Build a Compelling Brand

How to Create a Meaningful Message About Everyone Else’s Noise

Super Bowl ads are just that—the Super Bowl of marketing, and as a marketing professional, I look forward to watching them. But this year, I was dissatisfied by what I saw. They seemed like loud noises trying to crowd each other out, yet none really gave me an authentic reason to spend my hard-earned money on what they were pitching.

I’ve seen the bad. In 2015 Nationwide thought advertising a young boy dying in a bathtub would make me want their insurance. It didn’t. In 2011 HomeAway launched a lifelike baby doll against a window during their ad. Because of public outcry, they later had to release a statement announcing they don’t agree with violence against babies. Pro Tip: If you’re forced to make a public positioning statement to say that throwing babies is bad thing, your ad didn’t work. It’s one of the reasons you now know the company by a different name—Vrbo. Nowadays they focus their message and branding on sharing the positive experiences of their customers and are getting much better results.

The Super Bowl gives highly funded start-ups and large corporations an instant opportunity to be seen and discussed by the masses. The first Super Bowl ads were in 1967 and geared almost exclusively to men. This included Goodyear’s “When there’s no man around, Goodyear should be” commercial promoting early versions of run flat tires and the inability of women to drive. That one didn’t age well.

During the third quarter of Superbowl XVIII in 1984, with the Redskins up 28-9 over the Raiders, a commercial break commenced with the sound of a loud brass instrument and an athletic woman named Anya Major fleeing from guards. She reaches a large auditorium where hundreds of gray-colored men are watching a propaganda film and throws a hammer that explodes the screen and brings forth the announcement of the Macintosh computer as the anti-IBM. Branding has never been the same since.

So why do ads like Macintosh in 1984, “Mean” Joe Greene and Coca-Cola, and Budweiser’s frogs resonate while so many others fail? These are supposed to be the best of the best, written by marketing guru firms with company boards for approval and unlimited budgets. If they can’t get it right, how can we?

Crafting a message about who you are and how you help your customers is difficult. I continue to see companies building websites loaded with stock photos of burning buildings and flooded homes. If Mrs. Johnson’s house has four feet of water in it, she doesn’t want to look at photos of other floods. She wants to know you will help her get her life and home back in order. Your competition has burning buildings and pictures of vans on their site. How is yours different?

Marketing reps continue to walk into adjusters’ offices proudly announcing their company is locally owned and THE BEST at customer service. As if the competitor down the street, and yes even the franchise, is owned by a European Mob and no one else has ever thought about saying they are pretty solid at customer service. None of that is branding. It’s the gray-colored masses just waiting for a competitor to throw a hammer and blow it all up. You need to throw the hammer. You need better branding.

Branding is bringing meaning to your company, product, or service by creating emotion in the mind of your consumer. Your brand is the face of your business and should build credibility and trust. Your brand protects you from momentary outside forces beyond your control because your customer already believes in who you are. Build and repeat your message around what you want them to think and act on it every day to reinforce that message. As Elon Musk says, “Brand is just perception, and perception will match reality over time.”

Your message needs to stand out and deliver a benefit consumers are not hearing from anyone else. Branding is consistent. It comes from every interaction, in-person or online, including reviews and web searches. Every interaction a potential customer has with an employee of yours, especially when he or she is in uniform, is branding. Make sure your employees recognize this.

Before you spend thousands of dollars on a website and marketing materials, build your branding message. Once you have created a company name, logo, and tagline, here are the next steps.

  1. Create a Strong Purpose. As Simon Sinek demonstrates in his popular TED talk, people don’t care who you are or what you do until they know and agree with why you do it. To make a buck, there are easier ways than sucking sewer water out of strangers’ basements. Why are you in cleaning and restoration? Chances are, your why is unique to you and will resonate with others building trust. Let them know your why.

a. Example: In 1996 a special teams’ player for Maryland football wanted a shirt to wear under his pads that didn’t bunch up and stayed dry. He found a fabric that worked and felt he played better wearing it. Today Under Armour sells millions in sports apparel, but their purpose is to make all athletes better through science, passion, and innovation. Everything they design is with this in mind, reinforcing what their brand is known for.

2. Know Your Customer and Competitor. Your branding only stands out if it demonstrates a true want or need for the person you are selling to and no one else has already locked down that message. What are you willing and able to do that no one else in your market is promoting? What do you want your marketing reps to pitch that is a true differentiator that matters most to a prospect?

a. Example: Beyond a giant advertising budget, USAA has real advantages. Their net promoter score is four times the average banking score, and they encourage and act on feedback from their customers. Knowing their members are military, they personalize all services to each individual using them, allowing customers to stay connected to those they served with while feeling personally valued. All this is articulated in their branding.

3. Humanize Your Brand. No one wants to buy from a cold or faceless company. Sales is never business to business or business to consumer. It is always person to person. Imagine if your brand was a person. How would your brand dress, what age would it be, and how would others perceive its qualities or style? Would it be trendy, daring, innovative, reliable, modern, or contemporary?

a. Example: In 1837 Charles and John opened a “fancy goods” store in an up-and-coming neighborhood in New York City. Noticing that women in the community were desiring designer jewelry that was different from what the stores connected to Europe were offering, they created a new “American” style that was timeless, yet modern, and very sophisticated. Their brand Tiffany became who their female customers wanted to be.

4. Know Your Brand’s Story. Human beings are wired to love stories. They are written, told, and passed down for generations. Our brains are designed to remember stories much more than facts or statistics. Stories help people relate. This goes back to Sinek and his Begin With Why concept. People don’t care what you do or how you do it. What they care about is how it’s going to make them feel during and after doing business with you. Pitch your story.

a. Example: We have all heard the anecdote that Reed Hastings got the idea for Netflix after receiving a $40 late fee from Blockbuster for the movie Apollo 13. But according to cofounder Mark Rudolph, it’s not true. They made it up because they knew people could relate. They actually came up with the idea of renting DVDs through the mail as a way to build a business similar to Amazon, but that story is not as compelling.

5. Share With the Masses. This is where strategy comes into play. Absolutely do not “wing” your marketing activities. Campaigns should be built with goals and budgets twelve months in advance. Network with others to find a digital marketing firm to help you if that’s not your strength. Identify your targets and schedule time to get your branded message in front of them as many times as it takes. Observe what relates and what does not and adjust as needed, but don’t immediately quit if there aren’t overnight results. You may just need to improve your storytelling or tweak your message.

a. Example: Ray didn’t grow up wanting to cook food. Instead, he joined the military where he met lifelong friend Walt Disney. He became a salesperson, and after finding a roadside restaurant that was efficiently making burgers, he bought them and used several of the same marketing strategies Disney perfected to create a family experience. Consistency was key. Not only did McDonald’s burgers need to taste the same at each location, but the branding also stayed the same.

You have worked hard to build your business, bring in a team you are proud of, and master the technical aspects of this industry. But for people to want to use you instead of your competitors, they desire more. As David Brier, author of Brand Intervention, says, “If you don’t give the market the story to talk about, they’ll define your brand’s story for you.” Establish who you are and who you are not. Give your customers a reason beyond the same tired message and shout it from the mountain tops.

Jeff Jones

Jeff JonesJeff Jones is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Jeff has a wide range of experience in professional sales and marketing involving all levels of decision makers. Through VMA, Jeff works with companies to find the right mix of programs and services to help them develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit or call (800) 360-3513.

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