Last Updated on

For any of us who are playing with the notion of branding ourselves and our businesses, David Vinjamuri, a former brand manager a J&J, and Coke, now teacher of marketing at NYU and founder/president of Third Way Brand Trainers, has provided some interesting examples in his book, Accidental Branding, How Extraordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands (John Wiley & Sons).

Vinjamuri is a good companion, in a rather urbane, ah-shucks kind of way, who introduces us to the people (most with little to no marketing experience and started their businesses with only a few hundred dollars and maybe credit card) behind some of the most interesting brands in world, including Burts Bees, Clif Bars, & J. Peterman, among others. (*Find the full list below.)

While each story is unique, Vinjamuri highlights the qualities they all share, they took advantage of good timing & luck, a deep understanding of what their customers want and obsessiveness about the details of the entire interaction of their customer and their brands. A few rules, i.e. similarities amongst the brands that Vinjamuri highlights include:

  1. Do sweat the small stuff. Myriam Zaoui and Eric Malka, founders of The Art of Shaving, are very aware of each detail of men’s grooming processes, how to create products to enhance that process, and the final result in ways that appeals to men’s self image. Every detail of the product line, marketing, store format, sales and barbering staff is aligned with that goal.
  2. Pick a fight. Don’t be shy about highlighting what the competition lacks & how your offering fits the bill. Gary Erickson of Clif Bar couldn’t choke down one more, bad tasting nutrition bar while out on his training rides, and started experimenting with recipes for good tasting and effective nutrition bars. Needless to say, consumers of nutrition bars are reminded of that difference when they shop.
  3. Do be your own customer. Everyone profiled began their brands by addressing a specific need they had but couldn’t find a product/remedy in the marketplace. Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of Baby Einstein, couldn’t find educational videos for her baby. So she made her own and discovered that other parents were looking for the same thing. Craig Newmark of Craigslist also fits this rule. He was looking for a simple, free or cheap place for he and his friends to post on line, things and services for sale in a local area. With its global reach, you can get almost anything almost everywhere in the world. Why would Newmark, or anyone of the rest of us, shop anywhere else.
  4. Be unnaturally persistent. While all of these entrepreneurs have this quality, Roxanne Quimby of Burts Bees is my favorite. Being just shy of homeless up in Maine and being of a diy, hippie, artsy frame of mind, she went looking for things to make and sell. She runs into Burt Shavitz, a local bee keeper, selling honey from his truck to keep things simple. Quimby made candles from the bees wax and they started making a little money selling honey & candles at craft fairs. More experiments by Quimby making other natural products and greater selling opportunities, next they they know, they have a multi-million dollar business.
  5. Build a myth. John Peterman is the master of this idea. Being the poet merchant he is, his marketing copy builds a myth around the J. Peterman brand that allows his customers to become part of the myth and the select, in-the-know club of compatriots.
  6. Be faithful. OK, you’ve enjoyed some success and are ready to branch out. Don’t forget to be faithful to those that supported you in the beginning. Even if you introduce new product lines, don’t tamper too much with what your core customer base is interested in. Stay in touch with them to understand their needs & to reward their loyalty with your offerings while you expand to capture other markets. Gert Boyle, founder of Columbia Sportswear built a business on this notion. She and her family are very loyal to each other in the business and also to their customers. Boyle knows what she and her loyal customers are looking for in well made, reasonably priced outdoor wear and keeps everyone in the organization focused on delivering exactly that consistently.

As one person can only take a business so far on their own and if there is true interest in expanding, other will need to be hired. The trick is to surround yourself with people who agree with your views on most of the above.

You don’t’ necessarily need to do or be all of the above, but being as clear as possible on most of the above will help you define your personal brand to yourself sufficiently that you can successfully communicate that in ways that give your potential customers the confidence that you truly have their best interests at heart.

* Entrepreneurs and companies highlighted in Accidental Branding.

Roxanne Quimby

Burts Bees Craig Newmark

Craigslist Gary Erickson

Clif Bar John Peterman

John Peterman, The J. Peterman Company

Myriam Zaoui and Eric Malka, The Art of Shaving

Gert Boyle, Columbia Sportswear

Julie Aigner-Clark, Baby Einstein

Branding In Spite of Yourself

Branding In Spite of Yourself