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 consumers mind. Effective branding will create familiarity, confidence and even loyalty.
But lets look at the literal definition of brandingthat 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. Youll see why later.) Both uses of branding are inherently the same. In both cases, the desired result is an indelible mark thats 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 companys brands whether or not theyve 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 companys branding.) Or do you want to differentiate your company? Lets 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, didnt 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!
We turned the containers we manufacture into a brand, a lifestyle, a household word. We created a lifestyle through a COWs language, characters and marketing programs that maximize these things. Our containers and business philosophy swung 180-degrees from being brandless to being all about the COWs brand.
We are a manufacturing company. We do not import our containers from overseas. We are not a sales organization or a marketing group. To get noticed and "mooove" ahead of the herd, we needed to be more than just a container company. We needed to be a well-received brand to our prospective dealers and their ultimate customers. Lets say we took that red-hot branding iron and made an indelible mark on the storage industry.
While that seems self-serving to say, its not meant that way. My intention is to simply share with you a real example in which a brand absolutely changed a business. And now, with more than 50 locations around the country, our brand has changed many other businesses. Maybe a fresh look at your use of branding can help improve your business like it did ours.
Buying Into the Brand
There is risk in branding. Sometimes your message can be lost if you get too extreme or obscure with your choice. But thats where you have to trust your personal tastes and preferences. Trust that you will know in your heart what people in your town will relate to. Run your ideas past your friends and family. After all, these are the same people who will be your actual customer base.
At COWs we opted for a whimsical, fun style of branding because thats our personality. Since effective branding should influence your company culture, be sure you enjoy it. We have all heard the expression drink the Kool-Aid. Be sure youre ready to drink your own Kool-Aid when it comes to your choice of branding. The folks at Kool-Aid certainly have. And theyre doing pretty darn well. So if you think theres room for improvement in your business, take a hard look at your branding and ask yourself these questions:
- Is our brand memorable?
- Is our brand effectively projecting the service we provide?
- Is our brand projecting our company personality?
Only you can provide the answers. Once you do, you should be able to start your journey in one of two directions: You'll either launch a new brand for your company, or youll have great confidence to leave your brand as it is. Only you can decide.
David Nathan is vice president of rectangles for COWs Mobile Storage, which offers a mobile-storage dealership program. He has been with the company since the day the barn doors first opened. He and his team work hand in hoof with COWs dealers to implement proprietary marketing programs while maximizing their use of the COWs brand. The COWs Dealership Program is specifically designed to bolt on to and enhance a self-storage business. For more information, call 866.438.2269; visit www.866-get-a-cow.com .