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Big Thinkers

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Big Sky sat down with Elicia Putnam to get her thoughts on the topic of branding.

Big Sky: The Shop specializes in advertising, but you’ve done some great client work in the area of branding. Can you talk about brand and why it matters?

Elicia Putnam: First, let’s look at what brand really means.

According to Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap, brand is what the outside world’s perception is of you. That’s it. Although you can influence your brand through well-designed logos, hilarious ad campaigns, carefully crafted press releases, glitzy new products, super-friendly service, or even pink elephants, ultimately, your brand is what the outside world says it is.

Pretty scary thought. Especially considering how long it takes to build a solid and respected brand. And how quickly that brand can tumble. (Think Enron.)

Big Sky: Why bother? Why worry about the outside world’s perception?

Elicia Putnam: Because there’s a LOT of money to be made when the world thinks highly of you. Or, if you’re a non-profit and you measure your revenue in say, number of whales saved, there are LOT of whales that can be saved when donors think highly enough of you to support your cause.

In short, building a great brand is the single best way to ensure the long-term survival of your company.

Let’s name a few brands that have captured the imagination (and wallets) of a lot of people: Apple, Mini Cooper, Nike, BMW, Coke, Starbucks, John Deere, Harley Davidson. These brands are referred to as charismatic because their influence is so great, that people willingly pay a premium for the privilege of using their products and services.

To illustrate this point, imagine a black sedan with a GM Pontiac logo. Now imagine the same car with a BMW logo. Which one would you rather have? That’s the power of a brand.

So, whether you’re a local restaurant or a global high-tech company, paying careful attention to your brand is well worth the effort.

Big Sky: That leads to the question, how do you create a great brand?

Elicia Putnam: You need to be different.

Every day, we’re bombarded with information. So, how do we deal with this? We tune out things that are similar. But, we sit up and pay attention to things that are different.

The human brain is simply hardwired that way. If you’re in a room filled with people in white coats, you’ll notice the one person in a black coat. Why did the Mini Cooper get so much attention? Because it’s different from every other car out there. And, the company was smart enough to capitalize on that in their ad campaign. So, they made a lot of money by proudly being different.

Apple told its customers to “think different” and thus positioned itself as a different kind of company. Before Apple, computers were always a boring shade of battleship grey or eggshell white. Apple broke with tradition and produced a whole line of cheerful, colorful, even irreverent, aqua, fuchsia, and lime computers. People loved them.

Big Sky: You’ve mentioned in collateral and on your website that it’s important to be purposeful when it comes to building your brand. Can you elaborate?

Elicia Putnam: Not only is it morally a good idea to be purposeful, it’s good business as well. Just ask Anita Roddick of The Body Shop. Her commitment to fair trade and natural products has paid off handsomely. Her brand became associated with this purpose and people liked how it made them feel.

Starbucks is another example. Howard Schultz was fanatical about the idea of creating a place for people to be together. Now, people willingly pay $5 for a product that costs about a dime to make because they want to “drink in” the experience of being in a living room environment with lots of people talking, reading, or just hanging out.

Guy Kawasaki, a well-established venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, says that “making meaning” is the single most important thing a company can do. A true sense of meaning provides the business owner the impetus to make it through long days and cash flow crunches. More importantly, a true sense of meaning attracts customers in a magnetic and powerful way.

Big Sky: So many companies now want to diversify. Is this a good idea?

Elicia Putnam: Companies should remain focused.

As Jim Collins points out in his book Good to Great, every CEO should make a to-NOT-do list. The minute a company tries to do everything, consumers get confused and don’t know what the company stands for.

A great example is Ralph Lauren. When I was a kid, owning a Polo shirt was a true status symbol. The company clearly stood for high quality, classic, American clothing. Then, the company decided to get into the outlet business. Next, they started making home furnishings. Then paints. Then fragrance. Now, believe it or not, they’re opening restaurants. Can you imagine? If you ask the average person what Ralph Lauren stands for, they would probably have no idea.

Many companies have fallen into the trap of adding product line after product line with no meaningful relationship to each other. Short term, these companies make a lot of money. Long term, they jeopardize their financial health.

So, be focused. And be clear to your customer exactly who you are.

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Elicia Putnam,
The Shop Design,
Bend, Oregon

Once a horse trainer, now a grammar fanatic, Elicia Putnam has a zest for words and a passion for solving marketing challenges. Originally a freelance copywriter, she launched The Shop in early 2001 when she discovered there was a need for an agency that was flexible, responsive and highly creative. Although her professional riding days are over, Elicia occasionally breaks into a canter as she makes for her other obsession – the crossword puzzle.

“Building a great brand is the single best way to ensure the long-term survival of your company.”

Elicia Putnam