Branding is a business of tiny rock hammers and wrecking balls.

Hear me out.

I’ve always believed that we can cull lessons from movies, so let me share one on branding success from one of my favorites, The Shawshank Redemption.

The main character, a banker named Andy Dufraine (Tim Robbins), is sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

At Shawshank prison, he becomes friends with Red (Morgan Freeman) who is able to get things from the outside. Saying he likes geology, Andy asks Red for a tiny rock hammer and later for a poster of Rita Hayworth.

I’m not going to get into the full plot and deeper meaning of the movie, but suffice to say Andy doesn’t use the tiny rock hammer to play with rocks and mold chess pieces. He uses it to dig his way out of the concrete wall in his cell, hiding the hole with the poster. The endeavor to secure his freedom takes him 20 years.

Branding can be like chipping away at a concrete wall. It takes time, patience and determination.

You don’t slap a name on a product or a business, call it a day and then expect a brand to flourish.

Rather, you begin the hard work of chipping (infusing) meaning into the brand. And you do it mostly by living the brand. To quote Andy: “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really: get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”

A brand is nothing less than what you put into it. Everything you say and everything you do become a reflection of your brand. In particular, it’s everything you say matching everything you do (high say, high do).

You can say who you are until the cows come home. You can spend millions of dollars on marketing. You can have the slickest ads. But if your customers’ experiences don’t live up to the promise your brand represents, you’re getting busy dyin’ and quick!

We are in love with wrecking balls, aren’t we? We love the big impact hits, the big breakthroughs, the game changers, the transformations, etc.

Oh, I’m all for a hard hitting wrecking ball. Apple’s “1984” television commercial comes to mind. Recognized today as one of the most influential commercials of all time, Apple used it to introduce the Macintosh computer. The ad startled all who saw it, generated millions upon millions of dollars of free publicity and turned Apple into a household name. The high impact ad was a wrecking ball for Apple.

The thing is… wrecking balls don’t come along very often. Just when you think you might have one, its actual impact disappoints.

More often than not, you need to chip away with a tiny rock hammer to earn your place in the minds and hearts of those you care about.

Should we rule out wrecking ball tactics? Of course not… but as I’ve said before, branding is not a 5K or a sprint; it’s a marathon event. What you need in brand building more than anything is persistence and a commitment to give your brand meaning over time versus overnight. You can still break through… you can still be remarkable and be seen as remarkable… it just might take longer than you’d like to achieve this level of success.

Does this make sense to you? What are your thoughts on the use of tiny rock hammers and wrecking balls in brand building?

—David Cameron, On Brands