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What a 120-Year-Old Soap Brand Can Teach You About Social Branding

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Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.22.14 PMBy Craig Faulkner (follow his new podcast here)

A few months ago, my wife, Marilyn, and I went to Death Valley for the weekend. I had always wanted to see Death Valley, and we weren’t disappointed. It’s a fascinating place, boasting both the lowest elevation in the northern hemisphere (282 feet below sea level) and the highest summer temperature (134 degrees F) ever recorded.

But in January it was beautiful, and we had a great time exploring the canyons and the ghost towns, relics of failed efforts at mining in the area. Only one mineral is still actively mined at Death Valley, and that is boraxite, used, among other things, to make laundry detergent and soap.

For readers of a certain age (we won’t say how old) the name Borax probably still rings true. And if you have one image connected with it, my bet is that it is of cowboys driving a huge wagon drawn by twenty mules. In 1891 Stephen Mather, the administrator of the Borax soap company, rebranded the soap as 20-Mule Borax to draw attention to the grueling efforts the teams mining the mineral took out in Death Valley.

It was an early, and brilliant, example of the power of branding.

By highlighting the arduous process that went into harvesting the boraxite for the soap, Borax changed the perception of the value of its brand. In short, people were glad they weren’t the ones in Death Valley driving a team of 20 smelly mules just to make a box of soap! The picture of the mule team communicated the dedication of the Borax company, and created a personal connection with its customers. The logo was so successful it can still be seen today.

Getting Personal

At FMG Suite, we talk a lot about content creation, because we believe that quality content is the key to unlocking your marketing potential. When we talk about content we divide it into three categories: Evergreen, Topical, and Personal. Evergreen and Topical content are very important to determine your niche and demonstrate your expertise, but personal content can be the most impactful for your branding.

Personal content is any media that reveals something about you, your company, your process, your culture, your values, your customer service or your quality assurance. It can be expressed in case studies, casual posts, customer reviews, or any number of formats. It can be very serious or light hearted. It just has to be personal.

One of the most overlooked opportunities for powerful, personal content is in revealing your process. There is a tendency among idea workers to protect a process like it is the Colonel’s secret chicken recipe of 11 herbs and spices. In reality, revealing your process not only proves your expertise and demonstrates your value, it also builds trust by establishing a transparent relationship with your audience. Like the 20-mule team, it can help the customer understand the lengths you go to create the goods and services they enjoy.

A Modern Steven Mather

A modern example of a CEO embracing transparency proves that showing your cards can be one of the best strategies. Jason Fried is the CEO of 37Signals, makers of BandCamp, a collaboration software tool for businesses. Jason started a fascinating blog early in the company’s life called “Signal Vs. Noise”. There he provided detailed explanations of the problems his team struggled with to develop the software, and the solutions they found to overcome them. Many of his investors were originally terrified of this strategy. Revealing proprietary knowledge all for the sake of some blog content? Surely this spelled disaster.

The opposite was true. By revealing his process, Jason invited the casual observer to take part in the company’s struggles, and become emotionally connected to the success of the project. And yes, maybe a competitor or two got an idea from his posts, but the blog created a huge community of loyal customers and advocates that far outweighs any possible loss from a borrowed process. Jason was invited to give a TED talk on the process that has been viewed several million times. That is the power of personal content.

In an article he wrote for Inc. he summed it up this way:

When you write like everyone else and sound like everyone else and act like everyone else, you’re saying, “Our products are like everyone else’s, too.” Or think of it this way: Would you go to a dinner party and just repeat what the person to the right of you is saying all night long? Would that be interesting to anybody? So why are so many businesses saying the same things at the biggest party on the planet — the marketplace?

How You Can Make the Connection

Do you hesitate to let your clients know how you determine the value and safety of various investment opportunities? Take a lesson from Steven Mather and Jason Fried, and invite them into the process. This can be a great tool for building relationships.

When you are considering your social postings, remember that this is a personal medium. It is immediate and needs to capture attention. Write about your struggles. Announce your wins. Did you know that AdWords ads that contain recent stats about company milestones can be up to twice as effective as normal ads? People are interested, not just in what you do, but how you do it.

Make sure that all of your About pages and Profile pages are filled out fully, specifically calling attention to your process and unique value points. Let your audience know about your own 20- mule team and watch your brand value increase.

And, as an example of personal content, here is a little video we made of our trip to Death Valley. Consider doing something like this for your clients when you travel. Enjoy!

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