Be different. What you do is probably not unique; but you can still be different from everybody else in your marketplace. Work out what you can do to make people sit up and notice you. The last thing you want to do is blend in or mimic other businesses in your field. So be brave. UK-based haulage company TomatoPlant is a great example — this is not the name or visual style you might expect from a trucking company. But their sense of fun and character — and bravery — means that they will always stand out from the crowd.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Dave Clark, Co-founder of Novanym. Dave and his business partner, Vince Bridgman, spent 20+ years running a successful marketing and design agency, where they stumbled upon the problem of finding the perfect .com domain. Today, their mission is to offer unique and distinct business names, logos, and brands to entrepreneurs who have the same drive to solve problems.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After working in marketing for a few years at a large corporation, I left to set up a design and marketing agency and was soon joined by my Business Partner and Co-Founder at Novanym, Vince Bridgman. It grew over the next ten years or so… but we ended up spending too much of our time running the business instead of doing the things we enjoy, so in 2004 we sold up and formed a two-man marketing and branding consultancy. When we were working on naming projects, our clients always wanted a name with an available .com domain — so we made sure we bought the domain for each name on any shortlist to make sure it was available. This inevitably resulted in a growing ‘bank’ of names and .com domains that we really liked but were not used by our clients. The idea of Novanym came from that, we thought: why not offer these ‘ready-made’ names to businesses looking for a great company name with the .com domain availability guaranteed? This idea has evolved into Novanym.com, which today hosts over 1500 ready-made names.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the very early days of our first marketing and design business, we got an opportunity to pitch to a premium food brand that was not only a household name but was also considered to be very fashionable. We landed the client and started work soon after — we were ecstatic! We thought, this kind of glamorous client would only lead to top clientele in the future. This idea led us to work ridiculous timescales often working overnight, and putting forth a significant amount of resources and time, despite a low budget. We considered them our ‘top’ client. After nearly a year of this, we finally got around to reviewing our client accounts. We soon realized that our ‘top’ client was taking more than 60% of our resources …in return for virtually no profit. Looking back at this experience, it’s humorous to think that we would have used our most valuable resources on a client that barely met the bottom line, just because they looked shiny! I still remember the moment we realized — after double — and triple-checking our numbers — that we’d been struggling for nothing and had been blinded by the apparent glamour. We soon ‘wised-up,’ started to charge properly for our work, and took better control of our time. This also offers a lesson to anyone started out where we were — sometimes the clients who are least known, offer the best returns.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We think it’s the real-world quality of our names that makes us different. There are quite a few sellers of brandable domain names out there, but none with the consistency in quality of Novanym. We think this is because we’re brand-led, not domain-led. We don’t list a domain simply because it’s available; we aim to develop distinctive, engaging business names and only list them if the .com domain is available. By doing this, we avoid the unpronounceable and frankly weird “names” that we see elsewhere. We create viable and credible business names with brand potential.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re a very focused business — we only do one thing and, we do it really well. So Novanym isn’t project-based. Our ‘project’ is ongoing and never-ending — working on making Novanym better. In reality, this means that we’re adding new names to the collection nearly every week; and we’re always improving our website so that we make it easier for businesses to find their perfect name.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
To us, the main difference is that branding is strategic, and advertising is tactical. Essentially, your brand is your reputation — what people think and feel about your business. You can try to influence this over time with branding (visual identity, tone of voice, the way the company presents itself to its audience). So you need to have a clear idea of what you are and what you stand for; and a clear plan as to how to convey this. Branding is a long term thing. But when you’re advertising a product, it’s more immediate; and shorter term. You have specific features and benefits to get across, and markets to reach — and a campaign is defined; it has a beginning and an end. So your advertising is a transient element of your branding, because your branding never ends.
It’s also important to state that brand marketing and product marketing should be seen as two halves of the same coin. The style of advertising, and the messages used in marketing activity, should all reflect the style and tone of the brand. Branding is a thread that should run through everything.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
The main thing to recognize is that people don’t make rational decisions after careful analysis — they work on a more emotional, less rational basis than that. So if they don’t trust your business, or don’t feel good about it, it doesn’t matter how good your products or services are — they won’t buy. Someone once suggested, your brand should target ‘Homer Simpson rather than Albert Einstein’.
The other crucial point is that, although it’s important to invest in your brand, most of this investment is in time and attention, not money. The financial investment is usually quite modest — especially in comparison to investment in advertising. A thousand dollars spent on branding will have more impact over a longer time, than the same spend on pay-per-click advertising, for instance, which can easily be spent in a week.
Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
Develop a brand statement.
You can’t convey your brand if you’re not clear what that brand is. So spend time to develop a simple brand statement that will act as your reference point for everything your business does in the future. It should succinctly express what you’re all about; what you’re for; and why people should care.
Take new sneaker brand, Allbirds: their brand statement might be something like: “At Allbirds, we’re on a mission to prove that comfort, good design and sustainability don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We’re dedicated to making the most sustainable footwear we can using premium natural materials, designed for the to and fro of everyday life.” Remember that a brand statement isn’t necessarily something that you publish to the outside world — it’s really there as a guide for the business.
Establish a brand story
Who are you; where did you come from? How did you end up doing what you do? Where did the idea for your business come from? People remember stories, so make sure you’re clear about yours. You need to make it easy for people to talk about you, tell their friends, and remember your name. So if you were a banker that went on holiday in Italy, fell in love with the local tomato stew, then came back and started a tomato farm — make sure that everyone knows!
Get the basics right
It’s too easy to over-think branding, and to make it more complicated than it really needs to be. Partly this is because when you think about brands, you tend to think about Apple or Google — and these aren’t typical businesses with typical budgets. Concentrate on the basics, and on keeping it simple: Get your name right; develop a simple, legible logo, adopt a distinctive color and font for your website, advertising, literature, etc — and use them all consistently.
What you do is probably not unique; but you can still be different from everybody else in your marketplace. Work out what you can do to make people sit up and notice you. The last thing you want to do is blend in or mimic other businesses in your field. So be brave. UK-based haulage company TomatoPlant (tomatoplant.co.uk) is a great example — this is not the name or visual style you might expect from a trucking company. But their sense of fun and character — and bravery — means that they will always stand out from the crowd.
Your brand is a form of relationship with your clients or customers — they need to know who you are and what you stand for. Show them that you share their interests and passions. Take Finisterre (finisterre.com) — a small outdoor clothing brand that started out making clothes for surfers. Via blogs and website content, they make it very clear to all that they share a love for outdoor life, the coast, and environment sustainability policies. They even have joint ventures with other like-minded brands and organizations, like the local lifeboat service.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Although it’s a relatively new business, I’m really impressed by Castore — the sports clothing brand. It has a great brand story: it’s formed by two brothers who were themselves professional sportsmen; and it’s very focused. They’re not trying to mimic other brands or to be all things to all people. For a start, they’re aiming for the premium end of the market; and they are adopting a ‘digital-first’ approach, going direct to their customer online.
I admire their ambition and their bravery — to take on such a competitive market that’s dominated by really big players is bold. But they’re taking the right approach by focusing on quality and sports-specific fabric technology and design that will appeal to the passionate sports person, but not to everyone.
Oh, and of course I would say that I also really like their name — to me it really stands out in that it’s not quite like anything in the sports sector. And the hint of a reference to ‘Castor and Pollux’ from mythology fits with the brand story. I like to think it was chosen because of the availability of the Castore.com domain.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand-building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
It certainly is different. I’m not convinced that anyone has developed a metric that really succeeds in measuring brand success. My metric would be ‘survival’. That’s not meant to be glib — I really don’t think that a business will thrive or survive over the long term without getting their branding right.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
It’s probably not the done thing to admit to it, but we don’t really focus on social media at all. We’re not negative about it — but we take the view that it’s not a great fit for our business-to-business model, or for the type of ‘product’ we sell. Certain platforms are often pitched as absolute must-haves for all businesses, but that’s not been the case for us. Perhaps this might change over time, but for now, our focus is elsewhere.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I’d say that the most important thing is to be yourself. There’s no typical business person and no single route to success. So don’t try to fit the mold, or comply with the stereotypes that the media might focus on. You don’t have to be up at 5am, drinking green tea; you don’t have to be a strident workaholic. If that’s just not you, don’t worry. Trying to exist with two versions of yourself will only cause you stress.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Think small. I’d like to see more businesses focusing on one thing, and doing it well. I’d like to hear about more businesses that don’t aspire to expand and take over the world — instead, aiming to do good things, provide good service, make profits and pay their taxes; without the need to do 10% better next year, and the next year …and the next. I think there are too many businesses that are simply too big to care — with employees that are un-engaged and powerless.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As a Brit, I feel almost duty-bound to suggest one of Churchill’s many aphorisms. I particularly like one of his less dramatic ones — “Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence, is the key to unlocking our potential.”
I also really like the quote that is usually credited to Gary Player, the golfer — “The harder I work, the luckier I get” — although I don’t think it was actually his. The point is a good one though: there’s no point waiting for things — like luck — to happen. You’ve just got to get on with it, and keep working at it.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’m currently slightly obsessed with Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History. I’ve enjoyed all of his books, too. I like his curiosity and fresh perspectives on life and business — and his warmth and humanity. I think he’d be great company; and I’d learn a lot, too!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
As already discussed, this might not be particularly rewarding! But if you want to keep up with the latest additions to the Novanym collection, follow us on Twitter @Novanym
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.