The Other Other White Meat

Maybe you’ve seen them. The billboards with 3-D cows, scribbling the suggestion that we “Eat Mor Chickin”

Brilliant. And the cows parachuting onto the football field in the latest TV ad is pretty good, too. My five year old had all kinds of questions when he saw that!

From the standpoint of brand campaigns, Chick-fil-A seems to be on target. They put out a calendar for this year with various cow characters, that my kids “had to have.”

This is a company I like for a couple reasons. One, their marketing is creative. And two, they are principled (for instance, all stores are closed on Sunday, to observe a day of rest). A rare combination.

A few quibbles on their brand presentation, however:

– The logo doesn’t pass the T-shirt test. I wouldn’t want to wear it.

– The tagline, “We didn’t invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich” really doesn’t stick. It’s talking about past history (they have far more than a sandwich now), and it doesn’t create a connection with the audience. Something along the lines of, “We Admit it – We’re Chicken!” or “Proud to be Chicken!” would put an interesting 180 degree twist on a familiar phrase.

– Removing country-boy nicknames (“Bubba”/”Buck”/”Woody”) from key corporate staff names on the website would help make the company look more serious.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I finally had the opportunity to go to one of their stores and have a chicken sandwich. This was one of those times when the brand experience had included everything BUT the final “deliverable” – the food. I’m glad to say that it was quite tasty, and I won’t hesitate to “Eat Mor Chickin” at Chick-Fil-A. Just keep those parachuting cows out of my yard!

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We mainline a lot of coffee here in the U.S., and with good reason. We’re not like those Old World tea drinkers, hoisting a presumptuous pinky in the air while sipping a weak-spined brew of putting-on-airs leaf extract. No sirree!! We want some hearty joe, preferably to go, to jump-start some serious red blood pumping so that we can get stuff done. Java and calorie-encrusted donuts, Yes! A “spot of tea” and delicate crumpets – er, no.

So, how are the coffee companies doing on their branding exercises?

Ignoring the supermarket/mass market brands (Folgers, Maxwell House, and the like) which bear some resemblance to coffee but carry no interest from a branding perspective – or a drinking perspective, for that matter – I’ll give a few thoughts to coffee brands I actually like.

Starbucks – blah, blah, blah, everyone’s talked about Starbucks. I know, I know. But credit must be given where it is due – they turned coffee into an experience. They “branded” coffee into the realms of fine beers and wines, with various beans and roasts, highbrow terms, etc. Fact is, most of the coffee just tastes good, for those of us that prefer stronger flavors to amorphous swills. And their pioneering use of the Starbucks debit card was brilliant. These people have continuously found ways to build user experience around their brand, and the dollars keep ending up in their tills. I wish they’d open one up in my town.

Dunkin’ Donuts – growing up in the Northeast, I’ve always known about DD. Their coffee was always reasonably good, and they were the donut/coffee shop for the blue collar set. Get a big joe and a cruller and off to pound some nails!

Some years ago, they came out, in some markets, with a Dark Roast that was pretty darn good – then they killed it. Boy, was that stupid (personal peeve). Their new campaign, however, “America runs on Dunkin'”, is pretty good. With that phrase, they’re preserving their more “functional” identity, but they are slowly moving up the food chain into a higher quality niche, with cappuccino drinks, etc. I still stop at DD’s, without shame, though typically feeling more at home when there in denims and a flannel shirt.

Then there’s Krispy Kreme. These people actually have pretty good coffee, though their core message and branding is around the donuts. Fact is, decades ago when I went to college in the South, KK’s were viewed as budget gut-fillers. Then, someone turned their shops into an experience, where you could get a free one “Hot Now” as they rolled off the line. We now drive 1 mile (each way) out of our way on trips to Connecticut just to go to KK, since the kids love the experience as much as the adults like the coffee. And, yes, I have a KK shirt and thermal mug, despite the fact the logo is pretty dated.

And now, two surprise entries. Not big, well-known chains. What is our workaday, regular morning coffee? Kirkland (from Costco). Incredibly affordable in those 3-lb. cans, and consistently good. Not great, but quite good enough for the daily fix. From a price/benefit ratio, can’t beat it. No cool logo, no great tagline, no catchy campaign – just solid performance. Sometimes I’ll mix in some Eight O’Clock dark roast just to make it a bit heartier.

Then, my all-time favorite coffee – Mill Mountain. From a little group of coffee shops in central Virginia. Mill Mountain Blend is roasted and ground on site, and it is strong. Walk around downtown Roanoke at the right time, and the olfactory branding experience is almost irresistible. I’m sure there are hundreds of places like this – the bags may be plain, and the branding identity undistinguished, but the joe sells itself after one sip. I’ve been known to go to extraordinary lengths to get a few pounds of Mill Mountain smuggled into New Jersey so that I can have a few fleeting weeks of peak Java experience before, sadly, having to return to more pedestrian sipping…

What are your favorites? Add a comment above!

On the Double

For many years, I’ve had a bias toward Doubletree Hotels.

Why? Two reasons.

Masterful branding. And cookies.

If you’ve stayed at a Doubletree, you know that they have (very tasty!) fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies at the front desk when you check in. You can smell them. You can almost taste them as you sign for your room. And, you go through the inevitable, “Should I ruin my dinner appetite and indulge right now?” thought process as your drop your luggage onto your bed…then inevitably give in and enjoy that delicious treat right then and there.

The other reason, and you’ll think I’m off my rocker for saying it, is their logo. Back in the day, Doubletree merged with a chain called Guest Quarters. They had to come up with an identity that somehow communicated the fact that the two were now one, but that allowed for the fact that the name “Doubletree” was going to be the final name going forward.

Take another look at the logo. At this point, 99.8% of the population only sees two trees. But what are the two stylized letters embedded in the symbol? G and Q, for Guest Quarters. Brilliant.

In the short term, Guest Quarters had a “presence” in the new branding. But over time, that simply faded away, and the attractive “double tree” graphic maintained its strength.

Most hotels in the Doubletree strata have fairly common elements – nice rooms, nice lobby, nice people, nice restaurant, etc. But Doubletree has delicious cookies. And a brand identity that I can’t help but admire.

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Seattle: Another DOA Slogan

Seattle recently unveiled its most recent lame attempt at a slogan to promote itself.

It spent 16 months and 200K to come up with this theme. Some of us could have done better with 2 hours and a free venti latte from Starbucks.

The slogan that resulted from this misplaced investment? METRONATURAL.


Yes, Seattle is a city. And, yes, it is in an attractive wilderness/outdoorsy area. But METRONATURAL? Sounds like a biofuel-powered subway system. Or an urban commune for hippies. A winning entry that’s a 5-syallable nonsense term sounding like an already-discarded trendy term for unmanly males? Get real.

Seattle is a great city. But if I were a resident, I would not buy and wear a “METRONATURAL” hat with pride. There are other brands whose mugs/shirts/hats I gladly use – a key indicator of branding that hits the mark. I have a sneaking suspicion that sales of Mariners and Seahawks “stuff” will far surpass anything with this DOA term on it.

An effective slogan or tagline should, in most cases, be both descriptive and aspirational. Simple yet timeless. There should be, if possible, a self-evident connection to the thing being branded. It should not provoke the “Huh???” response of this and the previous failed efforts at branding Seattle. Article from

What are the visual cues that sum up Seattle as a city in the midst of natural beauty? Very simple. The Space Needle, and Mt. Ranier. Both of which have a peak. I can visualize a simplified line drawing of Mt. Ranier in the background, with the peak of the Needle in the foreground, and a tagline such as “Peak City” or “At the Peak“. That cost me all of 15 minutes thought and a half cup of my own brewed coffee. With 16 months and 200K, it would undoubtedly be do-able to come up with plenty of other possibilities! At 200K per city, and about a year and a half per, it would only take 5 cities and a less than a decade to be a millionaire.

Let’s see if we can come up with slogans just as effective as “METRONATURAL” in, oh, say, 10 minutes:

Miami: SunKitsch

Houston: PetroCasual

Cleveland: Not as Bad as You Think

Charlotte: We’re Nice and We Have Banks

Trenton, NJ: Corruption Happens

Some locales (Virginia, New York, etc.) came up with campaigns that were appealing and long-lived. I fully expect “METRONATURAL” to be consigned to the dustbin of the rapidly forgotten – the sooner, the better.

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A good necessary evil

I can’t think of anyone that enjoys paying for insurance. It’s intangible (hopefully!). You’re trading x hundreds of dollars for….nothing you can hold in your hand.

But when you need it, you’re glad you paid. And when you deal with a company like Amica, you almost (almost!) don’t feel too bad writing the check.


Perhaps you’ve never heard of Amica. If Northwestern Mutual is the quiet company, Amica seems almost mute. But I can think of few – if any – companies that have engendered such a high degree of my brand loyalty.

Back a lifetime or so ago (25 years), you could only get a policy with Amica by recommendation of a current policyholder (I “married into” an Amica-covered family!). There was little or no advertising – marketing was word-of-mouth. This led to an exceptionally high quality pool of policyholders. And the key to retention was unbelievably responsive customer service, which remains a signature feature of Amica to this day. This little-known company always ranks at or near the very top when customers are surveyed for satisfaction regarding their insurance providers.

Nowadays, they do some advertising, though you won’t find too many Amica ads running during the Super Bowl, or occupying full-page spreads in the Wall Street Journal. Not too many years back, they did some re-branding – alas, the logo they chose is pretty stodgy, but attachment to this company goes way beyond the skin-deep appearance of its brand image. Their current tagline is, “It’s not just how you’re covered. It’s how you’re treated.” Not the snappiest set of words I’ve ever seen, but the message is a dead-on accurate summary of their core distinctive.

The highest goal for an organization is to create brand evangelists. Amica not only has policyholders – they have organic word-of-mouth marketers. When you have superb service, you don’t need to throw millions out the window making 30 seconds of noise at the Super Bowl.

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Follow-up: Amica decided to highlight this posting on their website…I suspect most companies rarely get a positive, unsolicited review!

Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.

Why I will not apply for this credit card

Sure looks great…almost an offer you couldn’t refuse.

Lurking below the surface, however, are sharks circling in the fine print.

It’s an Advanta credit card offer. I got one of these a few weeks back, shared it (in near disbelief) with my wife, then threw it away. A move I regretted, since that was before launching this blog, but not to fear…they came through again today!

The bait:
Enticing fixed APR for balance transfers. 6% cash back. No annual fee. Zero fraud liability. Et cetera, et cetera.

Now, the switch. Talk about audacity – you can’t make this stuff up. I quote exactly:

All of the terms of your account (including rates) are subject to change by us. This means that your account rates, including any introductory or promotional rates offered, are not guaranteed; all account rates may be increased, fixed rates may change to variable rates, and variable rates may change to fixed rates. We may change your account terms (including rates) at any time for any reason.

Hmmm, let’s see – by applying for this card, I give you the right to do whatever you want, whenever you want, for whatever reason you want. Whatever you’re saying is offered, you don’t necessarily mean, and I can’t actually have any idea what I may be agreeing to, as it can be changed arbitrarily at any time.

Tough decision . . . but I think I’ll pass on this one!

Can you imagine this approach being taken in other important situations?

“This 30-year mortgage at a fixed rate of 7.5% may become a 20 (or 50) year mortgage at any rate we may choose at the moment, and you can’t do anything about it.”

“Yes, we will hire you at $80,000/year, with full benefits, except you may actually end up having to pay your own benefits at some undefined point, and your salary may fluctuate month to month depending on undetermined variables that will be disclosed, or not, at our sole discretion.”

“…to have and to hold from this day forward, with the proviso that I may change my mind at any time, and this covenant may become a temporary agreement, for any reason or whim…” (hmmm – that may be getting too close to the truth in some cases).

Effective branding is about providing value. It’s about promises. It’s about trust. Because of regulatory requirements, these Advanta folks at least spelled it out plainly. And plainly, their brand value goes to zero.

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Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.

What is Branding?

What do I mean by___________?

In every discussion, it’s important to agree on use of words; or, if there is not agreement, to at least define terms.

Marketing, branding, positioning, identity, promotion….these terms all get thrown around, often without a clear understanding of what is being conveyed.

So, without pretending to be some kind of oracle, here is how I define these terms. I wish I could guarantee that I’ll use them consistently, but we have to start somewhere!

Of the 4 P’s of Marketing (Product, Place, Price, Promotion), my sweet spot is Promotion. When I use the term Marketing, I’m generally thinking of Promotion.

The starting point for any organization/company/person is Identity. I see Identity as the philosophy, culture, offerings, people and promised value of the organization (which may be anything from one person to a global corporation).

Identity answers the questions, “Who are you?” and “What can you do for me?”

Next comes Branding. Branding, in my view, is the expression, projection, and experience of the organizational identity and its promised value. It has at least these three components:

– The Brand itself is the inward perception, in the mind of the customer (user, prospect, employee, member), of the value of the organization and its offerings.
Brand image is the construct and projection of the identity; the names, symbols, words, messages, and other images that express, and attach to, the organizational identity and its promised value.
Brand experience is the accumulation of validating or invalidating interactions with the organization and its promised value.

Branding answers the question, “Why should I be attached to you?”

Closely related to branding is Positioning. I see the main distinction as one of context: positioning has to do with how a specific brand or offering is perceived within the context of the marketplace. There is a reality to positioning – a brand or offering can actually occupy a specific space in the market – and a perception of that positioning in the mind of the customer. Positioning is defining one’s place relative to the overall landscape, and effectively gaining mindshare as, hopefully, the best provider of value in that space.

Positioning answers the question, “Where are you?” or, “Where do you fit?”

Establishing Identity is hard work. It takes a strong dose of self-awareness, keen appreciation of core competencies (and humble awareness of non-competencies), and, usually, some external and objective assistance to provide analysis and help define the value proposition. When talking to clients and partners, this is always my starting point. It doesn’t make much sense to come up with a promotional campaign when there is no foundation on which to rest the message. Positioning actually comes next. Assuming there is a valid value proposition, how does it “fit” within the marketplace of other offerings and brands? Finally, (if there is not a pre-existing brand), the brand image can be developed and rolled out.

The goal of all of this is four-fold:

Brand awareness – getting the attention of the customer(s) in an effective manner

Brand engagement – interaction of the customer(s) with the brand leading to a positive result

Brand attachment – ongoing usage of the brand by the customer(s) with settled positive feelings

Brand evangelism – customers motivated to share the positive brand experience with others

. . . all leading, of course, to world domination in some form or fashion!

Anyone who has read books and articles on marketing/branding/positioning will quickly recognize that these concepts are not original or unique; I’ve simply tried to paint a more comprehensive picture that gives each term a sensible place.

Impactiviti’s core competencies in this value chain (solo or in concert with other marketing providers) include Identity definition, Positioning strategy, and the early stages of Brand image creation, along with some levels of on-line strategy and tactics. The actual execution of most tasks related to a promotional initiative are best handled by other specialized providers, within or outside of Impactiviti’s network of partners.


Impactiviti provides strategic consulting services to increase brand impact.