Mike Teasdale discovered some of the secrets to building a successful brand when working on the launch of the New Covent Garden Soup Co. in the early 1990s, and explains what it can teach new skateboard and beer brand Hop King.
Psst! Want to know the secret formula for creating a successful brand? Of course, there isn't one. Brand creation is more alchemy than chemistry. Most commentators would say that a distinctive proposition which solves a consumer problem, combined with hard work and good luck, is essential to success. But what else is needed? Are there common traits one can observe from successful brand creations?
When I was a cub planner learning my craft at BBH, I had the good fortune to work on a young brand called New Covent Garden Soup Co. For those readers not familiar with them, NCGS Co. are makers of delicious fresh soup that comes in a milk-like carton. They invented the fresh soup sector in the UK grocery trade. Prior to this, soup was either tinned or dried packet if you did not want to sweat your own onions. Long story short, it was a mutually beneficial partnership. I created a distinctive strategy that became the blueprint for not just advertising but all their marketing. It won me Gold at the 1995 APG Creative Planning Awards, which gave this ugly little duckling some baby swan credentials.
Recently, I found myself referencing NCGS Co. when I was talking with an impressive young man by the name of Ben Hopkinson. Ben is the creator of a skateboard and beer brand called Hop King, and I am struck by the similarities between Hop King now and NCGS Co. in the early 1990s.
First common trait: optimism.
Young brands are like young people. With their lives before them, they feel invincible and see opportunities, not problems.
The people behind NCGS Co. were told they were mad to attempt to disrupt something as long-established as the tinned and dried packet soup sector. Likewise, Ben is mad to think he can make a difference as a tiny player in the kit-heavy world of brewing. But is he? He owns the leasehold to two pubs in London so he has a test market for what will sell to young people.
Second common trait: clarity.
It's one thing to be optimistic; it's quite another to be crystal clear on how to exploit the opportunity your optimism has identified.
For NCGS Co., it was all about being home-made in a sector more akin to manufacturing than cooking. For Hop King, it's all about being cool in a craft beer sector that is quirky but nerdy. The pursuit of cool is why Ben has deliberately launched Hop King as a combined skateboard and beer brand.
Third common trait: attention to detail.
Every detail matters, because everything says something about you.
I remember being with NCGS Co. in their test kitchen (which at that stage was the home kitchen of one of the founders). They argued for hours about how best to smoke some mushrooms for a new recipe they were developing. By God, they were passionate. Ben is the same. He spent months developing his beer recipe using an imported home-brewing kit. And he spent endless hours thinking about every detail of his brand and how it comes to life in all dimensions and touchpoints.
Fourth common trait: availability.
Penetration more than frequency is the engine for brand growth. That means mass presence is power.
NCGS Co. built a cult following through word of mouth and presence in foodie locations, but things went ballistic only once they were stocked in a major supermarket. In the digital age, it is easier to achieve mass presence. Ben can sell his beer and boards and clothing online, but he still needs physical presence beyond his two pubs for the beer. Securing distribution deals to get Hop King beer stocked in more places is a priority.
Fifth common trait: salience.
Brand creation is a fame game. Salience is the twin sibling of availability. They feed off each other.
NCGS Co. worked hard to get endorsements from foodies and chefs, before launching into advertising in quality magazines and supplements. Ben has the power of the digital age to help him. More than ever, young brands are now built by customers sharing their interaction with the brand. Hop King's website and Instagram page are vital tools.
So, what is the secret to creating a successful brand, and is it different today compared with 20 years ago? Well, some of the means are different but it's still about having a distinctive proposition which solves a consumer problem, mixed with a lot of hard work, optimism, clarity, attention to detail, availability, and salience. Oh, and don't forget the good luck.
Even then it's an uncertain enterprise, so let's raise our glasses to toast the success of brands like Hop King and NCGS Co.