding
Ference connects branding to reputation –the reputation of the company’s owner, its employees, the vendors it buys from and anyone else it comes in contact with. “Sometimes as a small business owner, you don’t have money to buy an ad in the golf program or sponsor a tee,” he explains, “but you can be a volunteer. You can build your brand for free, just by being there.”

Other distributors echo that sentiment that branding can be so much more than logo integrity and clever campaigns. “Mailers can help in brand-building efforts, but what happens after the mailer is opened is what is more important to building the brand,” says Wheatley. “Just sending fun promotional items isn’t enough. How are you exemplifying your brand in follow-up, additional messaging and communication, service or product provided? Are customers and prospects having a consistent brand experience at every point of contact with your company? What would they say about you?”

Cynthia Ironson is a NY-based freelance writer.

This article has been reprinted with permission. It originally appeared in the April 2006 issue of Advantages magazine.



© 2004 Marakae Marketing, Inc.