Score with your brand: How to propel your business with better branding
Yoga has Lululemon. Surfing has Billabong. Why can’t hockey have a lifestyle clothing brand too? That was the question that prompted junior hockey teammates Ger McNamee and Craig Kennedy to create Gongshow Gear.
They started in 2002 by selling hockey-themed caps out of the back of their car in Ottawa. Gongshow (the name is hockey lingo for a wild game with lots of goals and penalties) has since expanded into everything from T-shirts to jackets, jeans specially cut for a hockey player’s larger legs and Beauty Beer—billed by the company as the “World’s First Hockey Brew.”
Gongshow now employs 25 and has enjoyed 13 straight years of rising revenues, with a 250% sales jump in the last five years. The company sells both online and through retailers.
McNamee and Kennedy attribute much of their success to Gongshow’s strong branding. They decided early on to be more than just a hockey apparel company. Their brand would be hockey itself—the excitement, the camaraderie, the memories of playing shinny on a frozen pond.
Build a strong brand identity
“We wanted to take all those warm, fuzzy feelings people have about Canada’s favourite sport and infuse them into our products. We wanted people to say, ‘Hey, these guys get me,’” McNamee says.
The company’s website proudly proclaims “Built in the locker room.” The homepage is full of photos sent in by customers wearing Gongshow gear. Products each have a hockey-themed name and a catchy little story attached to them.
Gongshow’s YouTube channel shows fun hockey-related videos. For example, a friendly shooting match between NHL players Bobby Ryan and Claude Giroux has attracted more than 200,000 views.
Hockey team spirit is also reflected in a strong emphasis on customer service, another pillar of the Gongshow brand. The company offers next-day delivery on online orders, free shipping when you’re returning merchandise and packaging in stylish black boxes with a surprise gift inside.
Focus on the entire buying experience
Branding is an often misunderstood but critical part of your company’s success. It’s about much more than just your logo or slogans, says Kayley Brooks, a BDC Business Consultant who works with companies on branding and marketing.
A company’s brand is the experience it provides customers during the entire buying relationship, she says. “It’s fundamental to everything that happens in your business. It’s about why your business exists, who it exists for and why you’re different.
“We see a lot of entrepreneurs who do not focus on this simply because they think branding is just the aesthetics—what the website or logo looks like. They say their branding is fine. Maybe they updated their logo last year, but their sales have stalled and they don’t know why.”
The problem, she says, is often a broken brand. There may be a perception your company is stale and outdated. Perhaps you’ve taken a hit to your reputation that is costing you clients. Maybe you’re taking a reactive approach to business opportunities and market changes, instead of staying focused on your vision and goals.
Develop core statements
The first step in defining or renewing your brand is to develop your core branding statements, starting with a vision statement for your company.
This is typically two or three sentences that explain what you want to achieve, your core values and how your brand reflects them. It should be simple, show what success for your company will look like in coming years and how you need to behave to achieve that goal.
You should also define your unique value proposition (the unique value you offer customers) and a positioning statement (how you want to be perceived in the market).
Defining yourself in these ways is the foundation for ensuring consistency in all your customer interactions—from your website and ads to customer service and the in-store experience.
Consistency is key
“Consistency is the No.1 priority for branding,” Brooks says. “It breeds customer trust. When their experience is consistently positive and aligned with their expectations of how it should be, they’re more likely to return to you and share their experience with others.”
The next steps are to use your branding statements to recruit like-minded employees, target customers and foster a community around your company.
Finally, bring your brand to life and build customer engagement with relevant and appropriate content, such as Facebook posts, a blog, eBooks and how-to videos.
3 steps to create a powerful brand
- Be consistent—Develop core branding statements (a vision statement, your value proposition and a positioning statement), and reflect them consistently in your activities and customer touch points.
- Foster community—Draw on your branding statements to identify your target market, recruit like-minded employees and create a community around your business.
- Bring your brand to life—Create content that reflects your vision and supports your brand.