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Stobart

How did Eddie Stobart become a superbrand without any help from marketers?

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By The Drum Team, Editorial

April 1, 2011 | 6 min read

Edward Stobart died yesterday leaving behind what was quite literally a superbrand - independent arbiter on branding Superbrands having bestowed this title upon the company in 2005 and again in 2007.

Indeed, most people would struggle to name a road haulage company other than Eddie Stobart, but how did the brand become so ubiquitous – boasting its own fanclub, teddy bears, chocolate bar and clothing. And what part did Edward play in this?

Eddie Stobart started as an agricultural business in the 1950s, with 'Steady' Eddie Stobart at the helm. The 70s saw the company incorporated as Eddie Stobart Ltd as a haulage firm, which was eventually passed on to Eddie Stobart’s son, Edward.

Freight transport expert Geoff Dossetter told the BBC that Edward Stobart was an impressive entrepreneur who, from eight trucks and 12 employees in 1976, grew the business to a fleet of 1,000 trucks and 2,000 employees by the turn of the century.

By the time that Edward sold the company to his brother William in 2004 it was a multimillion-pound empire, but Dossetter says the firm was "not the biggest player by a long, long way - nothing like as big as the image". Edward Stobart’s legacy was his ability to "capture the public's imagination”.

Dossetter continues: "The problem we have with the industry is people like what is on trucks, but they don't like trucks. By using colours and naming his vehicles, it humanised the trucks. Perhaps people saw them less as ugly and gigantesque, and more like a kids toy, or a bit of fun."

Other practices implemented by Edward Stobart were drivers all wore collars and ties and sounded their horns when waved to by passers-by, as the entrepreneur cleaned up the brand’s image having recognised the gains to be had from self-promotion.

The naming of his lorries was perhaps Edwards masterstroke (Stobart has a long tradition of giving its trucks female names with the first four named after model "Twiggy" and singers "Tammy" (Wynette), "Dolly" (Parton) and "Suzi" (Quatro)), heralding a spotting craze which undoubtedly boosted the brand and made it a household name.

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The Drum asked our followers on Twitter for some of their opinions on the brand’s success without any help (or with limited help) from marketers. Here’s what they said:

@kierant It's the oddness of a hugely visible, ubiquitous brand promoting a company / product for which most of us will never shop.

@johndelacruz It's the name, I guess. always noticed Eddie Stobart trucks because the name was, not comical, but more like someone you might know

@gfptweet With hard work, good contacts, great branded gifts & great customer service....the way any brand gets recognised.

@PaulSmith7 Stobart had a social campaign before social media was invented. Edward recognised value of 'moving billboards' and a simple concept which introduced a club/community driven element

@HayleyToothill Maybe it's the Eddie Stobart game? 1pt for spotting one, 10pt for getting the name... Driver always looses of course!

@Hotfoot_Design I Spy

@benlorduk Stobart very cleverly interacted with the public by thinking that anyone he could speak with would be a potential client!

@neil_bowness Smartly dressed drivers and lorries always clean - very simple way to communicate your brand through your staff and services.

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Branding agency Slam Global added:

Branding is so often misunderstood, yet some people are simply born with the branding gene – an intuitive understanding of what it’s all about without having to lift a textbook and Eddie was one such natural who deserves a place in the branding hall of fame.

Great brands have great stories and Stobart’s really caught the public imagination with tales that spread by word of mouth about the lorries having girls’ names and being the cleanest on the road, not to mention the drivers wearing collar and tie. But stories alone don’t build brands, they have to be saying something significant to the target market that is also supported in reality. Eddie saw an industry where things could be done much better and he built a business that delivered it. The stories and marketing were great promotion but would have been empty promises if not representative of what the business delivered in reality.

As a service industry, haulage depends on the people and the tributes from Eddie Stobart workers today show that loyalty was as strong on the inside as the outside. A singular vision, a clear strategy shared delivered by all and communicated clearly to the wider world – corporate branding at its best.

Citypress content director Paul Smith said:

Edward Stobart understood people and the simple power of branding.

In a digital age where companies strive to include social elements in most campaigns, he devised a social strand to the promotion of an ostensibly sound but dull Northern haulage firm by using the ‘moving billboards’ his company owned and creating an interactive element with a captive motoring audience.

Shirts and ties for his drivers initially set the brand apart from the ‘70s image of a greasy trucker and he encouraged interaction with drivers and kids who wanted to hear an Eddie Stobart lorry honk its horn.

But the real genius was in stealing the war era idea of naming aircraft after women and personalising each lorry with a female moniker – creating a club, making the vehicles a spotter’s dream and brightening up the pre head buried in a Nintendo DS journey of many a bored child.

While you could argue that Stobart’s primary audience is people who need stuff transporting, such widespread positive recognition makes association with the brand very desirable and it must have a near perfect recall with anyone asked to name a haulage firm.. It’s shouldn’t be that easy to create such a great buzz and spin off merchandise around a logistics firm that is simply named after your father.

Norbert Dentressangle anyone?

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