There’s a Sticker On That Shovel!

How a branding mistake actually created an amazing engagement in the branding message.

“There’s a sticker on that shovel!”

In the business world, we are always trying to do something new a reach for something just out of reach by putting ourselves out there from time to time and sometimes we expose mistakes or failures we didn’t mean to. In today’s fast-moving tech age we can brand our new ideas, beta test new branding angles right away with very little expense, populate those ideas very rapidly and get feedback within minutes from our following. With all of this happening at breakneck speeds and near instantaneous responses, sometimes things can be overlooked or a mistake can be made without us first seeing it until it’s too late and the mistake is out on public display!

Last week I was working on a new branding idea for some web content and I had scheduled a photo shoot for this new idea and branding I had been working on. Here’s the setup: I transported a bunch of my equipment to my house to stage it up with a nice mountain background and make it look like the equipment was doing some work for the photo. My idea was to have myself in the photo holding a briefcase in one hand and a shovel in the other with the working equipment in the background. The theme was to communicate that Daniel J Bockman is not only a savvy business owner but not afraid to get his hands dirty and do some real laborious work.

Day after day, we worked to set the scene just perfect having to mow the grass 3 different times. Most of the time we were rained out and more times than I could count the light was wrong, shadows from the trees were wrong or the clouds were not just perfect, or the trees in the background would washout the equipment. We did morning shots, afternoon shots and once we were going to do a night shoot but I couldn’t stay up that late. Finally, days later we looked out and everything was just right and the scene was perfect but we had to leave for another event in just a few minutes. We had to hurry and get everything ready for the shoot so that we could get it and still make the event. I had no idea how hard this was going to be but we did get tons of really perfect pictures. (and even more crap pictures!)

I spent the evening looking at the pictures on the computer and we found one that we felt was really good. The light, my position, face direction, and background was everything we had been looking for. I selected the shot and just for fun and to get some feedback, I posted the photo to Instagram tagging my Facebook page as well. And then… the comments and likes began to pour in!

But something was off. Later in the evening, I was finally able to sit down and read some of the comments. I was struck. Something was wrong and all the comments revolved around one overlooked flaw in the picture. People kept saying, “There’s a sticker on that shovel”, “What’s the deal with the sticker on that shovel?”  everyone kept saying and lots of other comments about a sticker on the shovel. I was confused and didn’t know what they were talking about. I went back to the post on Instagram and sure enough, there was a product sticker on the face of the shovel I was holding. I never even noticed it when we were looking through the photos! At first, I was trying to figure out why the sticker was such a focal point in the picture and then I began to over think it and was worried that this sticker was now taking away from the theme of the branding and the message I was going for.

Still, days later, I was getting comments about this sticker on the shovel! Eventually, my gut reaction was to comment back and say we were going to retake the photo or try and edit out the sticker but this morning, my business brain kicked in and my branding “mad genius” took over! I had an amazing thought about this sticker on the shovel. Branding is different than advertising. When you advertise you are hiring someone or doing work to go out an tell people about your business, products or services but in branding, you are working internally to create something noticeable about your business without effort, work or expense to get someone to notice you. The work you do, the money you spend, the culture you create and the attention for details you do in-house communicates your message and it brings customers to you rather than you going out and getting them. Apple, Amazon, Google have all created brand cultures to get customers to use their products and service. It’s a redirection of effort. In branding and advertising, you want to get noticed but with branding, you want to also engage with your customers and make them feel they have had an experience by doing business with you. You don’t have to do market research or ask customers where they heard about you to see if your advertising is working if you focus on branding. You don’t spend money on a quiver of different advertising schemes and try to filter out what is working when you are branding.

I like to compare advertising and branding like a diamond. You have a nice diamond that you go out and tell people about and invite them to see when you advertise but in branding, you are polishing your diamond so brightly it gets noticed and seen on its own and people naturally gravitate to come and see your diamond you have cut and polished. Since branding is all about engaging with your customers or followers, I couldn’t help but look at the sticker on the shovel as a source of branding engagement. What at first seemed to be a fly in the ointment or a mistake, was actually a diamond in the rough and was creating a thread of comments and attention! My followers were not missing the point of the message in the branding theme and in fact, they were very aware of it and made a point to point out that my message might be flawed as a blue-collar workingman entrepreneur holding a brand new shovel that looked like it’s never been used! Maybe Daniel J Bockman isn’t as blue-collar as he says if he never puts his shovel in the ground! The sticker was a vehicle to get people to engage in the branding moment and hence, drew the attention effortlessly to my new brand.

The point I’m trying to make is that we all make some mistakes in this fast-moving world of business but if maybe you look again at the situation, maybe, just maybe… a mistake just might be creating the engagement you were looking for in the first place by embracing the mistake! Next time I will be more careful and not accidentally have my new white Ferrari 458 in the background and make sure my gold plated shovel is out of the picture!

Daniel J Bockman

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