Seven marketing lessons we learned from Eddie Stobart

11th Apr 2011

Andy Green looks at the brand legacy of the late Eddie Stobart, responsible for one of the UK's most idiosyncratic brands.

Those in the business world and beyond were saddened by the death of Eddie Stobart last week, a man responsible for one of the UK's most idiosyncratic brands.

The story of how a medium-sized haulage company, essentially offering the same product as its competitors, has become a much-revered British institution, with a name and reputation shining brighter than its competitor, is inspirational for anyone working in professional services marketing and business development.
As a tribute to Stobart and his legacy, we look at some of the lessons he taught us when it comes to managing your word of mouth, PR, marketing and brand communications.

1. Distinctive visibility

In an age of limited budgets the need for what I call ‘Self-vertising’ is paramount. What ways can you use your own channels – the way you directly create a bridge between you and the different groups you deal with? How can you get more impact from your own imprint on how you connect with the outside world?
Eddie Stobart ensured there was a consistent brand image for his vehicles. Yet, lots of other haulage companies have consistent brand livery. Admittedly, Eddie Stobart did stand above its competitors for making its drivers wear smart uniforms and ties. Yet, even this cannot account for his soaraway brand awareness.
Eddie was however, blessed with innate great branding. The very name ‘Eddie Stobart’ is distinct, memorable, unusual, without being too far difficult to comprehend or label, or be categorized and discarded as ‘foreign’
It is not that people are xenophobic, but memorable names have to be instantly filed away in our minds. The ‘Eddie Stobart’ name had the right balance to ensure it would stick out, create what we call ‘dissonance’, without being too outlandish.
This quality is what I call ‘Distinctive Visibility’.
There is a psychological test where you were asked to count the number of people in a street scene. Curiously, your brain paradoxically does not count those workmen wearing high visibility clothing. In spite of their ‘visibility’ they failed to make a distinctive impression.
What ways can your brand be both visible and distinctive?
You may not be in a position to change the name of your business, or its brand design, but what other ways can you ‘Self-vertise’? Is there something you can add to how you communicate or deliver your service to make you visible and distinctive?

2. Likeability

One of the most potent factors in branding success and indeed, life itself is what I call the ‘Likeability Factor’; do people like you, particularly on first impression. What if Mr. Stobart had called his firm ‘Edward Stobart’ would it have been so effective.
The inherent informality of ‘Eddie’ was reinforced by giving his trucks girls’ names, a variation on the tradition of naming steam engines. By naming them, it humanised the trucks. People saw them not as ugly vehicles but more like a character in a children’s story, a toy, a bit of fun.
While you cannot fake, long-term likeability, it is possible to cultivate and nurture likeable features and characteristics for your brand.
For a personal development the need to reinforce trust, reliability and professionalism is often used as an excuse for bland brand communications. A touch of brio however, with an appropriate addition of flair and flourish could transform your brand.

3. Connectivity

The root core of any successful communication is creating a bridge between you and your target audiences. Everyone, especially small children, can relate to a truck with a girl’s name. You can then relate back from that shared experience to how you feel about the brand as a whole.
Connectivity was extended with developments such as the Eddie Spotters Club (with its 25,000 members). The club was created in response to consumer demand rather than as a result of a marketing master plan. Enquiries from would-be fans were initially just sent a duplicated list of names.
Again, this offers compelling evidence of the sheer innate brand quality of the ‘Eddie Stobart’ name.
As a professional services firm what ways can you create a family, a network within which your likeability can be enhanced?
Again, it is not about jumping out of a pinstripe into a cat suit. It might be difficult to surmise of a law firm with its own fan club, but the principle is still there of maximising the potential ways to engage without compromising your core brand values.

4. Vibrancy

It seems there are sufficient Eddie Stobart trucks to be seen on a regular basis, but not enough to make them a boring, ubiquitous sight. A healthy brand relationship needs to have a good level of inter-action: not too much, nor too little.
What is the level of vibrancy of your brand with key audiences? How often do key targets get to see you, or be made aware of you?
Awareness is not enough; recency of contact will make you front of mind, and provide a tidemark to make it easier for subsequent marketing activity to build upon.

5. Short step engagement

In order to be an Eddie Spotter all you have to do is see a truck on the road. It does not require elaborate procedures; it is an easy-to-do. A web site with a range of merchandise catered for the more dedicated aficionados.
Eddie Spotting became a way of enlivening an otherwise dull motorway journey. The distraction is welcomed, you are not having to decouple from the attentions of a rival, competing interest.
What quiet or dull moments could provide opportunities for your brand to engage with your fans? What ways can you make it easy for people to engage with you or your brand?

6. Conversation value

Spotting an Eddie Stobart truck gives you an opportunity to impress your fellow traveller by being the first to spot as well as the cue for a conversation about your shared ‘Eddie experiences’. What talking points do you offer your fans?
What conversations can you piggy-back on, or extend in some way?

7. Brand mystery

Curiously, despite being one of the best known names in the country Eddie Stobart himself was uncharismatic, shy, and kept himself out of the public spotlight. This ‘invisibility’ actually enhanced the ‘Eddie Stobart’ brand; if you knew more about him as a person there is the danger of then being able to pigeon-hole, categorize him, his class, regional accent – and, if you liked him or not. 
Keeping Mr. Stobart out of the equation let people create their own sum, their image of the persona they would like ‘Eddie Stobart’ to be; invariably, this will be a positive, likeable image.
In the same way that the formula for Coca Cola is allegedly a secret, what Brand Mystery do you tantalise your world with? What is there to offer intrigue, a sense of further discovery about the amazing things you can do, and how the prospect’s world will be better working with you?
The worlds of haulage companies and personal development may literally be miles apart. Yet, by applying these seven key principles to your brand may transform your business prospects.

Andy Green is is a leading expert and author on flexible thinking, creativity, public relations, brand and personal communications. He is the author of ‘Creativity in Public Relations’, For more information visit  or follow on Twitter @andygreencre8iv


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