Posted by: kevinliebl | April 30, 2009

Lessons from Joe – Paint it Red and Green

The person that was most influential in my life, other than my parents, was my grandpa Joe.  You will see a number of references to him in my blog.  He taught me more practical lessons about life than most of my graduate professors.  He was the grandpa every boy wanted to have.  He was a die-hard fisherman from Minnesota and he could mesmerize a room by telling jokes, stories of fishing and most importantly, playing practical jokes on any “victim” he could find.  He and grandma would visit us every Christmas and it was the highlight of my year.

Grandpa Joe first introduced me to the concept of “branding”.  He didn’t realize it, but he started a young boy thinking about the power of branding and marketing.  I was probably 9 years old and I came home from school to find him painting all my father’s tools bright red and green.  Now, my father and my grandfather didn’t always see eye-to-eye and I knew this was trouble.  I had no idea why my grandfather was painting my father’s beloved wrenches, hammers and screw drivers red and green, but I knew my dad was going to blow his lid.

Grandpa Joe’s answer was simple.  “When you own something important to you, you need to mark it so that no one else will steal it from you.”  He said, “Your father is a generous man, and he is constantly loaning his tools to the neighbors and he never gets them back.  Now everyone will notice if they have one of your father’s tools and they will return them when they are done.”  His logic was excellent, and I can tell you that while my father didn’t speak to my grandfather for about two days, my grandfather was absolutely correct.  We never lost another tool.

Companies need to brand their products for the same reason.  A company’s product, and more importantly it’s brand, is one of the  most important assets in a company.  Why do my kids want Etnies shoes rather than DC shoes?  The materials are identical and the styles are almost indistinguishable (my apologies to the shoe designers).  Why are people willing to pay 5-10 times more for an original Louis Vuitton bag versus a knock off from Mexico when no one can tell the difference?  Why are we willing to pay $5 for a cup of Starbucks when you can make the same cup of coffee at home for pennies?  It is all about the brand equity.

It doesn’t matter how large or small your company is.  Branding and protecting your product is extremely important.  If you don’t, someone will steal it.  You will be a victim of your own success because your competitors will build it cheaper, better and faster unless you create brand preference for your widget over theirs.  Paint it red and green.

Action item: Go back and think about you company’s brand strategy.  Do they have one?  What are the goals and objectives?  Is it to build customer preference, customer loyalty and/or defend competitors from entering your space?  Does your strategy support your goals?  If not, maybe it should.Red and Green Tools

For the record, I still have all the red and green tools hanging in my garage; and “no”, my neighbors don’t steal them either.  Who would want to hang a red and green wrench in their garage?

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