By David Nathan
There are several definitions for the word “branding.” In business, we tend to think of branding as the use of a trademark or product name identifiable to a specific company. Branding is also thought of as a way to make an impression on a consumer’s mind. Effective branding will create familiarity, confidence and even loyalty.
But let’s look at the literal definition of “branding”—that is, “to mark with a hot iron.” A hot iron? This specific definition usually refers to how people physically display ownership of cattle. (The “cows” reference was inevitable. You’ll see why later.) Both uses of branding are inherently the same. In both cases, the desired result is an indelible mark that’s recognizable.
Within the self-storage industry, certain brands exist that glow like a red-hot branding iron in the minds of most Americans. Consider Public Storage Inc., U-Haul International Inc. and PODS, just to name a few. I feel comfortable stating, without any research or polling, that most Americans are familiar with these company’s brands whether or not they’ve ever actually used their services.
These super-branded companies use multi-million dollar ad budgets along with their giant physical presence to promote their brands. Have you ever heard people refer to traditional brick-and-mortar storage facilities as “public storage” regardless of the actual company name? I have, many times. This is similar to the way people refer to any little stick with cotton on both ends as a Q-Tip. Branding like this is iconic and even creates monetary value. Those big companies have whole departments dedicated to branding, but what about the rest of us?
What if you own a single self-storage facility in a town that already has six (actual) Public Storage facilities? How can branding help you make more money? There are numerous schools of thought. You may choose to put orange-colored roll-up doors on your mom-and-pop facility to project familiarity and confidence in the mind of a consumer. (We all know orange doors are a familiar part of a well-known self-storage company’s branding.) Or do you want to differentiate your company? Let’s explore a real-world, life-changing example of how branding saved a particular storage company. In the end, the choice of which direction to go is yours.
The COWs Brand
I've been with COWs Mobile Storage since its inception in 2007. For nearly two years, we followed a traditional path. We sold white mobile-storage containers to anyone who wanted to buy them. Although we believed our product was better, the concept was not unique or different and, therefore, didn’t get any special attention.
To gain additional success, we needed to separate ourselves from other container companies. We needed to create a uniqueness. We needed to stand out. We needed to get attention with a traffic-stopping, conversation-grabbing, wonderfully visual attention machine. We needed to be noticed!