Branding at Any Stage: How to Energize your Brand in 2009

Your brand is the sum total of all “touch points” and experiences that EVERYONE has when they interact with you.  Whether you lead a rapidly growing million dollar services firm or a mature, well established $14B bank, the need for branding is just as critical.

The challenge is that it is often hard to read your own label (your brand) from

inside the bottle (your business).    Pill bottle

Without an objectively designed brand statement, you cannot consistently and confidently express and demonstrate your value to the market.  When you cannot demonstrate your value, you will consistently struggle to attract enough of the “right” clients.  In addition, you will never be able to tap into the emotions that cause clients to buy from you.

Here’s how two companies on different ends of the size spectrum are energizing their brands.

Shawn Solloway, President of EXIT Marketing, saw a great need five years ago.  He wanted to build a company that was focused on helping clients whose messages were getting lost in the advertising clutter. EXIT Marketing’s mission is simple: To end bad advertising.

Solloway saw an untapped market opportunity.  He observed that during the creative development stage, many advertising agencies focused very few resources on refining their clients’ messaging so that it was truly engaging.  Unlike other agencies, EXIT offers a level of creativity that cuts through the tremendous ad clutter and engages customers. Doing this gets clients greater results faster. Emotionally engaging messages are remembered more easily. People remember what they feel. Through doing this, fewer media spending is required to get desired results.

EXIT Marketing’s focus on developing their own brand has paid great dividends—but not initially.  Prior to undertaking a branding initiative, they pursued virtually every opportunity.  Says Solloway, “We developed an initial marketing plan for a startup firm that offered health screenings for executives who wanted a convenient, private, country club setting.  We were very excited to have this potential prospect.  Later, when we delivered the plan, he came back and deleted anything that was original or unique. He walked away from that plan review meeting, and we didn’t hear back from him.  The worst part about not knowing our ideal client during that time in our company history was that we created a negative ambassador for our local business community.”

Times have changed at EXIT Marketing.  Now, when Shawn’s team meets with new clients for the first time that do not match their ideal client profile, they politely decline and refer them elsewhere.  Just five years after founding the company, Solloway has enjoyed forty percent revenue growth within two years.


Umpqua Bank, another branding success story, demonstrates that creativity and innovation can even energize companies who dwell in notoriously conservative industries. Compared to the other bank CEOs that our team interviewed in 2007, Umpqua Bank’s Ray Davis was one of a handful who wasn’t ashamed to use the term “marketing.”  His current book, Leading for Growth, outlines his secrets to success.


When it comes to branding and strategy, Davis says “I get most of my ideas from companies that have nothing to do with banking.  But most of my competitors in the banking industry, bless ‘em, don’t try to learn from other industries…You could walk into a Gap store and know that’s where you were even if you didn’t see the signs.”

In 1995, Umpqua Bank invented the “bank store” concept. Instead of comparing themselves to banking leaders, Davis reached out and benchmarked their brand against brand leaders such as Starbucks and Hewlett-Packard.  They even brew their own blend of coffee for customers who stop by their stores.

Davis’ relentless commitment to branding has paid off.  In spite of the banking industry downturn in 2008, their stock traded at a 25%-40% premium compared to other community banks.

Remember–you will find brand inspiration in many places, often from outside your own industry.  After you view your brand from outside the bottle, it will be safe to remove the warning label.

Copyright 2008, Lisa Nirell.  All Rights Reserved.

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