Slash Hello Kitty

Brands Tell Stories


Brands Tell Stories

“Brand is what they say about you when you’re not in the room.”

By Bill Hensley

Construction waste

I HAD AN INTERESTING CONVERSATION last Sunday at my local Trader Joes. It was a repeat of one I’ve had a number of times over the years. It was “project day” around the house and I was on my way back from Home Depot wearing a tattered Fender logo shirt, a tan button-down with a simple black Fender logo on the breast pocket. Something about this shirt often leads to the question:

Cashier: Do you work for Fender?

Me: No, but back in the day I did a project with them.

Cashier: What was that?

Me: I was leading marketing for the Hello Kitty brand, and we helped Fender create a line of Hello Kitty guitars.

Cashier: Dude! Really?

Me: Really. Google “Slash Hello Kitty” and there’s probably a 20-year-old picture of Slash with a pink Hello Kitty guitar I’d just given him.

Cashier: Were they hot sellers?

Me: Yes they were. It was a long time ago. Search Hello Kitty Fender and you can see a whole storyline of people tricking out their Hello Kitty guitars.


Before entering the smart home/custom installation industry I enjoyed 16 years in consumer products, marketing the Hello Kitty brand. It was a brand with a rich folklore, and I found that almost everyone had a Hello Kitty story. They weren’t all positive, but they were always stories. Some brands are like this; good brands are always like this. One of my favorite stories from then was calling Fender — my favorite guitar company — and pitching an idea for a Hello Kitty guitar collaboration. My intent was just a one-off for a charity promotion, but it turned into something much bigger, something that created a story. That’s what brands do.

I always try to start with brand. Doing so adds power to the message. Brands help guide the tone and set the stage. They sway decisions, create energy, change minds, and when necessary, buy forgiveness. What’s your brand? If you design or design and install smart home systems, what’s that thing that makes you stand out? There is not a particular “correct” answer here, and brands are not just for established companies. A three-person design studio or home technology company needs good branding just as much as an industry leader. It’s not just the brands you sell, it’s the brand you are.

Good brands ask questions. This is especially important in the custom installation business. After all, it can’t be custom if the solution is not the result of asking a lot of questions. These questions help you design an exceptional smart home for your client. They also help you establish your brand. “Brand is what they say about you when you’re not in the room.” This statement is often attributed to Jeff Bezos, but it goes back further. I heard it first from B2B brand consultant and author Dennis Flynn, and even then he attributed it to another marketer. Important for anyone in the custom installation business is that your brand precedes you before you enter the room, before you make the phone call, before your start asking questions. It’s the sum of all your touchpoints with your customers, and it needs continuous nurturing to keep it healthy.

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