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Stumped, Beaver Builds a Brand: A Marketing Allegory, Part 2

Charlie Hatchet and Fred Squirrel

“This was our best month yet,” Charlie Hatchet announced to his wife as he entered the lodge one evening. “I think the business might survive after all.”

It hadn’t been long before that Charlie had given up in defeat. His sharpened log product just didn’t seem to interest anyone. But now, his wooden toothpick version seemed to be catching on in the forest. Just today a family of moose had stopped by the warehouse to pick up a toothpick for each member of the family.

“That’s good news,” Hannah Hatchet replied as she put the finishing touches on the pine bark pot pie. “But today Beverly Beaver complained to me that the toothpick she bought is too big. She doesn’t even use it anymore.”

Charlie works on product upgrades.

Charlie hated when someone said something negative about his product. He wanted everyone to love his toothpicks. After all, each one was carefully crafted from only the highest quality wood.

Beverly Beaver’s comment to his wife wasn’t the only complaint Charlie had heard. Recently someone had complained that their toothpick was getting stained. They even had the audacity to ask for a partial refund!

“I don’t make toothpicks for beavers,” he grumbled. “They’re made mostly for moose.”

“Don’t get upset, dear,” Hannah Hatchet said, giving her husband a welcome-home hug. “Why don’t you start offering a smaller size for folks like Beverly? Surely other forest folk would buy a smaller size too.”

Over the next several weeks, Charlie rolled out small, medium, and large sizes. Now everyone from Riley Raccoon to Miles Moose could buy a toothpick just the right size.

Charlie began using an organic, non-flavored die to darken all toothpicks to a consistent color. The “point” of this was to keep the end of the toothpicks from staining after repeated use. Even though this feature was too new to know for sure that it was a success, his customers’ initial reactions seemed to be positive. Charlie made a note to himself to follow up with several of them in six weeks to make sure they were still satisfied.

The next problem Charlie tackled was the way the toothpicks tended to roll. He decided to make some of the toothpicks with a flat edge to keep them stationary.

When a customer wished for a better way to carry his toothpick, Charlie tucked the suggestion into in his mental filing cabinet. Maybe he could sell a top-of-the-line toothpick that included a leather carrying strap.

But for now, he was too busy to follow up on it. Sales were booming and he had too many other things to keep up with.

Then one day, Charlie saw something that made his heart nearly stop—Max Moose came by carrying an object that looked oddly familiar. It was a crude toothpick-shaped object. Charlie knew immediately that it wasn’t one of his fine toothpicks.

Charlie Hatchet’s business was in trouble once again... and this is how it happened.

Porky Pine enters the market.

Porky was tired of his day job. One evening as he was daydreaming of having the next day off, he happened to think of Charlie. Charlie seems to be making good money in an easy business, he thought, humming a sad tune to himself. That was when the light bulb came on. I could do that, too. And I wouldn’t need to charge as much as he does!

Porky Pine chewed a branch off the closest tree. His sharp teeth quickly shaped a point. “This is easy,” Porky said out loud. He didn’t care that the stick wasn’t straight, the point was off-center, and that the pine sap was sticky.

Porky remembered that Charlie used signs to advertise his business, so he made a sign too. His message came across loud and clear in bold lettering: “Cheaper than Charlie.” He sat down beside the sign and whistled a jolly tune, waiting for his first customer. And he didn’t need to wait long . . . and so it was that Charlie got some competition.

Charlie struggles against competition.

Charlie Hatchet’s conversation with Max Moose that day told him two things. First, that Porky Pine was his new competition, and second, that Porky’s prices were much lower than his. “Porky saved me a lot of money,” Max had gloated. “I know others who are buying from him too.”

Charlie unloaded it all on Hannah that evening. “I have to beat Porky’s price or no one will buy from me.” He groaned. “But how can we afford to lose revenue? I won’t be able to make that big monthly mortgage payment on the warehouse.”

Smart and practical spouse that she was, Hannah Hatchet suggested a plan. The two beavers discussed it all evening. Their two oldest kits would help Charlie each afternoon after class, allowing Charlie to increase production by 50% and lower prices at the same time. With these changes, they should be able to compete against Porky and pay the monthly mortgage.

Half of their plan worked. The kits toiled hard, but sales were stagnant. The warehouse slowly filled up as production outstripped sales.

On the revenue side, the news was also bleak. Because he was charging less, Charlie brought in less profit than before. Charlie had always liked to pay bills upon receipt, but he now found it impossible to pay within one moon cycle. It was clear that unless something changed, he would miss a mortgage payment for the first time.

Then something did change, but it changed for the worse: Porky Pine lowered his price below Charlie’s price.

“Call Fred Squirrel,” Charlie’s sympathetic wife said. “Didn’t he help you one other time when you were stumped?”


Fred Squirrel introduces Charlie to branding.

“We need to set your product apart from Porky’s,” Fred Squirrel said to Charlie as he twirled the straw in his can of Skrite soda. “And we need to clearly communicate its greater value to potential customers.”

As the conversation went on, Fred Squirrel brought up the topic of branding, using the Skrite soda can as an example. “Whenever we see a can with these colors and this logo, we immediately know what it is,” Fred pointed out. “And instead of just calling it ‘soda for squirrels,’ the company came up with a catchy brand name: Skrite. It is an invented name, but it feels just right. It’s no wonder that this is the most popular soda brand.”

“So you’re saying I need to create a brand?” Charlie asked. “It won’t be hard for my product to stand out from the competition because my toothpicks have so many more features and much higher quality than Porky’s. But I think the challenge will be persuading people to pay more for mine. If I don’t raise prices, I won’t be able to stay in business.”

“Does your business or product have a name?” Fred Squirrel asked.

“Well, when I first started, I said that I sold sharpened logs, but that didn’t work too well,” Charlie replied. “Then you helped me come up with the idea to make large toothpicks for moose. I never thought much about it. I guess I just call them toothpicks. I don’t have a business name as such. Customers make their checks out to Charlie Hatchet.”

Fred Squirrel helps Charlie with brand development.

Fred and Charlie settled on a plan of action with the goal of creating a strong brand for Charlie’s business. First they decided to continue focusing on selling to moose, who made up the biggest part of his sales so far. They discussed what the benefits were for the moose and why some moose choose to buy from Charlie instead of Porky. The brand would need to be in alignment with these benefits.

While they worked to create a brand name, they also brainstormed ways to communicate the results or benefits of using Charlie’s product. In their advertising, they would need to highlight the difference each feature made in the user’s experience, making it well worth the higher price they planned to charge. The brand name would need the aesthetic qualities to portray these concepts.

The next afternoon found Fred and Charlie in a lively brainstorming discussion. As the sun touched a cloud bank in the west, Fred Squirrel gave his final recommendation to Charlie Hatchet: “Moosepicks is the winner!”

Charlie wasn’t so sure. He liked Massive Moose Toothpicks better. He was convinced, though, that his original idea of Quality Toothpick Supply was an embarrassingly poor suggestion.

“Fred Squirrel had some interesting ideas about how to create a brand name,” Charlie told his wife that night as he munched on a buttered birch stick. The two beavers discussed the afternoon meeting and Charlie’s uncertainty about the best brand name.

“Let’s sleep over it,” Hannah Hatchet finally said. “We aren’t going to do any more about it tonight anyway.”

The next morning Charlie stopped with his mug halfway up. “You know, Honey, I think my biggest hesitation with Moosepicks is that it is such a different name. I’m afraid Miles Moose might think it’s weird!”

“Isn’t ‘different’ exactly what Fred Squirrel thinks you need?” Hannah asked. “Why not include Miles in the test group Fred suggested that you set up to get feedback?”

In the end, the Moosepicks name won the day. Charlie and Fred hired Ricky Redcap, a brand designer, to create a logo and graphic brand theme. When the likeable woodpecker asked Charlie about his goals for Moosepicks, Charlie explained that he wanted a brand image that would communicate the nature and quality of his product as well as a high level of professionalism. Ricky, Fred, and Charlie wrote down three goals by which they would evaluate the logo drafts Ricky was preparing to hammer out. Four days and a few edits later, Ricky made a few final pecks and placed a handsome oak bark displaying the finished brand in Charlies hands.

And so Moosepicks™ was born!

Due to his consultations with Fred Squirrel, Charlie was better prepared to explain the benefits of Moosepicks when folks came shopping. Some folks were easily persuaded that Moosepicks were well worth the additional investment but others took more convincing. Still others left without buying and Charlie spotted them later with a pick from Porky Pine.

In the months that followed, Charlie’s business rebounded slowly but surely. Over time, Moosepicks became a household name in the forest.

Thus Charlie’s dream of running his own business is alive and well today. Charlie gives this word of advice, “Be smarter than I was—invest in branding early in the game to secure a strong position in the market. It really does make a big difference!”

As for Porky, Charlie doesn’t have time to worry about him. Porky still sells flimsy, sticky toothpicks, but Charlie no longer sees him as threat to Moosepicks’ dominant market position.

But Fred Squirrel is watching Charlie closely. He isn’t convinced that Charlie is out of the woods yet with his business. It looks good now, but...

Open to this column next month follow Charlie into his next chapter of business.

Moral of the story

The American Marketing Association defines brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”

A brand includes a logo and much more: company colors, graphics, photo and illustration styles, typefaces, and even a copywriting style. The way your store looks and smells and even the way you relate to customers is all part of your brand. In its broadest definition, a brand is a whole package intended to connect with your target customers.

When creating a brand name like Moosepicks, consider the following criteria:

  • Is it memorable?
  • Does it communicate brand spirit?
  • Is it easy to spell and pronounce?
  • Is it available as a trademark and/or website domain?
  • If renaming, is it compatible with and built upon your current brand?
  • Is it clearly distinguished from competitors or other businesses related to the target market?

Even if you never dream of building a renowned brand like Cabela’s or Coca-Cola (or Moosepicks™!), branding will help you stand out from the competition and increase sales and profits.