This was too good to pass up on branding and who actually represents the brand - a blog post by marketing guru, Seth Godin. It is a near perfect follow-up to our recent posting on Billy Mays and the brands he represented. In that post, we asked the question as to whether or not the brands he pitched could survive without him since he was arguably, the brand!

In the case of Seth Godin's posting, look at the reverse situation. It's a sad reality that there are employees out there working for supposedly reputable brands, yet taking no responsibility to uphold the integrity of the company, business, product or services because...drum roll...it's just a job...all I do is work here!

Seth nails it: when you are employed by the company, then you represent EVERYTHING about that business and thus, the brand. And, that means the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly (thank you Mr. Eastwood).

Thankfully, there are companies out there who have instilled a culture within their organizations where employees 'get it'. Go to a Chik-fil-A sometime and you'll see it from every single employee. You'll never hear one of them proclaim 'I just work here'.

Pitchman Billy Mays revolutionized direct response advertising via his unmistakable commercial presence that always opened with “Hi, Billy Mays here…”He became the icon of direct response television commercials and infomercials.What’s interesting is the effectiveness of his pitches that resulted in the sales of millions of dollars of product.

This brings up the question:was Billy Mays really the brand or was it the product he was selling?His products certainly have become household brand names – OxiClean, Orange Glo, Awesome Auger, Mighty Putty, etc.But, without Billy Mays these arguably would be unknown.However, having a strong pitch for a product is just one aspect to building an effective brand – it has to work and be well received by the consumer.If these products didn’t deliver on their brand promises as Billy demonstrated in his commercials, additional sales would likely have never happened.Still, with a guy like Mays and his notoriety representing the products, one could make a strong case that he is more of the brand than anything else.He is the voice, the image, the seller, the convincer – the guy who compels the sale.That’s more than just a sales guy.

It is very difficult to think about any of these brand names without the name and image of Billy Mays coming to mind at the same time. What happens now? His commercials continue to be aired since his death and unquestionably the products are selling. Over time, will they sustain without Billy Mays? Have the brands built a strong enough following to succeed without their pitchman? Only time will tell us how these products will perform sales-wise in the future and whether or not they can live on without their beloved spokesperson.

Yep, it appears Denny's is at it again. They must be on to something that is working. A new advertisement is launching to promote another free meal for their Grand Slamwich. As they did during the Super Bowl ad, Denny's will be offering a freebie to those who bring a friend who could use a good meal. The idea is to promote 'acts of kindness'. A good idea, no doubt, and one that will continue to boost their already high brand favorability.

Some may be asking why they would bother with another free offer. In marketing, there is no more powerful word than 'free'. And, it works. It's obviously working for Denny's because they wouldn't bother investing in another promotion of this type if the first had been unsuccessful. Plus, they understand the importance of consistency. The Super Bowl promo could have easily been a one-off, one-time deal that we soon forgot about. But, no, the marketing pros at Denny's recognize that and are ready to pull the trigger again. When this ad hits, there will be many consumers who recall the Super Bowl promotion and thousands upon thousands who will recall excellent service and quality food when they partook of the free Grand Slam meal back in February.

This is likely to create a lot of additional buzz for Denny's. That's only part of what they're after. It is the buzz that translates into revenue dollars that will be the real measure. I'm betting they'll please a lot of hungry patrons while bringing a smile to the company's bottom line.

 

As if the Super Bowl wasn't enough, Denny's stepped up to the plate and smacked one right out of the park...or was it through the uprights?! Through their :30 second advertising spot during the Super Bowl, Denny's promoted their free Grand Slam breakfast at all US restaurants from 6AM till 2PM on the Tuesday following super Sunday.

Great idea? Youbet. During this economy? Brilliant.

Sure, Super Bowl ads are ultra expensive, but when you consider the nearly immediate call to action that Denny's promoted, the pay-off was sure to follow. And that's what happened. People came, a lot of them waited patiently in long lines, they ate, were satisfied...and then what? Well, the real ROI for Denny's is the bet that these people will come back and become loyal patrons to the restaurant.

That's one of the keys to this campaign. Denny's advertising message was put in front of millions of people - mass communication. But, they hit a hot button with the viewing audience - free. Who can beat that these days? A free meal, sure. More than that, they drew people into their restaurants - perhaps some for the first time. Once they came, Denny's had to deliver. Service had to be spot-on. The food quality had to be tops. The customer experience had to be superb.

Well, based on the reviews, it looks like the free Grand Slam was a winner. When Denny's statistically measures their spike in meals served over the coming weeks, they should see increased revenues. The key will be keeping these customers and converting them into loyal patrons. Otherwise, they risk the short-term enjoyment of a sharp revenue increase that could easily drop back down to previous levels.

Learning from this experience will perhaps help us all become better marketers. Here's the story:

Went to lunch today to a spot visited perhaps twice a year. My friend and I walked in the door and almost simultaneously started searching for the menu. Nothing. Where the 'specials board' once sat was nothing but an empty floor. Then, we spotted the whiteboard - on the opposite wall. Finally, we found menus at the end of the counter. After about 5 minutes, I realized the name of the joint had changed. Hmmm. What's up with that?

We both placed our orders and I thought mine was a really, really simple one: the All-American cheeseburger. After a few minutes chit-chatting with my friend at our booth, we were interrupted by a guy who turns out to be the restaurant owner. He asked me what seemed like 20 questions about how I wanted my burger. My initial thoughts were "Didn't I already tell the girl who took my order?" Not long after that, our food arrived. It was OK. Nothing special and nothing to tell anyone else about - - at least that's what I thought.

Minding our own business and chomping down our lunch, we were once again interrupted by Mr. Restaurant Owner. This time, he was in a full-throttle sales mode. Without hardly taking a breath, he proceeded to tell us why we should order lunches for our businesses through him and why his food was so good because it is fresh daily, etc. OK, I understand. A fairly new business and he's a bit excited to tell us about his business. But what was wrong with this tactic?

1 - He interrupted us without permission assuming we wanted to hear his sales pitch while we were attempting to eat our lunch

2 - He constantly repeated himself and over-emphasized what may otherwise have been decent selling points

3 - He contradicted himself - - in one breath he told us the food was prepared fresh daily and in the next breath promoted his pastries which he receives frozen, then pops them in the oven!

4 - He broke a major sales law by explaining that his prices were going up due to someone else's problem (the gas prices)

Numbers 3 and 4 are worth exploring a bit. I can't think of a worse example than for a restaurant owner to brag about fresh food and in the next sentence tell me some of it is frozen and simply 'heated up' in the oven. What's your answer, sir? Do you offer fresh or frozen food? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the conflict.

In number 4, he was attempting to point out menu items (again, while we were trying to eat) that he thought would interest us, but then said a new menu was coming out within a week. Keep in mind, this place just opened less than 2 months ago. Here's the kicker: he said their prices were going to be higher because of "you know, gas and other stuff like that". Ouch.

Lessons learned:

Create a brand that means something. I left that place with more brand conflict than anything else. What about an outstanding lunch experience that I would want to tell all my friends about? How about emphasizing true freshness in all menu items? Our brand experience was negative. The restaurant brand doesn't exist - in name, atmosphere or experience (well, it does in a negative way).

Ask permission to interrupt patrons or customers. That's a fundamental law of marketing. We're all interrupted dozens of times a day with commercials, emails, etc. Be strategic and tactful when you want to express a message. How about offering an incentive to come back to this restaurant as first time diners? How about coupons to pass along to our friends and colleagues? The list goes on.

Seth Godin says to create 'remarkable' experiences. He's right. Delight the customer instead of irritating him. Be known for something great, unique, special, beneficial, outstanding, etc. Eliminate contradictions in your business. Be consistent and let your brand grow your business.

Last year, Bruster's Real Ice Cream and Nathan's Famous teamed up to offer consumers the best of good ole homemade ice cream and world famous hot dogs - at one stop. These two mega brands have joined forces to combine complementing eats that are sure to please. Rather than run out for a nice, fresh ice cream cone, why not dine on a Nathan's hot dog AND then grab a cone. What a deal. From a business perspective, this helps drive day time business for Bruster's and continues to build brand equity for Nathan's Famous.

Bruster's stores now carry signage for the unmistakable Nathan's Famous brand. The combination of Bruster's red/black with Nathan's green/yellow takes a little bit to get used to, but certainly grabs your visual attention. Regardless, the teaming has been well done and does not come across as an afterthought or 'slap it up there' idea.
So far, it appears this co-branding initiative is working. Bringing together two of America's favorite foods has got to be a winner. And the folks at both companies recognize that. Too often co-branding is done, 'half-baked' (had to use that), with mediocre results. When it makes sense, it works. We'll definitely keep an eye on our Bruster's and Nathan's buddies. Let's just hope there isn't an ice cream eating contest added to our July 4th flair in the future!

Gatorade has a couple of interesting 'League of Clutch' commercials that have been airing for several weeks. In particular, the one featuring Kevin Garnett (aka KG) caught my attention and that of my client, Chip Felkel of The Felkel Group. While discussing his business, brand promise and unique attributes, this commercial came to mind. The key point is that you have two choices: be history or make history. That's pretty powerful and bold. But, when you think about it, this makes sense. I liken it to being a sideline observer or jumping in the game to make a difference in the outcome. That's what happens in the marketing arena - spectators achieve no results beyond the satisfaction of watching while those that are engaged with the market, customers, etc. are reaping the benefits of their efforts. But remember, marketing isn't a game - it's an on-going effort that continues to pay-off for your business.

As Gatorade suggests, you can be history or make history. Which one is for you?

Malcolm Gladwell became an even better known author after his book "Blink" soared on the business book best seller's chart. Following up with "The Tipping Point", Gladwell seemed to hit pay dirt.

In the latter work, there really isn't any big revelation, but he certainly makes strong, compelling reasons why it only takes a small 'thing' to finally tip something (an idea, fad, product, etc) into popularity. In some cases, this may be due to a circle of influential people who are always willing to spread (dare I say, be 'viral') the word about a new idea, service, product, experience - you name it. However, it is also true that these circles cross all social lines. Yes, there will always be the one's out there who are information junkies and feel the need to pelt their social networks with their formulated opinions. And, in a lot of cases, this activity indeed tips the scales. But, the same holds true with circles and circles of people at all kind of levels. In other words, no exclusivity.

Recently, Duncan Watts - professor of sociology at Columbia University - threw in his two cents worth about the role of influencers as they relate to that unique 'tipping point'. In an article published by Fast Company, Watts challenges the Gladwell assessment. It's an interesting read that makes a few good points, but not one that persuades this marketing mind.

Consider how buying decisions are made and what influences the purchasing process. Wherever you fit within our social spectrum, it is highly likely that somebody, somewhere, some how influenced your decision. Were these people only the 'wealthy'? Doubtful. Only the 'jetsetters'? Probably not.

Decisions are influenced by the opinions we receive from those we trust - whether a friend, colleague, neighbor, a business - whatever. That's how it works. So, a respectful 'tip of the hat' to both Gladwell and Watts who both make good points (although our loyalty resides with Gladwell).

Recently I had the opportunity to read Chip and Dan Heath's new book entitled "Made to Stick". The book was somewhat intriguing because I was applying their concepts to marketing as I read through the book. And, it made sense.

The premise of making something 'stick' that requires a balance of simplicity and concreteness is true in marketing execution. Being able to effectively connect your offering with buyers can be challenging, but it doesn't have to be impossible. However, it does require messages that have substance and are meaningful for the intended recipient. As the Heath fellas point out, there is an emotional connection involved, too.

In marketing your messages, doing so in the form of stories is very powerful. In fact, this is addressed on the Heath brothers blog where research indicates that stories carry more weight than advertisements. Well, obviously - assuming the story is well told, has substance, is believable, appeals to the buyer's emotions - - ahh, is sticky!

Well, I suppose they're on to something.

A long-time retailer in our Greenville-SC market recently closed after nearly 50 years of serving customers well. As a feed and seed store, they succumbed to the competitive pressures that our beloved big box retailers have been known to apply to the small guys out there.

What's interesting about this store as noted in the Greenville News eulogy, is the legacy they left. Rather than going down with the sunset, the former owner reflected back on the good times - the times that made great memories because of great customer service.

For years, everyone in town knew the store by it's gray, life size horse that stood outside the store marking it's location. If someone called the store, the staff would simply tell them to look for the gray horse and instantly people connected with that image. What a powerful brand icon!

But, the store wasn't just known for the familiar and stately gray horse. Once you entered the establishment, you were treated like family and nearly always returned. The brand experience was powerful and that's what we'll all miss. The personal service, the ability to get whatever you needed even if they didn't have it and the warmth of a place that felt like home.

That's what having a powerful brand can do for you. It isn't just some logo, icon or clever tag line. It's the experience that satisfies a need. Does your business have a gray horse that delivers for you?



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