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4 Branding Insights From the Original Trailer Park Boy

Wifey works for the government, so she hardly works much at all.

It got me thinking about the hip ‘nomadic’ lifestyle of Millennial New Richdom. Plenty of copywriters are living their lives on the road.

“Why don’t we do the same?” I told Wifey. “We could pack up the dog and buy a trailer…drive it around the States during one of your 6 month vacations until we’re bored.”

It’s why my new favourite website is now Airstream Classifieds, and let me tell you, these Airstream trailers are not cheap. Ever since the first design was published by founder Wally Byam – in the late 1920s – the Airstream brand has endured. It’s an American classic.

Demand is rising.

Prices are going up.

Yet I cannot remember ever reading about Airstream in any marketing or branding book…Even though it’s arguably one of the great brands to come out of America.

The very sight of these trailers makes you think of America.

What is the secret to Airstream’s branding success? Why has it lasted so long? Here are a few reasons I found – which you can follow just as easily.

1. Test small

What’s interesting about Wally Byam is he started Airstream shortly before the Wall Street Crash…and he grew it during the Great Depression.


By testing a small solution with the market first.

Byam didn’t start out with factories and workers. Instead, he published a DIY plan of his first trailer, and sold it for $5 with an advert in Popular Mechanics.

This is one of the most important business lessons I ever came across. Find the smallest, easiest, cheapest way to provide your customers with a solution. See if you can sell this first.

Then, if demand soars, you can start building a product that costs more.

2. “Airstreams are handcrafted, not handmade.” – Wally Byam

Here’s an amazing fact:

The Airstream factory opened in 1931…

…Yet today, almost 70% of all Airstreams ever made are still in use.

The great adman Bill Bernbach once said, “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.” However, when your product and service are on point, the opposite happens.

Look at your product before you do anything else. How can you improve it? How can you satisfy the market’s demands better? Good advertising encourages more consumption. And with a strong product, it’s consumption, above all, which helps build a brand.

Which brings me to point number 3…

3. Make sure your product is being used

After selling a few of his famous trailers, Wally Byam noticed something unsettling.

People weren’t using them.

They were just parked in peoples’ front driveways, left idle. Somehow, Byam knew this was damaging to his business.

Selling your product is not enough. You have to encourage consumption, because consumption delivers the result promised, which encourages more spending, and more word-of-mouth to help build your brand.

So Byam organised the first international caravan trip to Mexico and Central America.

His customers were not afraid to take their Airstreams out on the road, because they were part of a great line of traffic. This also created a feeling of camaraderie.

If you want to build a brand, it helps to make your customers feel like they’re part of a movement. You’re building a tribe.

4. “We don’t sell trailers; we sell a way of life” – Wally Byam

For Wally, building a tribe meant showing people a new way to live.

His company didn’t even have a marketing department. It was called the Airstream ‘Way of Life’ department. Everything in the company was built around the benefit of the product, not the product itself.

He was not selling you a trailer. He was showing you how he liked to live, and how to do the same.

It was about having a home…yet being able to take that home anywhere, opening up the entire world to people before the days of cheap flights and Expedia getaways.

This is the benefit of Airstream. It’s what happens to you after you buy.

This is what Airstream have always focussed on selling.

This is what you must do as well.

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