“Advertising is a tax for having an unremarkable product”

This quote is by Robert Stephens, Founder and "Chief Inspector" of the Geek Squad, from his speech at last week’s Marketing Society Conference in London. He has been able to grow his computer repair business from a one-man start-up to a company employing 15 000 "agents" in the USA, and secure a UK launch with Carphone Warehouse, all without the need for advertising. How? By designing every single bit of the Geek Squad experience to maximise impact and create word-of-mouth.


The name and logo were inspired by TV cop shows like Dragnet and Police Squad. Stephen’s wanted a name that sounded "more like a movie that a standard service" to create intrigue, make his business sound bigger than it really was and leave space for the brand idea to grow. I love this idea of a brand story with different "episodes", rather than something linear and predictable.

At the heart of the business are the "agents" with their unforgettable uniforms, black clip-on ties (to stop you being strangled by nasty printers) and Geek Squad badges. Then there’s the Geek Squad cars, also designed to get noticed, with vintage cars at the start and now VW Beetles. But perhaps the best illustration of Stephen’s genius are the shoes. He was told that with 15 000 agents the company could get a free logo on the side of them. Instead, he asked for a reversed-out logo on the soles. Why? Because this meant branded footprints everywhere his agents go. Think about it. 30 000 shoes, 100 steps a day… that’s up to 3 million free GRPs a day!


The distinctive tone and style is translated into a brand
language that communinicates efficiency but with an amusing twist.
You’re confident the job will get done, but entertained at the same
time. For example, the company’s employees are described as ‘an elite
tactical unit of highly trained Agents that focus solely on computer
and network support’. And the Geek Squad units inside computer retailer
Best Buy are christend "precincts".   

But as Stephens points out, all this emotional appeal works only because it is built on the foundation of a great product. This started with him looking at each step of the computer repair experience and
highlighting numerous ways to make it better, such as explaining repairs in
language people understood and arriving 5 minutes
early for his appointment. Not rocket science, but doing the basics better than the competition in lots of areas, that together create differentiation. New features have  also been added over time,
– Service guarantee: If you’re not completely satisfied with our service, the problem is remedied fast and free
– Nationwide coverage: Over 700 locations available nationwide, including Hawaii and Alaska
– Flat rates: removes the nauseating pain and discomfort often associated with billing by the hour
– Not third party: Any Agent that enters your home or office or that you see at Geek Squad Precincts and stores is the genuine article

Beyond the customer appeal, the other big benefit of having a remarkable product is employee engagement. Geeks are no longer languishing un-loved in the IT department. They get to be part of a gang who share the same interests and hobbies. Furthermore, getting into The Geek Squad is made into a challenge, a job only for the elite as described by their recruitment ad:

Recruits wanted to eliminate all evil computer behaviour. Faint of heart need not apply.Candidates undergo a gruelling screening process — not unlike that of the FBI or Interpol. If you’ve got drive, strong customer relations skills, excellent button-pressing savvy and a mildly odd affinity for government-chic attire, you may be Geek Squad material.

5-minute workout: imagine all your advertising budget was cut. How could you innovate every aspect of your product or service to make it more impactful, memorable and remarkable like the Geek Squad. If they can do it with shoes, what can you do it with?