Brand Makeovers: David Farmer of AD GIANTS On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Give and give freely. We all have skills we are blessed with, and there are others who need the benefit if your talents. Doesn’t matter what it is. Be kind, be empathetic and motivate through your acts of kindness.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview David Farmer.

David Farmer, CEO and founder of AD GIANTS, uses his key passion and expertise as a global brand builder and award-winning strategic marketer to help small businesses and entrepreneurs achieve their dreams of leading successful enterprises. He used this passion to create AD GIANTS, a subscription-based full agency experience at prices small businesses can afford. Prior to starting AD GIANTS, he served as the creative strategist for clients in a variety of business cycles and helped maneuver their businesses through good and bad times while keeping their brands relevant to their audiences.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My path to becoming an advertising executive on the creative side of the business came by accident. Growing up, I always enjoyed art, but I didn’t know how to make a career out of it. My father was a business executive in the oil and gas industry, so I had no idea about the advertising world. In my junior year at college, I decided I didn’t like studying law and switched my major to art. My dad thought I had lost my mind. Then I read a book about how to build a great art portfolio. I built my portfolio and went to Madison Avenue in New York to meet with advertising agencies. I landed a job in the art department on my sixth interview.

This was before the days of creating graphic art on the computer. We used to hand draw mechanical art. I had never done this before, but I did have an aptitude for learning. A seasoned artist took pity on my and took me under his wing the first week. He really showed me the ropes and mentored me.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing or branding mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During my first couple of years in the creative department, I was a typical “temperamental creative artist” and focused on developing-award winning campaigns. One thing I learned early on by was to see things through the eyes of your potential customer first, and then your client. After that, the value of how to sell an idea. How did I learn this? I was at McCann Erickson and worked under Jesse Ceasar, the guy who came up with the iconic advertising campaign and slogan “Put a Tiger in Your Tank” for ExxonMobil. I watched his process; how he led the creative teams and the clients. He was an absolute master of developing and selling ideas that worked. He really understood what the customer was looking for, then he sold it well.

From then on, my goal was to prove you could do both, be creative and create ads that work. When I got to the position of leading creative departments, I tried to teach them to look at art to get interest rather than being an art form and teach them not to make the same mistakes I had when coming up in the business. Too many young advertising creatives do work that makes them laugh, but it ends there. I always focused on effectiveness. Most creative folks hated that because it’s too hard. A fart joke is easy, making people want to smell it is the hard part.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

My tipping point occurred when I reached the creative director level. Not only did I lead teams in developing effective campaigns, I was also responsible for developing my team. I was also being asked by the account team to join new business presentations because they saw how passionate I was about our work and could think like a client. From that exposure, I learned an advertising agency’s value was dependent on great work. You can’t attract new business without performance. Winning creative awards alone doesn’t cut it. Clients demand performance. I began to craft all my presentation language around that single goal, and quickly learned that selling was fun and rewarding.

My skills weren’t just about creative art but building trust and winning new business. Once you can figure out how to make rain, your value becomes exponential. I learned to be the total player, understand the client’s business, and sell our work. I discovered success was not just about being a solid creative person, you also have to know how to win at all levels.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

After years of seeing ad agencies just trying to make a buck without focusing on client success is what led me in large part to leave that world and create Ad Giants. We’re a subscription-based, full-service agency experience at prices small businesses can afford. We simplify the marketing process by connecting small business owners and/or entrepreneurs with a proven advertising executive who then uses their decades of experience to create a customized marketing strategy with vetted resource partners and tools. All the work is managed on a simple technology platform so owners can keep apprised of the work being done on behalf of their businesses.

I didn’t build Ad Giants just for the money. It’s about helping the millions of small businesses that are targeted daily by a slew of “make a buck” marketing people out there. Any business, no matter how big or small needs a solid marketing strategy.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Really get involved with your clients. Understand their pain points. Be a true partner to them versus just some person that produces cute work. Think strategically and use your business knowledge. Think about clients business models and how you can help them realize actual growth. Creativity happens in every aspect of business.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

They go hand in hand. You need advertising to create a brand, and you cannot have a brand without advertising.

At the brand level, it’s about the big picture for the company, the end goal should drive all activity. Nike didn’t start by saying we’re going to be just a great shoe company; they had the goal of being the most influential and dominant brand in all of sports. The marketing built the personality of the brand — the attitude. All great brands have that in common. A true brand personality that aligns with their products.

I always tell my customers that if their business was a person, describe who you want them to be, to look like, to speak like, etc. Humanizing brands is how we connect with people. How we attract brand loyalists. Apple used to mean something profound with Steve Jobs leading it. In my opinion, the true innovation has stopped for them. Point being, they’re a perfect case study for how to change the persona of a brand, and not for the better.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Again, they are symbiotic. But before you invest those resources and energy, having a sound business strategy is key. If you don’t have one, you’re wasting money. Ad Giants works with small business owners, and we ask owners why they started their companies. Why this? There’s a reason if you peel back the layers. Maybe it’s a skill, or a passion they have, or a family business they want to continue. We then ask where do you want your business to go? Do you want to be a craft brand or build the company and sell out to a larger competitor? Ultimately it all revolves around listening to our clients and building solid strategies.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Brands have lifecycles — as they grow you must redefine as it grows. Here are the reasons to rebrand:

  • a company rebrands when they’ve lost consumer love, confidence, and loyalty;
  • when the company never addressed branding properly when they started and now have to play catch up;
  • they did something wrong, and the old brand is now synonymous with “badness”;
  • they’ve grown tired and need to be refreshed;
  • they’ve launched a new product or service which gives them the opportunity to rebrand and relaunch.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Cost is a major downside. To do it right, it’s going to cost a lot. Depending on the size and age of the brand, it could easily run into millions. New CMO’s are famous for coming to a brand and totally changing it based on their network and desire to make a mark. Doesn’t make it right. That’s why the average lifespan of a CMO is two years. Even small business owners run into that trap. All that does is confuse the consumer. Change it too many times and you lose all brand identity. I’ve seen that happen a lot.

The “makeover” can be as simple as just refreshing the messaging or a new mantra. However, it really comes back to what’s happening at customer level. If your brand has gone stale, it’s probably product related. If you’re not delivering the products your customers want or need, a brand makeover won’t help. You need to look at product innovation.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  1. Start with a candid assessment of where your business is. Not just the brand, your products or services, your customers, your growth. Where are you?
  2. Now, where do you want to be? Is that important to others? I cannot stress enough that having a thought through strategy with key points you can attain means everything.
  3. Are you better or different than others in your category? Why? What leverage can we create to set you apart? It doesn’t’ need to me much, it just needs to be focused and valuable to people. Many brands were built on a single advantage or benefit. The more you have to talk, the less people hear. Say one thing, say it well, and say it with passion and often. Too often, companies jump immediately to tactics, like a new logo, website, advertising and give little consideration of the final destination. That happens all the time.
  4. From there, the tactics naturally fall out. Excellence in thinking is just as important as excellence in execution. What if an army general said “guys, we’re going to go over there tomorrow and beat the hell out of the enemy! Let’s go!” Versus, “Guys, we each have critical roles in defeating the enemy. Here’s my plan and how we’ll execute the mission to take them off guard and win.” I’ll go with general number two.
  5. Spend your money wisely. Comes down the tactics — excellence and execution. This is where many fall short. Pick one thing and do it right.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Hands down over the past 20 years, I think the best brand makeover is Holiday Inn Express, which was reincarnated from Holiday Inn, that tired, old motel brand built along major interstates across the country. When Holiday Inn first started in the 1960s, it appealed to families who road tripped on vacations. But over the years, the brand became middle of the road and stale.

When a private equity company purchased it, they changed their “product” to appeal to the road warrior business traveler. They re-branded with the tagline “Stay Smarter” which was genius. And the executions of that new brand identity were incredible. They show actual people in situations that required being smarter. They started to appeal to a new age market who didn’t remember the hold Holiday Inn brand. Stay at Holiday Inn Express makes you smarter. Can’t get any clearer than that.

Often branding is changing people’s minds which is harder and more expensive to do. In this case, they captured the new middle market by changing the product and rebranded.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

In whatever you do in business and in life, give without expecting anything in return. Just like that art director who took me under his wing to teach me about mechanical art at my first agency job.

Give and give freely. We all have skills we are blessed with, and there are others who need the benefit if your talents. Doesn’t matter what it is. Be kind, be empathetic and motivate through your acts of kindness.

I genuinely believe this stuff comes back to you. I have advanced more in life by giving more to people. I give myself through Ad Giants because I genuinely care about helping people who had the courage to start a business and for many reasons are lost, or in need of clarity. So many of these small business owners have been taken advantage of, and I feel I’m here to help them. I really do care about their success.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Time lost is never found again.”

Most people hear all the time to live each day as if it’s your last. Living that way is impossible for most not because they can’t, because they won’t. It’s human nature. Once you give your life over to that philosophy, it all changes. Everything even smells and tastes better.

As a reminder to myself, I have this inscribed on the back of a nice watch I purchased years ago. I’ll pass this watch down to my son, and I hope he takes it as a reminder too.

Be the person you would brag about, the person you would hold up and the person your dog sees you as!

How can our readers follow you online?

I have a series of blog posts on the Ad Giants Web site which is

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

Brand Makeovers: David Farmer of AD GIANTS On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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