A Purposeful Look at Accidental Branding
There is no shortage of information on the concept of branding. Brand development, brand marketing, brand management — they’ve all been thoroughly covered. However, according to David Vinjamuri, founder and president of ThirdWay Brand Trainers, much of that information is outdated and wrong. In his book, Accidental Branding: How Ordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands, Vinjamuri examines a variety of well-known companies that have found success by eschewing commonly accepted marketing wisdom and uses those case studies to establish a new set of rules for entrepreneurs.
Among those profiled is craigslist, the online classified advertising site. It started simply as a list of local events that founder Craig Newmark would e-mail to friends. Now, craigslist.org is the go-to site for finding a date, a job, an apartment, a lost pet, and other things in 450 U.S. cities and 52 nations. Most listings are free (employers and landlords in select large cities are charged a flat fee), and you won’t find the service advertising on television or in magazines. Yet Vinjamuri reports that some analysts have estimated last year’s earnings at $55 million.
After the birth of her first daughter, Julie Aigner Clark began looking for videos that entertained and educated babies. When she found there weren’t any, she decided to make her own. The result was Baby Einstein, a series of videos that use bright colors, puppets and toys to expose young children to art, poetry, classical music and foreign languages. The first video was shot for $17,000. The company was eventually sold to Disney for $40 million.
But it’s not all success stories. The J. Peterman Company, for example, started as an atypical catalog with evocative prose instead of sales blurbs and illustrations in place of commercial photographs. This quirky business model built a strong cult following of loyal customers. But when the company was satirized on the television show “Seinfeld,” the resulting national attention changed the company’s profile. Bankruptcy followed. Peterman has since restarted the company, and it is once again growing slowly and quietly.
Lessons to Emulate
Other companies profiled include Columbia Sportswear, Clif Bar, The Art of Shaving and Burt’s Bees. Each of these business stories is interesting in its own right, but Vinjamuri’s writing makes them even more fascinating. Writing in the first person, he recounts his meetings with each company’s founder, seamlessly working the company’s history into his anecdotes and observations. He resists the urge to “sum up” or overemphasize what he wants readers to take away.
Instead, he lays out six new “rules” early in the book and relies on the stories that follow to bolster his points. First up, for example is “Do sweat the small stuff.” Too often, the author contends, businesses get caught up in big picture thinking and ignore the small details that can distinguish their brand and promote loyalty. Perfectionism is an asset shared by all the entrepreneurs profiled by Vinjamuri.
Another is “Be your own customer.” Each of the enterprises examined in the book was started to fill a particular need of the founder. The founders were their own consumers, their own target demographic. This gave each of them unique insight and perspective into their products.
Vinjamuri is careful to point out that his book is not meant as a guide to entrepreneurship. He knows that even readers who scrupulously follow his advice might still be among the vast majority of owners of businesses who don’t make it through the first year. His goal is simply to provide a glimpse at people who have built their brands in a nontraditional manner, find the commonalities and share his observations. The results are interesting, valuable and well worth reading.