by Susan Wright
When it comes to finding success as an emerging company, a strong brand is vital. A company’s name and image needs to connect with the service it provides and catch the attention of consumers. One of the companies specializing in this industry is Tungsten Branding, a firm that believes in developing a clear and cohesive brand for clients.
I was able to sit down with Tungsten Branding CEO Phil Davis to gain insight into the branding industry and discuss the strategies Tungsten has used to remain a powerful force throughout its history.
Tell us about yourself first. What is your management style? Where did you go to school and work in the past?
My management style has always been to surround myself with self starters. I find talented people, give them direction and let them do their thing. While micro-managing works for some owners, I like to see what others can bring to table when given the opportunity. I sometimes say my company is the “Mystic Pizza” of creative firms, in that it has spawned some stars that have gone on to do great things.
Tell us how your company started and when. Who was involved and what did each person do?
After having a full service ad agency for 17 years in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, I became increasingly interested in branding. I encountered many business owners who had created nightmares for themselves by building companies and brands that were so poorly aligned with what they did and who they served that they had to spend their way out of the mess. Think of it like creating a huge marketing drag coefficient where you have to spend and spend to get fewer and fewer results. Many of my clients were car dealers and it seemed the formula was whoever could scream the loudest and talk the fastest would supposedly get more business.
As media became more diversified and the consumer had more control of the conversation, it became apparent that these old school methods of screaming and shouting would diminish. I became fascinated with the ideas of magnetism and the growing body of thought around the “power of attraction.” By creating well aligned company identities, firms could actually attract congruent customers vs. “acquiring” them or “targeting” them. In general, marketing was being approached in such militaristic terms… zeroing in, targeting, saturating, penetrating the market, high frequency, etc.
My theory was that alignment begins with clarity, and that clarity of mission and purpose brings decision and action. So to that end, I created a new firm called Tungsten Branding, based on the filament in the light bulb. It was a metaphor for providing insight and illumination into a business so that it could more clearly communicate its message. That was in 2003 and to this point, we have now named over 250 regional, national and international companies, products and services.
Tell us an interesting story about your business. Were there any “wow” moments? Anything funny or unusual?
Early on, I was involved in with a start up called “Portables” (like the toilets) that was having trouble getting off the ground. The owner wanted us to do radio ads to explain the concept of portable storage units. It was taking several minutes for his customer service reps to explain the product on the phone. He had 70 units rented at the time with a goal of reaching 100. I told him he really needed to rebrand in order to better define his company and make it more distinct and “ownable.” With the right name, I felt he could define this new industry (much like Kleenex or Xerox has done.) I came up with PODS based on the notion of pea pods. The word had no connection to the industry at the time (which was new), and people referred to them as units or boxes. This new brand name took off and now they are known world wide. Competitors have even tried to use the brand name to describe their own products. That’s the power of a strong brand–given the right circumstances, it can define its category.
What does your company sell and how does it make money?
We create brand identities for companies, products and services. More importantly, we help business owners tell their story through their name, tag line and visual identity. Once an entrepreneur has their story straight, they become a powerful and potent force.
Which companies do you consider to be competitors?
There are about 50 firms that specialize in naming and branding specifically. Although we often compete with full service advertising and marketing firms who take on naming as part of their overall assignment. Most clients come to us after they have struggled internally with developing a brand name and see it as a better use of resources to outsource the job to us.
What makes your products and services better than competitors’ offerings?
Every naming firm has a specialty, such as having linguistic experts on board or having worked for “x” number of Fortune 500 companies. Our angle is that we look to create more than just a name, we work to create a marketing “platform” where the name is just the beginning of a deeper conversation. The right name should really get out of the way of itself and allow customers to easily engage with the client. So it’s not about having the craziest or whackiest names, our focus in more about creating insight and clarity in the identity so that potential customers can self identify with the brand and connect in a more natural and intuitive manner.
How big is the company in terms of its workforce?
The company ranges in size depending on the workload. For a while we had six staff members, but most of them work on a contractual basis now that hinges on workflow. We also have an extended network of “namers” and graphic designers we call in when needed.
What are the biggest growth catalysts for you right now? Tell us about any patents or other IP.
As social media and the internet continues to grow exponentially, we have worked to keep pace with a growing inventory of nearly 2,000 brandable domain names. If there are any entrepreneurs out there who have tried to name their startup, they will attest to the difficulty of running the gauntlet of trademark, domain name, social media handles, ect. So we continue to invest in quality brand names so we have available inventory to assist us in creating strong brand names.
The recent resurgence of startups in IT, medical and financial services is also a big plus. These groups are finding greater challenges in creating “white space” around their start ups. So they turning to naming firms in greater number to assist in this important piece.
Have you faced any regulatory hurdles, or anticipate any in the future? Explain.
Intellectual property laws are always in a certain state of flux, so we have to watch for those types of developments as they relate to the internet and trademark.
List out the formal title of all awards your company won and the year you won them.
Our industry is still in early development so there is of yet no trade organization for naming firms. Our clients continue to win awards, which is what motivates us most.
Is there any announcement you’d like to make?
This is our 10th year so that’s a milestone in this business. That makes us older than Facebook.