There is no debate that in 1878 one of the all-time most successful consumer products was launched by the Procter & Gamble Company (P&G) in Cleveland, Ohio. The story of how that product came to be varies, however.
The official company version is that it was developed as the result of years of experimentation with various formulas. James Gamble announced that White Soap, as it was originally called, was satisfactory in every regard. Whether or not it’s true, a different version of how the soap came to be is much more fun and human.
In this story the product was the result of nothing more than an oversight – an accident. An employee headed to lunch without turning off the soap making machine. Upon returning, he found a frothy and puffed up soap mixture. This batch was clearly different than normal. But it had all of the right ingredients and proportions so it was sent through production and sent to market. Shortly after that the plant began to receive inquiries about the ‘soap that floats’. Perplexed – “Could this be our White Soap?” – they began to look for answers. The lunch oversight was discovered. The extra time in the machine added more air to the soap and the result was that it did indeed float.
Regardless of which is the accurate story – most likely a combination of both – P&G had a winning product. Floating was a key point of differentiation from competition and quite a sought after trait. Remember, this was the late 1800’s and most people did not have nice baths or showers. They had lakes, rivers, streams, ponds – nature provided their baths. Having a soap that would float was quite handy.
Floating soap by itself is not a fearless brand. P&G built this fearless brand through innovative and aggressive branding efforts.
Fearless brands don’t need to be glamorous – just recognize their unique value and make the most of it.
Harley Procter initiated a total marketing effort like none before. He and Gamble, offspring of the founders, lobbied for – and received – an unprecedented $11,000 marketing budget. With their vision – and the money of course – Harley and James embarked on executing a marketing approach which was completely innovative at the time
Product attributes were at the core of what would become a ground breaking marketing plan. The first was that it floated. What would become its best known distinction is purity. A chemists’ analysis determined that only .56% of the product was not soap. With that, “99-44/100% Pure: It Floats” was about to become the most widely known soap tagline ever. That pledge of quality would strongly resonate with consumers and that brand statement continues to this day.
Having determined the key properties of the product, Procter determined that it needed a distinctive name – one that consumers would remember as they shopped. Procter’s choice of name – Ivory – was inspired from a bible verse one Sunday morning (Psalms 45:8 – “your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;). Soap in those days was typically sold in chunks and priced by the pound. Ivory was cut into equal sized bars, each wrapped in identical packaging – a first. The newly branded product was supported with print and radio advertising, also unique. Eventually Ivory sponsored the first TV baseball broadcast and is responsible for launching an entire genre of TV shows – the soap opera.
Harley and James began by understanding Ivory’s value proposition, knowing its target audience and presenting the product in a unique and highly relevant way. Ivory soap has been consistent in product formulation and brand messaging for 125 years now. Packaging has changed to remain relevant. Marketing vehicles and channels have been adjusted to best reach the primary consumer. What makes this a fearless brand is this authenticity and consistency.
As you build your own fearless brand, learn from the success of Ivory soap.
- Discover your unique value proposition. It doesn’t matter if that is done through countless product formulations or a serendipitous oversight. It is a great idea to get fresh perspective from a trusted adviser – even to engage professional help.
- Be authentic. Even if your greatest trait is seemingly insignificant – by example ‘it floats’ – go with it. Your unique traits are what allow you to stand out and differentiate in the marketplace. Don’t be too quick to discount a trait which doesn’t appear to add value – you never know when that is exactly the attribute you will need.
- Create a clear and relevant brand message. Clarity is power. Powerful to you in that you have a true understanding of your brand – powerful to those with whom you communicate because they ‘get it’ and know if it’s relevant to them or not.
- Be consistent. Consistency builds brand awareness. Consistency builds trust. Adjust as needed but be true to your core traits which create your unique value. Change for the sake of change is not productive.
Building fearless brands doesn’t occur overnight. The key to successful branding is to deliver quality – to be driven by passion and to be relevant to those you serve. To be a truly fearless brand you need to be 99-44/100% authentic.