The following is the fifth in the series "Live Your Brand" in which branding expert Melanie Spring takes us along on her three-week road trip across the country to meet innovative entrepreneurs whose experiences offer lessons learned to businesses big and small.
There isn’t another person on earth who knows more about cow comfort than Amy Throndsen and she’s not afraid to share her knowledge. Admittedly, cow comfort is unlikely to come up in conversation unless you’re from the Midwest. Amy’s father, Dean Throndsen has a passion for cow comfort, and he’s made it a part of his family’s belief system and company's brand.
In the late 90s, he was a salesman, selling agriculture equipment in America’s Dairyland. He was approached by a European company with a crazy idea -- a rubber bladder filled with water for dairy cow bedding. Dairy cows lie down 12 to 14 hours a day. Over the past century, housing them in barns on sand, straw and sawdust or rubber mattresses at some times during the year, or all year round, has become commonplace to protect them from the elements and manage the land better. But how do you keep them comfortable and prevent sores on their legs caused by long lying bouts on the floor?
Enter cow waterbeds. They’re durable, clean, long-lasting and float the cows above the floor, protecting her joints. When the company Dean worked for terminated his position, he created his own company, DCC Waterbeds.
Chances are slim that you're looking to break into the cow waterbed market, but any startup can learn a thing or two about how to better live their brand by taking a page from Throndsen's book. Here are three key lessons for your own branding strategy:
1. Make a good idea better.
As his company grew, Dean noticed a flaw in the waterbeds. The single chamber of water didn’t provide a counterpoint to the cow’s weight when the cow dropped to her knees, so all of the water would swoosh to the back end of the bed. And when the cow was lying down, there was a chance that her heavier end would push all of the water to the front and her legs would be resting on the ground.
When the supplier wasn’t interested in changing the design, Dean secured a patent for a dual-chamber waterbed, where a divider splits the bed, ensuring even support for the animal. He found a factory to produce his new design and in 2003, the dual-chamber cow waterbed was born.
The lesson for you: “Sell an amazing product," says Amy. "If you are selling a sub-par product, give up and make something amazing.”
2. Create believers.
The idea of a cow waterbed is difficult to wrap your brain around at first. It took a while for Dean to break through to people. Mostly, he was laughed at when he tried to explain it. But that did not stop him. He worked 80-hour weeks, traveling 50,000 miles in his truck every year to make the idea of Dual Chamber Cow Waterbeds a success. With dealers in North America, Canada and Europe, Dean’s hard work started paying off. By believing in his product and the work he was doing, he was creating believers worldwide.
It's the kind of persistence necessary to success in a tough business world.
3. Build a rock-solid team.
The Throndsens' business stands on family values like honesty, trust, integrity and dependability. They also have some of the hardest working staff. To fit in their brand, everyone on their team needs to live the brand all day every day.
“If you are a team of round-the-clock, lifetime learners with creativity and energy oozing out of every cell, don’t hire a clock puncher,” says Amy. “If you want people to buy into your idea and ‘live’ your brand, they need to be people who are looking for a lifestyle change, not just a job.”