Art & Commerce: Life Lesson

Bill Heater and Jeff Lawson offer friendly advice to a class of 11-year-olds
Ineeded a way to help the fifth graders at Milton Academy understand branding for their class project, The 5F Milk Shake Co. So I talked to my partner, Jeff Lawson. Before he came to Heater Advertising, Jeff was vice president of planning and research at Anheuser-Busch. Ten minutes on branding was nothing for him. But how to explain it to a class full of 11-year-olds? Here’s what we came up with.
First, call the people who know and like you. But when you’re done with that? Then you need a brand to stand in for you.
People need to see in your milk shakes the qualities they like about you. When you got on the bus the first day of school, who did you sit next to? I’ll bet it was someone who made extra room for you or made you smile. Make that connection with another person, and you do what good brands do.
You know the expression “thick as thieves”? Thick friends never betray your trust and are always there for you. To build a thick brand, you need to be that kind of friend. Call. Ask questions. Keep talking. What’s your favorite flavor? Would you like to know when we’re having a sale? How can I help? All to be a better brand and a better friend.
Each of your friends has something you like about them: a good sense of humor, a way of making you feel good about yourself. Do you have any friends who are mean? Or unfair?
It’s the same with brands. No matter how much you want to make a profit, know that if you’re cheap or unfair, it’ll cost you your friendship. Stand for one thing today, another tomorrow, and people will think you’re fickle. To get and keep loyal customers, be a “loyal brand.”
Loyal brands are steadfast. They earn trust by being there when you need them. A brand-friend can change itself on the outside–just like a friend can get a new haircut–but inside the values are rock solid.
Look at the brands you’re loyal to. Most of you are loyal Apple computer users. Why? Maybe the new iMac makes you smile just like the kid on the bus did. Even though Apple computers have changed over time, something deep down hasn’t. Apple makes you feel good about yourself and the work you do.
Your challenge is to agree on what kind of friend to be. Once you’ve decided, don’t change. When new kids come to school, make sure they get it. Write it down.
Something else good brands do. They commit random acts of kindness. Add some sprinkles to your milk shakes. Give your customers a free taste. On rainy days, offer two for the price of one. Send milk-shake jokes on email.
The secret isn’t a catchy slogan. A brand is you, and you are a lot more complex than that. Look into your own lives. What do you like about one another?
If you do that, you’ll put yourself into your shakes. A brand is bits and pieces of all that make you lovable people and good friends. In the end, customers will like 5F Brand Milk Shakes because they like you.
Very simply, that’s what good brands are all about.
Jeff Lawson is director of brand planning at Heater Advertising in Boston. Bill Heater is agency founder.