Catalyst for Thought is a local nonprofit organization with a goal to advance the community by educating and motivating individuals to create, develop and act on their entrepreneurial ideas. Through its MINDS series, Catalyst for Thought seeks to create a unique synergy between featured speakers and a small group of local entrepreneurs to empower each individual to help create solutions that affect society and inspire others.
As CEO of Idea Engineering, a multifaceted marketing and strategy company, Simon Dixon sees the world from a slightly different perspective than most of us. While looking at an image of people coming and going from a Macy’s department store, most of them carrying Macy’s shopping bags, Dixon posed the question: “Where is the Brand?”
Most would answer that it’s on the storefront and on the shopping bags, but those are only the Brand Cues.
“A Brand is in the minds of the people,” Dixon said. “It doesn’t matter what you think of yourself, it only matters what others think of you.”
Dixon has built an incredibly successful career helping companies develop their brands and marketing strategies. A couple of little-known facts about his résumé, however, include work as a department store Santa Claus in England in his late teens and as an aerobics instructor when he was in his early 20s. (All photos have been destroyed!)
Dixon first came to the United States from England in 1983, and he began his career working as a media broker. Although he worked in the sales department, it was there that he honed his ability to put together creative deals. In 1991, he founded Rock-it! Media in Washington, D.C., and specialized in advertising, media brokering and promotions. The media brokering system he developed allowed his clients to buy major market media and promotions at greatly reduced costs. His long client list included General Motors, American Airlines, the Washington Wizards and Capitals, Clear Channel Communications and CBS.
As an avid optimist, Dixon draws great inspiration from the simple pleasure of being able to wake up every day, as well as the opportunities that his life here in the United States offers him.
“I grew up near a smelly factory in England, and my childhood dream was basically to someday live not next door to a smelly factory,” said Dixon. “I grew up in a place and time where my accent would keep me from getting work, but that was never an issue here in America. It was only ever about how hard I wanted to work.
“To me, I consider taxes to be the membership fee for Club America; it’s the best deal ever!”
In 2006, Dixon’s hard work paid off, and he merged his company with Idea Engineering to combine the best of branding and marketing, with the best of media and promotion. Idea Engineering’s creative strategy team takes companies, products and initiatives all the way from naming and brand creation, through to Web site, print design, advertising, media creation and social-media campaigns. Today, Dixon and his team are looking forward to opening their Washington, D.C., office, as it is an area with great possibility for growth.
Throughout Dixon’s many years in the marketing industry, he has seen numerous large companies that are supposedly the best in their industries make huge, multimillion-dollar blunders in their branding and marketing strategies. It is from these mistakes that Dixon built his talk, in hopes that budding entrepreneurs will be able to learn from their mistakes, and perhaps even gain a greater perspective on techniques that would work for them and their companies. He distilled these lessons to three key points:
Dixon said successful companies have made it to that point because they’ve stayed true to their brand, which has allowed their customers to develop an incredible connection with them. His example? One of the most successful companies of our time: Apple. Dixon played Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl ad, and noted that more than 20 years later, it has remained true to its branding.
Dixon went on to advise the group to “be you, be unique, stand for something. If you want to be liked by everyone, that generally means, how will I become anonymous to everyone?”
Tell the Truth
“If you can’t find a truth in what you’re selling, go back and look at why you’re doing what you’re doing,” said Dixon. “Listen to your customers.”
Dixon noted that it’s easier to keep a head nodding, rather than to start another head nodding. So many companies focus on gathering new clients that they forget to focus on keeping their current ones happy. To illustrate this, Dixon pointed out a marketing blunder by Hoover.
At one point, Hoover was the best-selling vacuum in England — so much so that it even became a verb, “to hoover.” But to gain more customers, Hoover launched a promotion for two free round-trip tickets to anywhere in Europe with the purchase of a vacuum. People began buying more vacuums than they knew what to do with, and by the time Hoover realized that the money needed to accommodate the promotion was greater than its profits in the vacuums sold, it was too late.
“Create a bar over which only you can jump,” said Dixon.
He went on to discuss a slogan foible by BMW as an example. When he asked the group what first came to mind when he said BMW, the immediate answer was the car company’s former slogan: “The ultimate driving machine.” This was an incredibly bold statement by BMW, and as was illustrated by the group’s response, a brilliant branding move. But then BMW spent millions of dollars to come up with a new slogan: “A company of ideas,” which is vague and fails to capture the minds of the consumer.
Before closing his talk, Dixon referenced his favorite quote by Goethe: “Act boldly and mighty forces will come to your aid.” Dixon’s enthusiastic and perceptive talk left each of the attending entrepreneurs feeling quite a bit more enlightened about the do’s and don’t’s of the marketing world.