Episode 30

Fed Ex

What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… FEDEX

Show Notes (click to expand)

The Federal Express company was founded in 1971, as a packaging delivery startup, but did not officially begin operations until April of 1973. Founder Fred Smith originally named the company “Federal Express” for two reasons:

To attract the Federal Reserve Bank as a customer.

He thought using the word “Federal” would imply a sense of patriotism and an interest in the national economy. 
By the 1980s, the company set the standard for the industry and in 1983, it reported $1 billion dollars in revenue. Federal Express became the largest full-service, all-cargo airline after its acquisition of the Flying Tigers network in 1989, which brought with it routes to more than 20 countries and a fleet of large Boeing airplanes. 

Given this explosive growth, Fred Smith decided it was time for a rebranding, and in 1994, he commissioned Landor Associates to design a new logo, and the company officially shortened its name to Fed Ex.

I’m going to assume that the majority of the people listening to this episode have interacted with Fed Ex at work, home, school, and every place else in between. 

For me, every time I need to send my kids something at college – usually at the last minute on their part – the ONE and only brand that comes to the top of my mind is Fed Ex.


The reason why lies in the logo.


Over the course of my career as a Brand Marketing Executive, I’ve come to learn that great stories don’t always need words! One’s imagination can often connect the dots of a story with only a few key elements…and it starts with a LOGO. Think of the logo as a book cover. It’s a recognizable symbol that sometimes, if you look closely, communicates the core value a brand gives away to improve the lives of others.

If you look closely at the FedEx logo, you will see an optical illusion. Between the letters E and X, you’ll spot an unexpected surprise – an arrow. This arrow stands for the company achieving its goals with speed and accuracy. It subliminally implies getting a package from point A to point B RELIABLY!

You’ll also notice that the “Ex” part of the name changes color across different channels. This is a way to distinguish the departments within the company. For example, orange is for express services, grey covers supply chain services, green is ground and home services, red is freight services, blue is office services and yellow is for trade network services.

The best part of using Fed Ex is knowing that I don’t have to worry about that last minute package arriving to my son or daughter at college. I guess this is why Fed Ex is considered an iconic brand – their RELIABILITY says it all! 

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

Your product is NOT your brand.
Your brand is your Core Value…AND
You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.
Fed Ex uses their package delivery system to drive their Core Value of RELIABILITY.
So, the next time you’re crunched for time and need a package delivered with speed and accuracy, look for that arrow and remember this: RELIABILITY is how Fed Ex SCORES.

I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

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