Canadian Rental Service

Editorial: May 2011

Patrick Flannery   

Features Business Intelligence

Building a brand is a shortcut to effective advertising

Building a brand is a shortcut to effective advertising.

One of the advantages of being new to this industry is I get to re-tell all my favourite old stories without boring anyone. Or, at least, that is the plan.

I once attended a seminar by a really smart fellow called Ken Wong, who is a marketing professor at the Queen’s School of Business. He was telling a group of flooring retailers why branding is important. He started his point by holding up the remote control for his laptop.  

“Just from what you see here, what can you tell me about this product,” he asked.


Answers came in from around the room. It is plastic. It is black. It looks to be some kind of electronic device.

Wong clicked the remote and the Fisher-Price logo appeared on the display behind him. “Now what if I told you it was made by this company,” he said. “What else could you tell me?”

As if by magic, people in the room were able to assign a number of new characteristics to the object. It is cheap. It is durable. It is reliable. It is easy to use.

“Think about how long it would take one of your salespeople to convince a customer this object had those properties,” Wong said. “Now, think about how long your salesperson typically gets with a client.”

This is the function and power of branding. Having invested in telling people over and over that their products are cheap, durable and easy-to-use, and backing that message up with real quality, Fisher-Price now carries an indelible impression in the minds of everyone in its market. It enjoys an automatic advantage in any competitive situation because it does not have to waste the precious attention span of the customer establishing these key facts about its products. Instead, its marketing effort can immediately work on establishing a price advantage or a specific benefit targeted to the customer, which are messages much more likely to close a sale quickly.

I have observed that most Canadian small businesses, especially those selling to commercial clients, do not spend a lot of time building their brands. Word-of-mouth seems to hold an almost mystical fascination in the minds of tradesmen and small retailers, as if business gained this way is somehow better than business gained some other way. Word-of-mouth certainly has the advantage of being cheap. But if it is such an effective marketing strategy, we would expect to see companies with popular, established brands relying heavily on it. Instead, we see those companies advertising more than anyone else.

American businesses, even small ones, seem to have a better grasp of branding. On average, they seem more intent on making a distinct, loud impression in the market with blinding colours, extravagant claims and hokey stunts. As a Canadian, I cannot help but find it annoying. I also cannot help but notice how much money some of those small American businesses make, and how disproportionate numbers of them do not stay small for long. Maybe there is a Canadian way to be bold and distinctive without sounding like the Mattress King. In any event, there certainly are non-annoying ways to tell your market about your distinctive business offering and to reinforce that message over and over until it sinks into your customers’ background assumptions. 

If someone put your company logo up on a screen, would anyone know what it stood for?

Next issue: In June we look at soil compaction equipment and give you tips from the experts on how to keep those jumping jacks jumping.

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