The Build Cycle Podcast #052 – A Ponysaurus teaches how to create a winning brand

Do you want to create a brand that stands out? Wondering how to create a world class brand that people actually care about and love? Then you’ll love this Branding Master Class with Ponysaurus Brewing co-founder David Baldwin, who is also the founder of Baldwin&, an award winning advertising and branding agency in Raleigh, North Carolina. Using Ponysaurus as a case study, David discusses how to create a memorable and impactful brand for your product, service or company by finding its authentic truth. This episode starts off with the story and process behind creating Ponysaurus, then we dive into more practical tips and topics on how you can create your own brand.


01:50 – How the Ponysaurus brand was born
06:30 – How are they getting it right?
07:55 – You’ve got to get the product right.
11:00 – A step by step process for creating your brand.
13:55 – How do you ensure your brand’s priorities resonate with consumers?
15:25 – You’ve created a brand story, now what?
19:40 – What things should you build your brand around?
23:05 – How to make an emotional connection
25:50 – Can you engineer a viral social media ad?
29:25 – What’s the point of your advertising?

Ponysaurus Brewing tells how they created a popular brand that customers love


Before we dive too deep into the branding talk, I want to point out one incredibly important thing David says about the future of ad agencies. They have started taking an equity stake in some clients, or just creating the brands themselves, which allows them not just a piece of the pie (or the whole pie), but also a stake in the success. Clients have long been skeptical of the power of advertising, so by putting their money where their mouth is, Baldwin& and other modern agencies are betting on their ability to grow the brand. The upside is potentially far greater than just having a monthly retainer on top of billables, and I know several agencies that’ve made out quite well doing exactly this. The lesson? Even if you don’t own an agency, think creatively about how you can get paid and think about mixing performance-based pay with typical rates.

How to Create a Great Brand

Start with a great product. Focus on excellence, whether it’s in service, performance, product quality, whatever. If you’re not starting with a great product, the best branding in the world will only take you so far. Which is to say, not far enough.

When it comes to developing a brand slogan, voice and message, David says you need to find your authentic truth. What can you honestly say about the product and your company’s mission? In their case, it’s about building community around beer. So, everything they do, from product development to pub atmosphere, to their marketing slogans and artwork, is built around conveying that message.

We break it down into several steps to help you think through:

  • Determine what your mission is?
  • What makes you special?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What do you want your voice to be?
  • What do you want your look and feel to be?
  • What is your point of view?

David emphasizes that last one, which some people call “purpose” or “social impact”, but at the end of the day, defining your brand’s point of view gives you a lens through which you can shine anything you do. Having a point of view helps you frame everything you do so that it stays on message and informs your behaviors. Once you have these views and behaviors outlined, it’s critical to stick to them. In this day and age of social media and click bait headlines, going off message or betraying your own brand with out-of-character actions can quickly tarnish your brand reputation…and sales!

Building fun and social values into your brand makes it easy to attract and retain the type of customers you want

How to create a brand that consumers care about

There’s two ways to go about this. Our conversation focuses on creating a brand that has a true, authentic voice based on the company’s core values and mission. The alternative is to do market research and build a brand around what consumers care about, then design your behaviors and branding accordingly. The trick to the latter method is that consumers are fickle and the cause du jour may not be all that important a couple years down the road.

“Money is A goal, it’s not THE goal.”

In contrast, creating a brand around your own core values makes it easier to stay passionate and motivated to do what you do, day in and day out. It also means that your customers will align with you rather than you trying to align your brand with them. This results in true believers, who often help spread your brand message for you. And word of mouth is still one of the most powerful methods of growing your brand.

Brand with a Plan

Having a strong brand vision and archeology also helps streamline your business by keeping you focused on the things that are important to you. When you try to please everyone, you’re probably not thrilling anyone.

If you’re starting from scratch, or rebranding, evaluate what’s important and marry that with your unique selling points. It’s great to communicate your mission and philosophy, but you also need to let people know why they should choose your product or service over another. This doesn’t always mean comparing features, but more like explaining the features and benefits in a way that expresses your authentic truth. This makes your brand unique, even if your product is very similar to competitors’ products.

“Find whatever that ‘thing’ is and turn it into a need being filled in the market”

David uses Southwest Airlines as an example. They started out as the cheapest option, which rationally makes it the best option. But people make purchase decisions emotionally, so their concept of democratizing air travel because everyone deserves to be able to fly makes that emotional connection with people who otherwise through flying was out of reach. Now, all of a sudden, they have someone on their side, and that’s a powerful branding technique. As David says, the rational argument is still there, but you need to contextualize it to create an emotional argument. And that’s your point of view.

How to Create a Viral Campaign

This one’s tough, because getting a ton of exposure because you’re paying for the traffic does not make it viral. Engaging content is how you create somethin people what to share, which is how it goes viral. But it’s OK to stoke the fire with paid boosts to get things moving quickly. The trick is creating something that truly engages with consumers (ideally your target customers, not just any consumer). I’ve found, and have read too many supporting articles to list, that the best way to make something shareable is to surprise and delight folks. Here’s one of my favorite examples.

You also need to keep in mind the goal of the campaign. Is it to simply increase brand awareness? Or to drive sales? Or something else? Make sure the creative (meaning, the artwork and messaging) supports your goals.

Why advertising matters, and how to do it right

David uses the analogy of watering your lawn to illustrate the importance of keeping your brand in front of consumers. You water your lawn continuously, and eventually it has a lush green texture with full coverage. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires constant maintenance. Same with your brand. Advertising on its own won’t last over time unless you’re A) doing something to build your brand and make it memorable, and B) doing something to surprise and delight. I compare it to exercise, you have to keep doing it to grow, and as soon as you stop, you start to lose ground.

David also mentions the power of spending more, particularly when others are scaling back. It’s been proven that the brands who spend the most have the most brand recognition. Sure, there are caveats within that statement, but what’s the first car insurance brand you think of? My hunch is it’s either Geico or Progressive, because they’re spending a ton to stay in front of your eyeballs. So when you need car insurance, who are you most likely to call?

“But I’m a small brand, and I can’t outspend the major players!”, you say. Maybe not, so you have to be bold. David’s advice about doing something

David does say that traditional media is still the best, but I would argue that “it depends”. As in, it depends on what type of consumer you’re looking to reach. Being in the cycling industry, my first thought was that it makes zero sense for Niner Bikes (a mid-sized mountain bike brand) to do mass marketing on traditional media. They’re better off targeting mountain bikers through the channels that reach them…like on Bikerumor and other cycling websites/magazines, but probably not the road cycling specific outlets. The flip side is if you have a product, let’s say a coffee drink, that’s widely available in 7-11s and other convince stores. Then, yes, big mass media options like billboards and radio make a lot of sense. As David says, web and social are basically “traditional” media these days, so when you hear broad proclamations like his, you still have to run them through the filter of where your target customers are.

“Safety is actually risky, and being risky is safe.”

When it comes time to design your ads, whatever form they may take, think big. Think about how you can surprise and delight, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Who do you remember at a party? The boisterous person with a loud laugh standing on the table toasting the host? Or the wallflower wearing plain clothes sitting on the couch? They were both there, but only one of them gets and keeps people talking long after the party is over.

The trick, if you’re the life of the party, is to keep it clean and fun for everyone, and don’t alienate others for the sake of attention. If that sounds like “playing it safe”, David uses the word “edgy” to explain. You don’t want to be edgy, you want to be bold. Edgy will offend everyone because it’s inappropriate. Bold can be offensive to people who don’t agree with your authentic truth, but will enthrall those who share the same values you do. So be bold, state your values in a way that surprises and delights, and watch your brand grow like crazy!

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