Entrepreneurism is about more than money, scheduling, and paperwork. True branding goes deeper than promotion and bookkeeping; it certainly requires more than just time spent in the respective field. It starts with the act of knowing your soul. That can sound like a rather daunting task, especially in today’s world, where we all may have become a little more detached than we’d like to admit. Nevertheless, sitting with yourself (or your associates) and asking the right questions will make all the difference in the end.

To properly execute your vision to your intended market, you must be willing to first ask yourself: What do we stand for? What matters to us? How have we changed over the years, and what caused those changes? What do we do next to secure a better future? What can we do now to prepare? We sat with David Gauger, founder of Gauger + Associates, and discussed the importance of brand integration, company development, and the evolution of advertising and design.

David Gauger of Gauger + Associates
Gauger + Associates co-founder, David Gauger / Photo courtesy of David Gauger

What Is Gauger + Associates?

Even if you aren’t familiar with the brand name specifically, you are familiar with his company's work. Many widely-popular brand names have been integrated under the systemic design the team brings. The groundbreaking advertising company with a huge knack for design is behind the projects that first introduced Prada into the U.S., assisted in launching publicly available organic foods, and even contributed to the first rollout of non-dairy milk products that many of us depend on today.

Gauger + Associates was established in 1974 by three young men who desire to do things a bit differently in the advertising world. Their “brand integration” company reaches around the planet with an 8-department rubric that shows definitive promise, even regarding packaging design, marketplace research, consumer interaction, media planning. Gauger + Associates exists to help rebuild businesses from the inside out.

With such a ripple effect, they have remolded and refit themselves into a society that relies on ever-evolving concepts and open-minded work relationships, even almost 50 years later. However, this did not happen without a great deal of work, and Gauger tells us it’s even more critical to be creative in the new world of video chatting and mask-wearing. “I think we have continued to evolve. As we have less personal contact with one another or hide behind masks or see each other on 12-inch screens, that emotional connection is extremely impressive,” Gauger notes.

Many individuals worldwide are concerned for their safety and their financial futures. Unfortunately, many of those same individuals are also members of your potential market. This means all of your usual customers are probably strapped for cash. As entrepreneurs or even as working professionals, it can seem a little disheartening when you notice the downward curve of sales rates or productivity in relation to the hectic state our world has been in over the past couple of years. That’s not to say the pandemic has hurt every business; imagine the pet stores and pet supply companies' target market – people at home. Many companies, however, are still holding their breath, hoping to dive headfirst back into a welcoming market again… someday. Some say it’s a matter of community economics and financial preparedness. While they are probably on the right track, Gauger’s perspective is more tailored to the mindset of an aspiring entrepreneur willing to be flexible and adapt to an ever-changing world with ever-changing tactics.

Be Bold and Be Different

When creating brands for businesses, we as entrepreneurs tend to hold the company's values close to the values of our hearts, as we should. While it’s important to know oneself, an equally important aspect is understanding your competitors and how you want to differentiate yourself from the competition. There may be traits they embody you won’t necessarily agree with. Still, it is critical to have a respectful relationship with these individuals who do things differently than you would normally think to do them. Just like there are multiple workplace personalities, there are also quite a few personalities in entrepreneurism. With an open-minded outlook on interpersonal relationships, you can easily get a lot more accomplished, and of course, as the old saying goes, “there is more than one way to skin a cat.” Allowing new energies into your circle can allow for interesting contributions and an amazing synergy you may have never experienced otherwise.

There is no blueprint for success in any industry because we all know that life has a surprising way of working out. For example, some people have trained for 35 years in the boxing world who’ve never gotten a shot at the big-league fights. Yet, a pair of teen brothers who posted enough ambiguous YouTube videos ended up going toe-to-toe with the undefeated boxing champion of the world – because that’s the theme of the day and age we live in. Everything is extremely unpredictable, and you must be willing to think on your feet, dream at least a little bit, and then follow through on your dreaming. You never really know if that new idea you’re sitting on could be successful if you just continue sitting on it. Without action, there is no way to gauge your accomplishments. You have to be excited about doing the footwork. You have to add more to the DONE pile than you do to the EXCUSES pile.

You must know your brand inside and out. You have to understand the human qualities and characteristics of your brand. David says that this is an important first step, even before designing a logo for your company. You must be willing to determine what values the company holds, understand how the company would answer questions in contrast to how you would answer them, personally. Stick to your company’s vision and allow it to uphold its honorable creed in every instance. Position your group for every potential opportunity and never back down from hard work. Whether you are sweeping floors, writing computer code, or signing paychecks, every role must be treated with the same amount of respect for the sake of the whole machine. No matter what title you are given, do your best to be all in.

SAGE new homes
Sage client project by Gauger + Associates / Photo courtesy of Gauger + Associates

World in Your Hands

Imagine the conceptualization of the 3-D printer. It’s essentially a machine that can make anything. And when you have access to one, or even one in your possession, you feel like you have the power to make anything. So why is it so hard to imagine what you’d make, given the opportunity?

The same thing goes for ideas in the marketing world. Given that most people don’t possess a God-like complex, for most of us, it seems like a huge burden to come up with groundbreaking, never-been-done sales tactics, and ideas out of thin air. This is where you become the 3-D printer. Having the ability to push your brain a step further than the next person in line will define the leaders of a generation and influence generations to come. You can create anything and do anything that you believe in. It helps if you can develop a team of individuals who believe in some of the same things as you, and maybe some others as well.

Even when they were young and somewhat more naïve, David Gauger and his co-founders made a pact to invest their energy and time into their business, agreeing to give more to the business than they cared to take, especially in the very beginning stages. With almost no connections in the advertising and design industries, Gauger + Associates’ first clients were very close family-friend businesses – one even owned by David himself. Allowing themselves to work with such a close, trusting circle was certainly a great way to build their portfolio and gauge the company's skills. In addition, taking on the task of creating work for themselves allowed for creating a solid, reputable relationship that led to more referrals. Eventually, the opportunity flourished into a multi-dimensional brand integration system that much of the modern world has come to appreciate and utilize.

As we mentioned previously, there isn’t a map or blueprint that can tell you exactly where to place your feet every step of the way as an aspiring entrepreneur or when running a startup. Still, David Gauger did mention his handy “4 C’s of Business” that might offer a great place to begin, especially in early stages of planning.

1. Context of Marketplace

You must understand the current state of your market and why it is in the state in which it currently stands. If your company is being negatively affected by the pandemic, whether through staffing and productivity or sales and profit, you must realign and ask yourself, “What do we do next to survive this, even with this obstacle?” Adjust as you see fit, but never allow yourself to remain stagnant. If you are more accustomed to helping clients/customers in-store yet are restricted due to the pandemic, it’s your responsibility to remain accessible online! Update your website’s marketplace, and always do the necessary research to tend to your market. Find ways to make genuine connections to your market regardless of any adversity.

2. Competition

We touched on this briefly, but this idea does not get enough positive connotation. Knowing your competition as well as possible can allow you the ability to separate from the pack. Create a defining characteristic about your company that helps you stand out from the rest while aligning with your values and asserting your strengths. Never allow yourself to underestimate your competition because any self-respecting company will also be looking for ways to help itself stand out. Add in your tactics while using tried-and-true techniques. Adapt to the new social media world by hiring individuals capable of harnessing its power. Get excited about new forums or methods of communicating. You’ll be able to attract more consumers by being the standout brand on their favorite social media forums. Attach yourself to trustworthy brands you believe in and find ways to cross-promote. There are a million routes to utilizing your competition in healthy ways. Shiny facades lie everywhere, so always keep a wary eye while remaining available for great opportunities.

3. Company Benefits

While asking yourself what you believe in and getting to know the company’s values, it’s also very helpful if you can understand what your company offers people, or for career professionals, what they can offer you. Maybe you have a personal reason why certain medical benefit packages might appeal to you. The same emotional energy should apply when offering benefits to your employees. People – humans, that is – have always wanted to be a part of a community that loves, respects, and appreciates them. There is no better way to communicate your respect for your employees than by offering them wage-proportionate insurance options and, if possible, extra perks to help make their lives a little better simply because they work for you. An added sense of pride comes with a job enlistment when you know you are going home with more than just a paycheck.

4. Consumer Needs

This may seem self-explanatory, but the idea of consumer needs can open a few other cans of worms that may need addressing in every company worldwide. Whether it be a startup or an established corporation, there will always be certain aspects of our infrastructure that need reform or maybe just a little polishing. Whether it be customer service, accessibility, advertising, package design, supply, ingredient demands, or whatever the area may be, there is always work. Customer and client reviews can be the most helpful or detrimental part of running your business. Please do not take their power for granted.

Signs of the Times

Yamaguchi beer
Yamaguchi Beer client project by Gauger + Associates / Photo courtesy of Gauger + Associates

With the world changing as fast as it does, it’s important to understand that the main constant, which your company and your competition are always fixated on, can change at any minute. This constant could be anything at any point, so it’s never really a constant. For example, one day, the internet was introduced to the public, and it proceeded to change the way every market, company, and the consumer has ever existed. Humans are unsatisfied creatures, and we will always be looking for new ways to fill needs that we didn’t even know we had. When there becomes a new way to fill a need, that need just created its market and established a way for new businesses and companies to thrive off satisfying the need of the consumers.

This is a huge example of a business that is always changing yet continuously thriving in the music business. Some household names that we know and love have been parts of our conversations for nearly half a century, some even longer. The most iconic and prolific recording industry members have their hands in every genre imaginable. Scott Storch, for example, was a founding member of super-group, The Roots and still holds weight as the single-handed wizard of production in the hip-hop, pop, soul, funk, R&B, and dance worlds. There will always be a myriad of new art and new opinions swirling in with every new generation. Still, the best of the best will continue to outshine their contemporaries throughout every chapter in the story.

This type of thinking led Gauger + Associates to creatively strong-arm the advertising industry. He did admit it was tough to learn how to balance being a “salesman” with being “creative.” Being wizards in design allowed the company to cut out the middleman and concentrate its energies into supplying other companies with the utmost quality of advertising service. However, their desire to help the business of their client flourish is their strongest asset, even today. David says, “For us, it's been a combination of trying to constantly come up with new ideas for growing business and growing our clients’ businesses. And, much of our growth has come from our clients directly over the years. We constantly try to look at ourselves as extensions of their marketing department.”

On the Same Page

Sometimes, the conversations can get tough, yet that is not a good reason to turn and run. Especially in the interest of partnerships, it’s critical to the company's success that all members and leaders of the company are on the same page when making decisions and learning new information. You must allow room for conversation and growth in the decision-making process and never make any partner feel like they have less information than others. Whether over an hour lunch or 5 hours of late-night drinking, the conversations must be had. Face all your issues together, as there is no room for embarrassment or judgment when you all share a mutual investment and a common dream. Every number, detail, and employee must be discussed to ensure no stone goes unturned. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Many small holes can lead to the sinking of great ships.”

Build up your team. Find out about everyone’s strengths and exercise them. Not every employee you meet can be a superhero. Sometimes, you may run into a generalist, or an achiever, who is willing to wear multiple hats and take on many tasks for the team’s success. Usually, most people will concentrate their energy on one main focal point and develop that skill until it’s second nature. These types of employees and teammates can prove to be just as useful and, in some cases, more longstanding due to the strength in which they play their role.

As a result of the effects of the pandemic in March 2020, Gauger + Associates found themselves operating the company over video calls, and a lot of teammates felt very out of place when it came to their team roles. David mentioned that many team members have, albeit accidental, come out of their respective shells to tackle even more responsibility and dive headfirst into new tasks. With the need for flexibility and adaptation in these unprecedented times, the team at Gauger + Associates has become more buoyant than ever. David mentioned that he could not be prouder of his group for showing such tenacity in the face of adversity.

This example of that community-focused idea of “being” on the same page goes back to the same questions we asked ourselves initially. What do we stand for? What matters to us? How have we changed over the years, and what caused those changes? What do we do next to secure a better future? What can we do now to prepare? David and his co-founders asked themselves these same questions and found the answers more straightforward than they might have thought.

The company mainly focuses on the processes of designing, advertising, and ultimately selling two things: food and shelter. This is conceptually what they are best at, although they have taken other opportunities. Because it’s important to best exemplify their strengths and positive qualities, they knew it would be beneficial to continue chasing opportunities in these specific marketplaces. A great amount of confidence in your abilities as a company can potentially be the difference between achieving your dreams and wondering about what could have been. However, it is also the responsibility of the company’s leaders to position the company for its success. David tells us how important it is to take ownership of your client's business as you do your own.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Truthfully, we’d be remiss if we couldn’t remove at least a few key factors from everything we’ve learned in our conversation with Gauger. Before he left, however, we did ask for some specific pointers he might have for any entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs hoping to stronghold their respective industries. He left us with five hard-hitting guidelines for the not-so-distant future at hand.

Redefinition of Industries

There is no way to hold onto the past, and every industry has a future. How bright or bleak the outlook of that future depends on the innovators in the industry who care enough to dedicate themselves to groundbreaking creative work.

Communication Is Changing

There are a million and one ways to adapt to the communication styles used in your market. If it takes ten different social media platforms, or even just one press conference, to make sure your business is getting heard about, make it happen. There is no way to achieve great things without using all proper forms of communication. In-person contact is still the warmest and most upfront way to communicate directly but isn’t always the safest option in today's current world. On top of the obvious health concerns, you also could be more effective to different demographics than you might expect by using more platforms.

Advance and Don’t Get Stuck in Your Ways

They say not to try and reinvent the wheel, but they are always doing interesting new things to spruce up the wheels, make them go faster, move more aerodynamically, and essentially cost more. There is no limit to the amount of worth we are willing to add to the things we are passionate about as humans. So, grab the reigns and take control of your passion. Add to the wheel. Make new types of wheels. Flying cars. The world is yours, seriously.

Think Outside the Box

Work hard and be creative. Work hard to be creative. The biggest mistake a salesman can make is deflecting their creative and artistic urges when they could be utilizing them in their professional life. Rather than suppressing your urge to paint, maybe take that artistic trait and apply it to some graphic design that could help advertise to your market. You could even go out to a new age paint party and meet new prospects. Don’t ever stifle either side of your brain when it wants to be let free for a positive purpose.

David Gauger chatting in office
David Gauger having a conversation in the office / Photo courtesy of Gauger + Associates

Make Honest Emotional Connections

Constantly speaking from behind screens and through emails can make it very difficult to share full emotional connections. With that said, it’s still critical to find new ways to relate to your fellow humans. Remember that your client was a person before they were ever your client. You can use personal things to help yourself relate to that person. It never hurts to send an online gift card for a coffee. It has a similar effect to taking a prospect out to lunch. Everyone loves free stuff. That’s a relatable, natural emotion, and you should learn to use these to your advantage.

If ever there was a time to be inspired about the potential of your company, your company’s business, and your company’s marketplace, it would be right now. Gauger + Associates stands as a shining example of what you can achieve by doing the research, learning the field, and applying yourself to advance the industry. Lead the way in your industry and allow your wings to spread. Start with the soul of your company and work from the inside out. Every single day when you wake up, remember the questions that you must ask yourself. These questions are not a one-time answer sheet to fill out. These questions can lead you to understand the creed and culture of your company. The answers may very well be the deciding factors for you to even create the company in the first place. If the answers ever change, do not be scared to advance as you see fit. Plan accordingly and be prepared to jump through hoops. Redefine your industry by day. Redesign your company by night. The strong survive, but the flexible never get old. Go stretch.

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