Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Woodworm Looks Set for Good Innings

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Woodworm Looks Set for Good Innings

Article excerpt

This week's headlines have been dominated by the England cricket team's nerve-wracking attempts to regain the Ashes. Npower, the series' official sponsor, has played a fine innings, but it has not earned the 'brand of the series' award.

That prize must be reserved for Woodworm, the cricket brand whose bat has been wielded to such great effect by both Freddie Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen. Woodworm is not only emblematic of English success, it also provides some insights into the new rules of brand start-ups.

In 2001, Joe Sillett found a 10-year-old cricket bat in the back of his garage. Unfortunately, part of the bat had been infected with woodworm and Joe's father, Bob, had to sand down the infected area to create a more curvaceous shape. Joe liked the feel of the reshaped bat and the following week, he hit an unbeaten 142 with it. A product design and brand name were born.

As with most traditional brands, Woodworm began life as a combination of inspiration and accident. The fact that it is now owned by Sillett and two investment bankers, Michael Hilard and David Brawn, reflects a new approach to brand foundation.

Traditional brand-building would have seen Sillett start a family firm, which would one day pass to his children and eventually float on the stock market.

Today's hot brands benefit from venture capital firms and investment banks, which constantly seek them out to invest in. Their logic is simple: rather than wait until a brand has grown into a multinational that costs billions to acquire, they invest in hundreds of start-ups in the hope that at least one will grow into a giant. Where once brand equity was an area of ignorance for investment banks, increasingly it is a source of expertise and often a crucial input in their investment decisions.

Woodworm takes an equally modern view of its growth strategy. Rather than using organic growth and self-generated funds to build the brand, the company is actively seeking external capital to fund its continued growth.

Where once it would have grown gradually over decades through balanced books and cautious reinvestment, today the brand is comfortable with making pre-tax losses of dollars 123,000 (pounds 67,000) in 2004 because with external funds and ambitious marketing, the business is focused on the future, not the present. …

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