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Accidental Branding
Accidental Branding

Branding and marketing experts may not want you to know this, but some of the most successful, profitable brands on the market today were built by entrepreneurs who didn’t have MBA’s in marketing, attend college or even have any business training.


In his new book, “Accidental Branding, How Ordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands”, David Vinjamuri explores the six traits common to everyday entrepreneurs who built fabulously successful brands.  Vinjamuri is Adjunct Instructor of Marketing, New York University and President and Founder of ThirdWay Brand Trainer.  A Harvard MBA, he did marketing stints with companies including Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Citibank and DoubleClick.


Vinjamuri used three criteria for selecting and researching entrepreneurs and the brands they built: 1) the entrepreneur had to have no marketing training, 2) the individual had to personally experience the problem that their brand solves, 3) the person had to control the brand for at least 10 years (and have sales over $20 million).


The entrepreneurs and brands that resulted from the above criteria, and which are profiled in the book are John Peterman (J. Peterman Catalog), Craig Newmark (, Gary Erickson (Clif Bar), Myriam Zaoui and Eric Malka (The Art of Shaving), Gert Boyle (Columbia Sportswear), Julie Aigner-Clark (Baby Einstein) and Roxanne Quimby (Burt’s Bees).


After studying the entrepreneurs and their brands, Vinjamuri determined that there are six things in common that all the business owners do.


1.         Sweat the Small Stuff – Every entrepreneur profiled in the book is a perfectionist.  This does not mean that they are micromanagers, but rather they are obsessed with details and hire and delegate to people who are just as obsessed with every aspect of their brand.  By obsessing over details, the entrepreneurs make their brands authentic.  This authenticity makes their customers love the brands. 


2.         Pick a Fight – In each instance, the brand that was built either repudiated the status quo or represented something entirely new.  Along with this came a value system that was clearly articulated and became a crucial element in building a loyal clientele.  An example is, a central network of online communities which sought to help people connect by offering mostly free classified ads, much to the dismay of newspaper publishers.



3.         Be Your Own Customer – All of the accidental brands were created by people who were solving a problem with which they were faced.  By being their own customer, the entrepreneurs had a keen sense for what their customers wanted.  Gary Erickson, creator of the Clif Bar, was a bicyclist who detested foul tasting energy bars and set out to create a delicious one.


4.         Be Unnaturally Persistent – In most instances, the entrepreneurs started slowly and stuck with their plans through long periods of self-doubt and questioning.  Along the way, however, the accidental brand builders were able to confirm that their product was right for their customers and that the entrepreneurs were truly committed to their own success.


5.         Build a Myth – According to Vinjamuri, “consumers look for expertise, authenticity, and consistency in brands.”  By presenting the lore of a brand’s origins, which in the case of accidental brands was the entrepreneur solving a problem, consumers perceive authenticity and accept the brand’s philosophy.  A local example would be Blackhawk Industries founder Mike Noell, who after serving as a US Navy Seal and being frustrated with shoddy equipment, set out to produce better tactical gear for use by police and military special operators. 


6.         Be Faithful – This has to do with continuing to serve and listen to the core customers that first accepted and supported the entrepreneur’s brand, even after the product has gained widespread acceptance.  An example would be how Nike continues to listen to and cater to serious runners even though that segment now represents a tiny fraction of their sales.


So as you market your company, follow the 6 habits of highly effective entrepreneurs as explored in Accidental Branding.  And don’t worry so much about the marketing experts.


 As originally published in Inside Business.  

Douglas Burdett is the president of Norfolk-based Artillery Marketing Communications.  He can be reached at 627-4800 or

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