Albert Einstein was a great thinker, he changed the world, but he is not much associated with marketing & business. However, when you read through his various musings, he should be up there in the pantheon of great marketing thinkers like David Ogilvy, Seth Godin, and Goofy.

One of the things that Einstein said which really resonates is ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, no simpler’

There is a serious point to my inclusion of ‘Goofy’. Think about it, Goofy is a brand. Say the word, and it conjures up a mental picture of the simple friendly dog, Micky’s mate who gets in the way, tripping over himself all the time. That one word conjured up all those images, at least with some of you. Goofy is a brand, built over 75 years, made up of a few simple elements, tied together in a unique way, as Einstein told us they should be.

This always applies to the manner in which we go about building brands.

However, one thing is absolutely clear, and absolutely simple:

A brand is the ultimate sales tool.

If you did not want to sell something, a brand would not be needed. It is a sales tool.

A brand in its role as a sales tool, fills a small number of functions:

  • It is a filter that makes customer choice easier by providing customers with a sorting mechanism.
  • It is a symbol representing something of meaning, offering reasons why you should engage. Ie buy, contribute, attend, whatever it is.
  • It is a commercial vehicle for the brand owner.

World vision is a brand, they want us to buy peace of mind, assuage our comfortable middle class guilt by contributing money

Coca Cola is a brand, they want us to buy a lifestyle

Pewdipie is a brand, they want us to participate. Never heard of pewdipie? I will come back to it.

I think the word ‘building’ in the title of this post is vitally important.

As with any building, you have to get the foundations right, before you do anything else. Whatever you try and build, if the foundations are dodgy, it will not last, no matter how pretty, immediately functional, or different it is, without the foundations, you will have nothing of lasting value.

Therefore, I will give you a view of the foundations of a brand, how you should approach the process of building a brand of lasting commercial value.

How do I capture such a complex and undefined challenge in a simple way?

Has everyone done a jigsaw puzzle?

Imagine this photograph as a jigsaw. It is in fact a shot of the WSLTA clubhouse, where we use the great game of tennis as the excuse for a drink and gasbag, after some enjoyable exercise.

If it was a 20 piece puzzle, one to be done with your kids? Simple.

If it was a 10,000 piece puzzle, far more complicated.

Imagine now the added complication if you did not have the picture to hand as the end result to refer to.

Think about the process of doing that jigsaw.

Every single time, I guarantee you, that you have done a jig saw you have done the same thing, in the same sequence.

  • You put the picture next to the pieces, so you can see what you are aiming at.
  • You have organised the pieces, so they are all one side up, spread around, so you can see them all.
  • You find the 4 corners. Obvious, as they have 2 straight sides,
  • You find the sides, somewhat obvious, because there is I straight side, but harder to find than the 4 corners.
  • You start to assemble the rest into small groups by colour, and where they seem to best fit the picture of the finished article.
  • Slowly the groups of 2/3/4 pieces grow as their place in the picture becomes clearer, and slowly those groups are fitted to other groups, to make bigger groups.

This all happens while you are constantly referring back to the picture, engaging in a lot of trial and error, fitting them together. Sometimes you are tempted to force 2 pieces together, but know it just causes problems down the track.

Building a brand is the same thing.

There are the 4 foundation principals, a small number of secondary pieces of the puzzle that dictate the outline, and potentially thousands of smaller pieces that can be assembled into the completed picture.

So let’s talk about them

I would also make the point again, that without a clear picture of what you want the brand to be,  just like the jigsaw, it will be far more difficult to assemble the pieces, take a lot more time, cost a lot more money, and the chances of ending up in a total mess are very high.

So, what are the 4 corners, the first things you find, the cornerstones of your foundation building?

Customers. Who is it you are seeking to engage and sell

Value proposition What is it that you are doing for them that delivers value to them

Leverage. What enables you to leverage, ie: amplify the value proposition. This is in effect your strategic and marketing toolbox, from which you will make a lot of choices.

Business Purpose. The Why, the story of the brand. This drives everything else, which is why it is in the bottom right hand corner, I cannot get away completely from my roots  as a bean counter.

Like all foundations, the 4 are largely hidden, but this is where the thinking goes in, where the first steps in building the end design are taken, and must be solid, or the edifice built on them will not work.

First, the most important factor.

Simon Sinek articulated this better than everyone else combined a few years ago.

What, How, and Why.

 Your why is your brand story, the reason anyone should care, it is not the easy to articulate features of the product, and how it might be used, but the stuff that resonates in your guts that are often very hard to put words to, it just ‘Feels right’

Brands that try to be all things to all people, or even some to things to a few end up suffering from what we would call when seen in people as schizophrenia. Yes, It applies to brands as well as people, but instead of medicating them, or locking them up, we do the worst thing we can do to someone’s lovingly crafted, expensively built brand:

We ignore them.

The why is the bridge between what you want people to do, and what they hear, it provides the context, the cement that holds the edifice together.

To quote Sinek, ‘People don’t buy what you do, they believe what you believe’.

A simple way to start the process is to do what I call the ‘We believe’ test.

This emerged when I was rereading the text of Sineks presentation having tried unsuccessfully to articulate to a client the importance of a ‘Why;’ and how it was different to the ‘Vision, Mission, Values’  approach with which they were familiar, and seemed considerably easier.

It is simply asking what you believe, deep in your guts about what it is that you do, the value you provide to those who engage, how you change their world.

We/I believe………

Imagine I was running a book-keeping business, what do you say to apply the test:

I believe….. that by contacting out routine tasks to specialists, your most valuable asset, your time will deliver better outcomes for you.

I believe…… that giving you back time will improve your life

I piloted this test a few years ago with a book-keeper I know, who was having trouble drumming up business. He had a pretty but pointless website, had tried flyers, and letterbox drops, advertising in the local papers, cold calling, and going to network groups telling them of all his qualifications. Pretty much flogging a dead horse, and he only got work when he discounted heavily, or was given the hack overload work by a local accounting firm that then billed their clients at 3 times what they paid him.

We had a cup of coffee, and I worked him through the ‘I believe” exercise, and it came out that what he was really doing was giving back clients time to spend on things they enjoyed, and wanted to do more of.

Next time I saw him at a network meeting, instead of his usual opening, he said: ‘I believe my job is to help people get more sex’, after that, the laughter drowned out the rest, but he did explain that the time he gave back by doing their bookkeeping gave them the opportunity to do other things that were important to them, perhaps even getting laid more often.

He never had the bottle to put it on his website, but he now employs several people in his office, and is doing quite well.

If you can articulate the why, the rest becomes much easier, and you will save a lot of time and money.

However, articulating your why is really, really, really hard.

For the supplier, a brand is a commercial vehicle, a way to deliver leverage by way of price, distribution, and the many factors that contribute to commercial success.

For the customer it is a way of making the decision easier, offering reassurance of performance, certainty, it is both a filter and a trusted friend.

It is a double sided coin, with the sweet spot, the Value to that customer captured in the overlap.

To buyers, a brand can be a person, a friend, something that if it is your brand, you have some emotional investment in it, some connection with it.

When asked to describe a brand, consumers always use human terms. Friendly, remote, about 50, a successful woman, and so on.

It is really easy for marketers to go off the rails here, to see a picture of an emotional attachment that simply does not exist, They see it through their eyes, not those of the consumer. The truth is that consumers see brands as things/people that solve problems for them, they have preferences, sometimes very strong and exclusive ones, but in the end, it is rarely a life defining choice, most brands are  not in a position to change the world.

Note that having a useful Value Proposition depends on knowing your customer very well, which is the next foundation principal. It does not matter if you have a great value proposition for a new tractor if the person seeing the ad is a 20 something lady living in the inner metropolitan area.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What value does my brand generate for my ideal customer?
  • Why should they buy mine, and not somebody elses?

Failure to answer either is a fail. However, it does lead to a bunch of other highly relevant questions you should ask yourself.

This process is always iterative, it never just happens at once, nicely sequenced, it is a messy, emotional, and challenging process with lots of traps along the way.

Who is your ideal Customer?

Where will you find them?

What are their behaviours?

Why should they buy from you?

Developing a persona of your ideal customer requires that you make choices, often difficult and confronting ones, but the more choices you make  the better, the more focused and therefore compelling you can make the communication of the value proposition to those chosen.

Making these choices is more about what you will not do, than it is what you will do.

One of my marketing mantras is ‘choose a niche and own it’

These days, the more choices you make, the deeper and darker the niche to which you market becomes, the more likely you will be left alone to do business with those who truly value what you have to offer.

Digital enables some scarily accurate targeting, and it is getting better at it every day.

It is very hard for an SME not to chase every so called opportunity as it emerges, but when you are small, focus is essential, as you have less resources to expend.

You cannot be all things to all people. Way better to be a necessity to a small number of people.

Making the choices about the niches you chase is a core part of the brand building exercise.

Years ago I took over the marketing for the general products division of Dairy Farmers, which included Ski yoghurt. Ski had been around for a while, had been market leader, but had recently seen, this was the early eighties, Yoplait launch, and decimate their share in a market that had huge growth as a result of  the activity. Being a new marketing manager, I did some research, first thing, and it was a revelation. Sitting behind the glass I watched as yogurt consumers described Yoplait as a young, educated, hip and successful young woman, and Ski as an old reliable farmer in wellies. Very human descriptions, and my marketing challenge was clear. 10 years later, Ski was the market leader, with Yoplait a close second, each with about 35% share of a market that had continued to  double every couple of years. The research exercise was a stark reminder of how consumers saw, and related to brands

I am currently working with a client who is embarking on this path, and we have developed a Value Proposition that has 3 elements, and are now defining his ideal customer with an evolving rating system that demands that they meet a number of criteria, related to the value proposition.

Very quickly, the sales have gone up, because the sales people were forced to say ‘No’ very early to the price driven casual tyre kicker who was comparing prices and did not fit the profile. This has left them more time to sell to current and more appropriate potential customers, the communication is way better targeted, and margins have quickly improved.


We all understand the concept of leverage, doing more with less.

In brand building, you have to use the available tools to give you leverage, but you also have to have something worth leveraging.

You have to be remarkable.

By definition, remarkable means that it is worth telling someone.

It must be an example of Seth Godins Purple Cow

The tools give you the leverage to make use of remarkable. Always have. TV is a tool for leverage, just as is Facebook, but neither work in the face of ‘unremarkable’.

All marketing activity, no matter what it is, is seeking to apply leverage to something.

Let’s consider that best of marketing tools ever: personal recommendation.

It delivers a lot of credibility and brand building power, but low leverage, as it is one person at a time, although getting a few to become apostles delivers huge depth of leverage. It can be enormously valuable over time.

Personal recommendations can be used digitally when you think hard about it, so put some on your website.

The tools of digital have made it easier, but the competition for attention is intense.

When I was young, there were a few TV stations, newspapers, radio stations, and magazines, that was all. Now, everybody is a publisher, there are literally millions of channels of communication, thousands of hours of video gets posted to YouTube every minute.

Attention is the new gold standard, and people are very adept at filtering out stuff of no interest, and they make choices that exclude most of the noise.

Again, it does not matter how well you use the tools, if the product is not remarkable, the tools will not do you much good.

The reverse is also true, if the product is remarkable, but you do not use the tools, or use them poorly, or use the wrong ones, progress will at best be slow.

Back to the jigsaw analogy, there are many pieces, the question is how they best fit together.

Scott Brinker every year puts together a Martech Landscape. This is the one from March 2016, with 3,800 branded tools in the box.  2017 when it comes out, very soon, will be well up on that score.

The remarkable purple cow speaks for itself.

As the old saying goes, when you have a nail to drive, you need a hammer.

Now however, you have a million different nails, each requiring a specialised hammer.

Have you picked the problem with the Jigsaw metaphor?

A jig saw only fits together one way, there are no alternative solutions involved at all.

When building a brand, there are no right answers, there is no one way, unlike the jigsaw.  There are multitudes of ways you can fit the pieces together, and decide which pieces you want to use, you can experiment and play until the mix is optimised for your situation.

There are no silver bullets or easy answers, no templates, and a thousand experts who will charge you for their particular (Branded) truth, so beware.

Many here would be thinking ‘facebook’, a number of you have experimented with it, which is great. Experiment away.

However, if you think facebook is the answer, you have asked the wrong question. It may be a tiny part of the answer, but only a tiny part.

Having a picture of the end result is however, essential. In that, the jigsaw analogy works perfectly.

An obvious question after all this effort, is how do we value a brand?

As some know I am a recovered accountant, however, part of my DNA is still looking for things I can count that mean something, that give me information I can use.

Therefore I look for useful metrics that give some idea of the value of a brand.

It is reasonable when you invest all this time and effort into brand building, to expect a return.

It seems to me that youtube subscribers would be a good measure, after all, when you sign up to the channel, you have explicitly said you want more from them, more information, promotions, so it seems like a good measure of engagement.

I referred at the beginning to several brands, so lets look at their value.

The Coke brand worth is said to be worth $US80 billion, one of several estimates by reputable companies, and one of the top 3 or 4 brands in the world, according to these lists, Interbrand, being one. Pewdipie does not feature on any list I can find.

Coke spends around $3 bill/year on branded advertising, plus all the rest they spend.

They have a stated marketing objective of ‘engaging’ consumers with the Coke brand.

So, YouTube subscribers might be a good measure.

March 23 when I looked, Coca Cola had just short of 1.4 million subscribers, added across a number of individual Coke channels. Well up from a year ago when they had 1 channel and 763,000 subscribers. The maths, tells me the increase in subscribers last year cost them, well, a lot!!

Anyone here heard of Felix Kjellberg? Or his business Pewdipie?

A Swedish gaming satirical commentary web site, hardly even a product.

Pewdipie had well over 54.4 million subscribers, roughly 39 times Coke, is the number 1 site on YouTube by subscribers, coke is not even in the top 150

Coke has been spending billions, with a specific objective of ‘engaging consumers’ for 100 years, and Pewdipie has been around for 7 or 8 years, spent little or nothing, and just has a dodgy site with amateur videos done by his mates.

This is the value of a niche, and understanding in great detail the persona of your target audience.

So to finish, when you set about this brand building exercise, make sure you have a very clear picture of where you want to end up, as without the picture, any destination will do, but it may not suit you.

Header picture is of master brand builder Walt Disney looking on as his creation, Disneyland, emerges from its foundations. Thanks to Wikimedia.