8 Bold Businesses Reveal How To Build An Unforgettable Brand

Branding lessons from 8 companies--bold, brash and brazen--that can help you amp up your own brand.
Columnist, American Express OPEN
September 16, 2013

Do you ever worry that if you let the real “you” shine through, your audience will head for the hills? Brands—oh, they do a whole lot of worrying. In fact, I see some brands spending so much time worrying that they fail to have an opinion about anything.

This makes you forgettable. Do you really want to be building a forgettable brand?

It’s time to kick your worries to the curb and let the real you shine through. Be bold! Build a brand so chock full of personality that people can’t help but love you or hate you.

And if you’re worried that folks will hate you, take a look at the following eight incredibly bold brands. While they might not be for everyone, they definitely have their fans. And their bank accounts are doing just fine.

Manhattan Mini Storage: Finding a place to put your stuff in New York City. Exciting, right? Here’s a brand with a not-so-exciting service that decided to make its own excitement. Head on over to Facebook, and check out the company's brand page cover images. Hilarity awaits. This collection of the company's funniest ads will have you rolling and wonder how a brand so bold stays in business. Well, it does. And I’m glad.

Duluth Trading Company: Work clothes are work clothes, right? Not if you’re Duluth Trading Company. From its iconic Ballroom Jeans (“crouch without the ouch") to its Longtail Tees (guaranteed to eradicate plumber’s butt), this is one brand that knows how to shine. If you’re in a brand space where you’re competing with multiple other manufacturers with more time in the market, personality is one surefire way to accelerate brand affinity—and sales.

Big Ass Fans: If you think industrial equipment can’t be fun, think again. Big Ass Fans admits that its name might be a bit silly, but the company oozes personality. Just check out its "Kudos and Complaints" page. Folks tend to think that B2B companies have to be all business and devoid of personality. The way this company responds to customer comments goes to show that you can have a great product for a strictly business audience and still cut up on occasion. You can also click on the "Show Us Your Fanny" page, where customers and employees have fun dressing up the brand mascot, Fanny (a donkey).

Moosejaw: It sells outdoor gear. Yep. Super special. But if there were a Pulitzer for product descriptions, Moosejaw would have that sucker locked up for years to come. It’ll even take your products back if you're dead (with a few hilarious caveats). If that’s not customer service, I don’t know what is.

Saddleback Leather: If Moosejaw wins the Pulitzer for product descriptions, Saddleback Leather Co. wins it for "About" pages. If the myriad of links doesn’t lead you down one of the most delightfully twisted rabbit holes you’ve ever been down, it’s possible you have no soul. It makes amazing, handcrafted leather bags and accessories and even offers a 100-year warranty. How’s that for brand confidence? Fall in love with the firm's brand story, fall in love with your purchase, and know that whatever you buy will last … your entire lifetime. It's also the only brand I know with enough mojo to post links to every competitor’s website in its main navigation.

Narragansett Beer: I fell in love with these folks when I interviewed them for a case study in my book. Bottom line? I’m a fan of any brand with the guts to sport a slogan like “Jam out with your clam out.” No—it’s not dirty. It’s on a T-shirt made especially for a local music festival to celebrate the beer-and-clams ritual in the region. This beer manufacturer trusts its customers so much that they can easily create their own customizable ‘Gansett Gear to sport around town. That takes some serious brand confidence. It’s not just beer—it’s a culture and a lifestyle.

Bonobos: This company has a single brand promise: better-fitting men’s clothes—that you buy online. Although it recently introduced its new Guideshop showrooms where you can now try on the company's clothes before buying, Bonobos built its brand around stupid, crazy, amazing customer service. Have a problem, question or just want to say hi? Reach out to one of the Customer Service Ninjas. Heck, you might even be able to become a ninja yourself. With this company, the customer is always first and it has fun making it fun for guys to buy clothes.

T-Shirt Hell: If we’re talking about bold brands, it’s impossible to leave T-Shirt Hell out of the conversation. There’s something on the company's website guaranteed to offend just about everyone. However, the company has a raging following of devoted brand evangelists and celebrates its customers religiously. Want to win a T-shirt? Enter the weekly contest (the contest has a catchy name we can't print here). Have an idea for a great T-shirt? Submit it, and you could win $200 and a free shirt (since 2007, the company has given away more than $200,000 in prizes for customer-submitted ideas). With more than 165,000 Facebook fans and a high level of per-post action, it's proven that even the most offensive of ideas has great rewards—if that’s your brand’s bag. Finally, please don’t view this website from your work computer. Your IT department will hate you (and me).

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Photo of skydiver Chris Barnett by Nickolas Dewet