Who’s got your back?

When you’re busy working in your business you can lose sight of the image you are presenting to the world. So, asks Derek Barton, is everything you do in your business ‘on brand’?

Have you ever seen a Disney car? You may never see one on the road because of the brand manager at Disney many years ago.

What may seem like a perfectly logical brand idea to many may seem like a very bad idea to one. And that one just might be what most companies call their brand manager, or as I was nicknamed during my time at Gold’s Gym, the ‘Keeper of the Brand.’

At that think tank meeting at Disney many moons ago, someone said: ‘Since every kid grows up loving Disney, why shouldn’t their first automobile be a Disney car?’ Every person around the table praised the idea and the excitement grew at the thought of this potential revenue maker while getting another Disney product out into the market place. It seemed like a logical extension of the brand. Who wouldn’t love that idea? Certainly every Disney fan would. All the Disney management and marketing teams at the roundtable did, but not Disney’s brand manager.

That ‘Keeper of the Brand’ was the only person who questioned the idea. She was the only one who truly thought all the way through the idea from the good points to bad. After all, it was her job to make sure this idea was ‘on brand’ and would not diminish or harm it in any way. She was in a tough position because at Disney they do not allow any negative thinking when it comes to developing an idea, a concept I admire and respect because too many people don’t have the vision to truly see a great idea. They’ll negate it for many reasons, one because it wasn’t their own idea or two because they just don’t open their minds to something new.

In this case, the brand manager at Disney waited until the celebration and the high‐fives over their great Disney car idea were completed. She raised her hand and said, ‘I can see the Disney car as clearly as all of you can. I can see the excitement on the face of every kid who drives one. It could be more popular than the Volkswagen Beetle. But, I can also see what would happen to our brand when a 16‐year-old girl gets into a fatal accident in her first car, the Disney car. The newspaper headlines and newscasts will brutalise our brand.’

There was stunned silence as the bearer of bad news sat uneasily in her chair. After all, she had just rained all over their parade. The looks were as if she had killed the Mouse or complained that Donald Duck had no pants, or questioned why Goofy walked on two legs while Pluto walked on all fours (strange indeed because they are both dogs).

A voice with another perspective had spoken and shone a light on the likely consequences of what a moment ago had been the greatest idea since Disney World. It was like the play Twelve Angry Men in which one person changes the minds of the other eleven jurors. The Disney team all sighed, and then nodded at the thought of their brand manager’s insight and wisdom. More importantly, they appreciated that somebody had their back. The Disney car idea was unanimously scrapped.

Who’s got your brand’s back? Like a loyal friend who always looks out for you, you need that trusted person for your company. During my 20 years serving many owners as the head of marketing at Gold’s Gym, I learned the importance of being loyal to the brand first. I do the same thing with my clients today. Believe it or not, it’s easy for an owner or staff member to lose sight of what’s best for their brand. It’s sometimes the little things that count. And, if you don’t think little things matter, try sleeping with a mosquito in your room.

For instance, at Gold’s Gym I learned to be on the set during a photo shoot, because nobody was looking at the little things like the ‘G’ in Gold’s hiding in a fold of a sweatshirt, thus spelling ‘Old’s Gym’. It mattered to me.

Many gym owners make sure they hang the equipment company and group exercise company banners from their gym rafters, but I see none of their own company signage in strategic places. Great for their suppliers, but not for those gym owners, as they soon discover when watching back the local TV news feature filmed in their club that shows everyone else’s logo but their own. What gym was that filmed in? Hmmm.

I recently saw a great news feature in which a personal trainer from a very successful gym gave some valuable lessons in how to stretch prior to a golf match. Being an avid golfer, I watched intently for five minutes as he demonstrated from the golf course how to loosen up before you played. It could have been tremendous publicity for the gym, but the only problem was, he wasn’t thinking as a brand manager would. He thought like a personal trainer, promoting what he does by wearing a huge generic PT inside a big circle instead of the company logo. We all got the message that he is a personal trainer, but not the most important thing, where he can train you. A missed opportunity for his host gym.

Everything about your fitness business that is made public should go through your company’s brand manager, your ‘Keeper of the Brand.’ He or she will make sure your brand gets the proper care and the right exposure it deserves. They got your back!


Derek Barton
Derek is a marketing, advertising, branding and customer service expert. The former senior vice-president of marketing for Gold’s Gym, he helped build Gold’s into one of the industry’s most respected and recognised brands. During his tenure, Gold’s Gym received numerous awards for its innovative marketing, and was listed in America’s Greatest Brands book. Derek now runs his own marketing consulting and entertainment production company.bartonproductions.com