3 Things I Learned About Branding From a Real Wyoming Cowboy
Branding Day—an annual tradition on the Good family farm. My grandfather lived in Wyoming and had a thousand acres of land where he raised cattle. Every spring, the calves were branded so they would be easily recognized by other farmers in the area as my grandfather’s cattle. It was a grand affair where friends, family, and neighbors gathered to help.
A calf would be led into a small corral while my uncle, on horseback, would rope the calf. A couple of the bigger men would wrestle the calf to the ground. My dad, who was in charge of the branding iron, would approach and actually brand the calf. This was a two-part process because he first branded the shape of a heart (my grandparents farm was located on Heart Mountain), then within the heart branded the letter “G” (for our last name, Good). I was in charge of applying some disinfectant to the branded area immediately after my dad finished the branding. After all of the calves were branded, everyone was invited to a big barbecue—whether they helped, or just participated as spectators. It was a great time shared with friends and family.
It’s been almost twenty years since my last branding day. Both of my grandparents have passed away and most of that land belongs to other farmers now. As I work with organizations striving to build their own brands, it occurs to me that there are many similarities between the branding that took place on the farm so long ago, and the branding that takes place in business.
Al Ries and Laura Ries, authors of The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, explain that branding is defined as possessing a word or an idea in the mind of a potential buyer. I recognize that in creating that single word or idea, branding can be divided into three key principles: consistency, simplicity, and making a good first impression. Here are my thoughts on how to utilize these principles with your own personal brand or for your company’s brand.
Be Consistent. In order to ensure that every farmer in the area knew which stock belonged to which farmer, they were all branded. And it wouldn’t have made sense for my grandfather to change his brand year after year. This would only cause confusion for everyone in determining who the livestock belonged to. The best thing he could do was be consistent. He needed to choose a brand (the Heart G mentioned above) and stick with it . . . forever!
As I was beginning to build my own brand, I asked an established entrepreneur if he had any tips or advice on getting started. His advice to me was again, to be consistent. He pulled out a business card and showed me how the graphics were consistent with those found on his website, Facebook page, and other social media. If you are going to own an idea in the mind of a potential buyer, you need to be consistent across all platforms and facets of your online and offline presence.
Keep It Simple. Branding cattle or other livestock is usually done when the animal is younger and smaller. There is not a lot of “real estate” available for large, outlandish, or excessive brands. It has to be something simple, yet recognizable.
Recently, after making a new acquaintance, I decided to connect with this person on LinkedIn. At the time, he had fulfilled some of the goals that I was looking to achieve. Hoping that I might learn more about him, I reviewed his LinkedIn profile. One section, however, gave me pause. His title read, “CEO, President, Founder, New York Times bestselling author, Keynote Speaker, Consultant, Trainer . . . ” He had listed so many things it was hard to separate the difference between what he was and what he had accomplished.
Reviewing this profile brought something forward in my memory. My grandmother always used to put some of her favorite comic strips on the fridge. It was always fun to see what new strips had arrived since my last visit. One comic, from Gary Larson’s The Far Side, has stuck with me all these years. Here it is.
This comic is to cattle branding as the person I mentioned above is to personal branding. If you are going to own an idea in the mind of your potential buyer, it needs to be something simple.
First Impressions. When my dad placed the hot branding iron to the hide of calf, the mark he left stayed there... forever. The second brand was even more difficult because he had to center it in the heart. If for some reason he messed up, there was no going back to fix it. The brand was just going to be a little askew. He literally had one chance to make the right impression.
During my early college years, I delivered pizzas. When I would answer the phone to take an order, my manager would yell at me for not smiling.
“People can hear over the phone if you are smiling,” she used to tell me. She threatened to put a mirror next to the phone so I could actually see myself and remember to smile. Why was smiling such a big deal? Because, as she often reminded me, “You only have one chance to make a great first impression.”
As it turns out, many of our everyday preferences are not because they are the best, but because they were the first thing we were exposed to. How easy it is to name the first man to walk on the moon, or the first man to fly over the Atlantic Ocean? Pretty easy. But can you name the second man to walk on the moon? Or any of the eleven others for that matter? Can you name the second person to fly over the Atlantic Ocean? Naming the second experience is more difficult because we usually remember whatever we were exposed to first. If you are going to own an idea in the mind of your prospect, it needs to be something that makes a great first impression.
THE BIG REVEAL
Many of us already have some sort of brand associated with who we are. That may be an intentional brand, or it may be something that we feel we just got stuck with. If you are looking to change your existing brand from a negative one to something more positive, or if you want to strengthen your existing brand, then the steps outlined above will help you. Ultimately, the goal as suggested by Ries is to own a single word or idea in the mind of your buyer. Branding should be designed to differentiate you or your product from all of the other cattle. Especially if all the other cattle pretty much look alike.
Do you agree or disagree? What are your thoughts on branding, either personally or in business? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to get your feedback.