BrandingWire update

We have a couple of new challenges up on BrandingWire.comone has generated a bunch of helpful input already, the other is just up now.

If you hadn’t already discovered, BrandingWire is no longer restricted to the original 12 pundits who founded the site – now, we publicly post these challenges, and invite ANY marketing blogger to give input and ideas. So pitch in!

Also, Who Needs You? – a new-ish post on the Small Business Branding blog. Feel free to challenge this idea in the comments if you think I’m off base!

So…What’s New with BrandingWire?

What if you could go to a site where great marketing ideas meet real-life challenges?

And everyone can participate and contribute?

Check out the evolution of the BrandingWire project

Zoom Zoom

Recently, one of our 3 cars (the one for the driving teens) blew an engine. Around the same time, I was ready to sell off the used car I’d been driving for business, and lease a new one. So, I had to sell one used car, buy another used car (hooray for Craig’s List!), and lease a new one.

Yes, it’s been a stressful few weeks (the car situation, along with work demands and some family/extracurricular pile-ons, did wonders for draining my creative impulses!).

mazda6.jpgSince the team over at BrandingWire recently did posts on the automobile dealership experience, I thought I’d describe my experience securing a lease on a 2007 Mazda6.

Basically, it was quite positive. The initial showroom experience was good – you never know what you’re going to get when you walk into a dealer and a random salesperson approaches you, but Fernando over at Wayne (NJ) Mazda was straightforward and professional. This is a high-volume Mazda dealer and they seem to have embraced some sound customer service principles (note to webmaster, however: your website ain’t that hot).

I had pretty much pre-selected the Mazda6 as my car of choice, but we went over the various options and packages, and I settled on a configuration I wanted. I then just wrote down what I was willing to offer on a piece of paper, handed it to Fernando, and with very little back-and-forth, the deal was done. It probably helped that this was on the last Saturday in September; the end-of-quarter is an ideal time to buy a car.

The pick-up experience was relatively painless, the follow-up has been good, and the car has been an absolute pleasure. Would I recommend this dealer? Based on my experience thus far, sure. And when it’s time to consider a new family-hauler, will I look at a Mazda over at Wayne? Sure. So far, so good…

(btw, the car is a 6-speed V6, and yes, it does Zoom Zoom when you need it!)

How would Branding Consultants brand…consultants?

The posse of marketing experts at BrandingWire are taking on, this month, the challenge of branding and positioning a B2B consulting firm.

Here’s the outline of the situation:

A profile of the ideal client/customer for the consulting firm:

    Revenues: $1 million to $25 million
    Employees: 150 or fewer
    Verticals: High-tech and health care
    Location: North America

The challenges facing these client/customers: consumers and other businesses have so many choices, that high-tech businesses (as well as their other target audience made up of clinics and hospitals) are experiencing stagnant growth, or even losing market share. Many of these clients don’t know how to differentiate themselves from their competition.

The consulting firm’s challenge: as a small marketing firm, they are losing contracts to lower pricing and to bigger firms. The consultancy after three years has stopped growing and most of its clients buy one project and don’t return for more assistance for several years, if at all. How do they position and brand themselves in order to return to greater marketplace success?

I would approach a situation like this with a number of questions, a sample of which are below:

  1. Why are they in these 2 markets? Is one of them more profitable, and more promising, than the other?
  2. What makes their target clients feel more comfortable with a “big” consulting firm?
  3. Why would a client engage them for only one project? Is there dissatisfaction, or are they simply not presenting themselves as a strategic partner for ongoing work?
  4. What are the main ways a client company could distinguish themselves in the marketplace…and how can the consulting firm specialize in capitalizing on those themes?

I find that, by and large, “big” consulting firms are vulnerable in two areas – high prices to support their massive overhead, and a lack of very specific and deep expertise in certain markets. On the surface, I’d advise this consulting outfit to take a deep look at whether they should be in one market (instead of two), and to re-structure their offerings so that they position themselves as long-term strategic partners. This will require highlighting some “success stories” from the past, and educating their clientele that accomplishing market differentiation is not a function of one-shot projects.

Consultants that become “embedded” with customers as ongoing resources provide the most value, and the most ongoing profit. It may well be worthwhile to shrink the firm temporarily in order to bring focus, and to implement a longer-term strategic approach (including messaging). They can hardly be expected to distinguish their client/customers in the marketplace if they cannot distinguish themselves!

See what the other experts at BrandingWire have to say about this challenge! The BrandingWire posse of pundits includes: Martin Jelsema, Lewis Green, Kevin Dugan, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Gavin Heaton, Becky Carroll, and Olivier Blanchard.

(Finally, I cannot resist adding the very funny poster from about consulting – an approach that , if followed, will surely lead to market differentiation of some sort!)


BrandingWire – Marketing IT Services

it-service.jpgOur BrandingWire challenge this month is helping a small IT services company in Canada promote and distinguish themselves. The full marketing brief for this challenge is here; in short, this growing company needs to find ways to communicate the value it provides to new clients, who often simply view them as an “IT repair” shop. They provide a full suite of services, and would like to get more regularly-paying customers on monthly service contracts.

From a marketing/promotional perspective, my immediate impression is two-fold:

1. Front-and-center, the company should promote itself as a service provider that removes a problem. Specifically, “we deal with all your (IT) headaches.” Clients need a reason to NOT view this type of company as a “call them when we need something fixed” shop. Executives in client companies have plenty of headaches. Outsourcing one of them can be quite desirable. By positioning their company as a business partner who simplifies the client’s life by bringing unique expertise, they can rise above any inaccurate preconceived notion that they are just a bunch of technicians.

2. As far as pricing goes, a comparative approach is probably the most effective. What is the average daily dollar amount for having this headache removed, compared to (say) business lunches, Starbucks, lawyer fees, etc.? And, to work the highly effective fear angle – what is the cost of one hour/day/week of downtime?

Because these two approaches are not necessarily unique to the company, they need to look at other ways to truly distinguish themselves. One way that they are already pursuing is a “Green” initiative, which has a nice P.R. overlay, but doesn’t easily take root as providing immediate and tangible customer benefit. Since IT support companies usually work on a fixed monthly retainer basis, I’d look at adding a way to give credits – for instance, if support needs are below a certain threshold on a given month, the client is credited with $___ applied to next month, or the extra is “banked” for heavier months. This is tangible, customer-focused, and addresses the fear that the client will be ripped off by paying too much for a monthly service contract.

Finally, I’d make heavy use of testimonials on all marketing materials. Especially, I’d ask existing clients to focus on the themes of “headache removal,” exemplary customer service, understanding of their business, etc. Most IT companies make the mistake of using far too much geek-speak to sell their services. In the small-to-medium sized business markets, the ones writing the checks are more immersed in business issues, and cannot as easily relate to the technical issues. They want headaches removed, downtime eliminated, minimal disruptions to workflow, reliability, and integrity. That should be the focus of communications (as an aside, when I ask clients for testimonials, I usually write up “suggested wording” instead of leaving it to them to come up with something – most really appreciate that, and then, of course, the testimonial emphasizes exactly what you are after!).

Catch some other high-voltage ideas from the members of the BrandingWire posse (including several guest bloggers this month!): Martin Jelsema, Lewis Green, Kevin Dugan, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Gavin Heaton, Becky Carroll, Olivier Blanchard, Matt Dickman, Chris Brown, Cam Beck

(Image credit)

Driving Away Customers

The title of this post pretty well sums up how I view the typical auto dealer experience. I think that entire sales/service model is on a downhill slide.

cars.jpgNot that every single experience I have had has been negative. I can think of a couple semi-positive ones, actually. And they were good strictly because the individual I was dealing with was low-pressure, informative, and pretty straightforward.

So, I tried to envision the elements of a radically different car dealership that would make me change my mind. What would it be like?

First, there would be an entirely different view of the role of the dealership, and the dealer-customer relationship. The standard method now in use is The Pressured Immediate Transaction Success model (The PITS), whereby all focus is getting the “victim” to make some kind of transaction decision now. That’s not a customer relationship – it’s manipulation. So that has to go – but with what to replace it?

Here would be my dream car-buying experience. I’d walk in the dealership, and be immediately greeted by someone (very warm, very professional) at a reception desk whose role it is to find out what exactly I need there today. Am I browsing? Am I looking to make a purchase? What kind of car? Do I have serious technical questions? This person sets a friendly, upbeat tone – instead of the typical wandering into a showroom, either ignored by overly busy salespeople hunched over cheesy-looking desks, or descended on by some shark that has marked me out as his personal victim by virtue of having claimed me first when I came in (I’ve experienced both of these first-hand).

I am directed to where the coffee is, and invited to make myself comfortable. There is a corner with literature on all the models, plus touch screen video displays where I can learn more about each car. The receptionist introduces me to the right person who, as a first step, sits down with me on some comfortable furniture and asks basic questions about what my needs and desires are. A real sales consultant, who listens, and even asks me questions that I didn’t think of myself. Someone who assumes that I am a person, not a means to the end of meeting his quota of victims that day.

That person then introduces me to the potential model(s) that might fit my needs. There is always a technical specialist available in the area, so that if my questions go into realms of engine and transmission design, detailed comparisons with other models, and other specifications, instead having to tolerate a babbling salesperson who only wants to avoid such distractions in order to make a sale, I’m treated with respect by interacting with someone knowledgeable.

car-salesman.jpgThen, with a nod of the head to the Saturn approach that went so well in its earlier years, we go over the price. Since dealer cost is now readily available with very little on-line effort, there’s no sense playing the game anymore. The price sheet has a list of all the desired options, and two totals at the bottom – the dealer’s cost, and the selling price. One price, same for all, no haggling. I will pay a reasonable mark-up, if I know it’s fair and I’m not being lied to. And no stupid game of going to the backroom and pretending to convince the mysterious sales manager that we really got to make a deal here today. Whoever came up with that customer-hostile model anyway? The whole “deal” mentality should be thrown overboard.

And how about seeing that customer – that adopter – as a long-term client, whose friends and children and professional colleagues all will become adopters as well? What about providing an entire life-cycle of services in a customer-focused way that will build incredible loyalty?

For instance, the general reputation of auto dealer service departments is that they’re the place to go if you want to overpay. Again, the maximize-revenue-from-each-transaction model. And, although I am certain there are many exceptions, my experience has, unfortunately, reinforced that impression. I go to a dealer as a LAST resort, not as a first choice – and that is exactly backwards. Can’t an innovative dealership seek to provide such good, honest, reliable, and affordable service, that I wouldn’t want to entrust my car to anyone else? And since cars are so reliable now, with maintenance more to the fore than repairs, can dealers become more like the Jiffy Lubes of the world, with rapid, predictable and affordable maintenance services? Why give all that steady business and good-will away?

If I had the luxury of re-inventing the entire automobile distribution business from scratch, here is how I would do it, taking into account the disintermediation of the web that really removes a lot of the necessity of the legacy dealership model:

1. Auto manufacturers have a small number of vast regional inventory centers, where cars are available for distribution. This inventory is owned by the manufacturer, thereby removing that overhang of financial pressure from dealers, and ensuring that manufacturers will make the models and configurations that actually sell.

2. Micro-dealers have a limited number of demo models, along with multimedia kiosks that have the ability to fully display configurations, and place orders. These local outposts are where prospective buyers can actually try out models by test-driving and talking with sales consultants. But rarely do they buy “off-the-lot” – the normal procedure is a delivery from the regional center a day or two later, where a far richer inventory of models, colors, and configurations are available. This removes the pressure to move sheet metal off the dealer’s “lot,” since that is no longer the goal. The goal is to get the customer the model they want.

3. Micro-dealers may also encompass, or be affiliated with, used-car sales, quick-maintenance facilities, and/or full repair services.

For many people, access to the Internet means that information is no longer needed from a traditional dealer. Frankly, I simply don’t need a car salesman. Information on models, pricing, availability, etc. is openly accessible, as are customer reviews. If people really know what they want, they can simply order it on-line, have it delivered from the regional facility to the nearest micro-dealer outpost, and be done with it. Unrealistic? Maybe. But as a customer, I’d move to that model in a heartbeat!

Get more high-voltage ideas from the entire posse at

    Olivier Blanchard
    Becky Carroll
    Derrick Daye
    Kevin Dugan
    Lewis Green
    Ann Handley
    Gavin Heaton
    Martin Jelsema
    Valeria Maltoni
    Drew McLellan
    Patrick Schaber
    Steve Woodruff

Next up on BrandingWire…(tune in Monday)

bw_logo_no_tag-med.jpgYep, it’s the beginning of another month, and that means another posting on BrandingWire, coming Monday.

The BrandingWire posse will be commenting on an experience that most or all of us have had…usually, an unpleasant one.

Any guesses?

Marketing Bloggers Unite!

…or, at least, collaborate!

There is an explosion of healthy collaboration going on among marketing bloggers. This sort of grass-roots effort to get to know one another, refine and improve our practices, and give to the community is a joy to behold. Some recent and future developments:

bw_logo_no_tag-med.jpg1. The BrandingWire posse recently took on their second challenge, re-branding a destination (Estes Park, CO). The comments thus far, including from the Director of Communications at Estes, indicate that a lot of actionable creativity was shared. Check it out here.

2. The Age of Conversation e-book, featuring over 100 authors (my chapter is on The Lowered Fence of Collaboration), is on the verge of being released. More info at Drew’s blog here. Authors include:

age-conversation.jpgGavin Heaton
Drew McLellan
Valeria Maltoni
Emily Reed
Katie Chatfield
Greg Verdino
Mack Collier
Lewis Green
Ann Handley
Mike Sansone
Paul McEnany
Roger von Oech
Anna Farmery
David Armano
Bob Glaza
Mark Goren
Matt Dickman
Scott Monty
Richard Huntington
Cam Beck
David Reich
Luc Debaisieux
Sean Howard
Tim Jackson
Patrick Schaber
Roberta Rosenberg
Uwe Hook
Tony D. Clark
Todd Andrlik
Toby Bloomberg
Steve Woodruff
Steve Bannister
Steve Roesler
Stanley Johnson
Spike Jones
Nathan Snell
Simon Payn
Ryan Rasmussen
Ron Shevlin
Roger Anderson
Robert Hruzek
Rishi Desai
Phil Gerbyshak
Peter Corbett
Pete Deutschman
Nick Rice
Nick Wright
Michael Morton
Mark Earls
Mark Blair
Mario Vellandi
Lori Magno
Kristin Gorski
Kris Hoet
G.Kofi Annan
Kimberly Dawn Wells
Karl Long
Julie Fleischer
Jordan Behan
John La Grou
Joe Raasch
Jim Kukral
Jessica Hagy
Janet Green
Jamey Shiels
Dr. Graham Hill
Gia Facchini
Geert Desager
Gaurav Mishra
Gary Schoeniger
Gareth Kay
Faris Yakob
Emily Clasper
Ed Cotton
Dustin Jacobsen
Tom Clifford
David Polinchock
David Koopmans
David Brazeal
David Berkowitz
Carolyn Manning
Craig Wilson
Cord Silverstein
Connie Reece
Colin McKay
Chris Newlan
Chris Corrigan
Cedric Giorgi
Brian Reich
Becky Carroll
Arun Rajagopal
Andy Nulman
Amy Jussel
AJ James
Kim Klaver
Sandy Renshaw
Susan Bird
Ryan Barrett
Troy Worman
S. Neil Vineberg

3. If you haven’t joined in with the Marketing Profs book club, where a bunch of readers simultaneously read and interact on a given business/marketing book, don’t say you weren’t invited! Here’s the scoop…

blogger-social.png4. And then, of course, there is the upcoming Blogger Social (2008), being orchestrated by the illustrious CK and a growing cast of willing and/or press-ganged volunteers. Find out more here. Wherever this ends up being held, it’s going to be great. Can’t wait…

Estes Park – A BrandingWire Challenge

The BrandingWire challenge for this month is an exercise in “place branding” – in this case, the town of Estes Park, Colorado. We are operating from a 2-page branding brief prepared by one of the BrandingWire posse (thanks, Martin!) with some additions by the Estes Park Communications manager.

There are many questions that I would ask in the process of trying to re-brand this destination, with a heavy emphasis on the unique “draw” (or “draws”) of Estes Park, and the most desirable demographic(s) on which the town would like to concentrate. However, for the purposes of this post I’m going to concentrate my thoughts on some existing visual and branding elements – namely, logo, tagline, and web presence.

estes_park_logo.jpgFirst, the logo needs a total replacement. The “EP” letters are without meaning unless you already know that they are connected to Estes Park, and the stylized tree has no uniqueness – that tree could be anywhere. The logo itself needs to contain the town name, and there needs to be something in this primary identity piece that identifies the town as the point of entry to Rocky Mountain National Park.

e-park-brewery.gifContrast this with the logo for one of the businesses in town (a brewery), which does a fabulous job of creating a “feel” for the uniqueness of Estes Park and its Rockies location – it includes the town name, a scenic vista, and a very important touch – the elevation. It’s a logo that creates desire – it gives me a sense that going to Estes Park means seeing a lot of beauty. That’s a crucial element in destination branding – why should I want to go? Show me!

As for the tagline, I’m not sure there is one which is used consistently. There should be. According to our branding brief, the town has been known for decades as the Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. A nice statement of fact, but it doesn’t contain an emotional draw. On one of the two primary Estes Park websites, there is the phrase, “Get into the Real Rockies.” That phrase, however, does not necessarily sell the town – I’d like to get into the Real Rockies, but perhaps I can do so without Estes Park. If it said something like “The Real Rockies Start Here,” that would be more pointed – hey, you have to start with Estes Park if you want to move forward into what the Rockies really have to offer.

As for the two primary websites, here there is a lot of potential for improvement that would help enhance the “draw” of Estes Park. One website is the responsibility of the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), and it is geared toward the potential vacationers and other visitors. The other is a more functional town website, mainly with information for residents.

The first thing I would recommend is an attractive opening page for the Town website that has a simple pick-one-of-two choice – a lovely mountain scene on one side of the screen, with words such as, Looking to visit the Real Rockies? Start Here! – and a click brings the web visitor to the CVB site. The other half of the screen might have a photo of an attractive town building, and words such as, Already a Resident? There’s more for you here!

e_park_town.jpgThe reason for this is that someone browsing the web might stumble first upon the Town site, and it’s pretty much just functional. Yes, it has a link to Visitor Info, which goes to the CVB site, but the goal should be for potential visitors to not end up at the town site – it’s not a turn-on to see links for Agendas & Minutes, RFPs, Wildfire info, Zoning, and the like. It’s good to have this info up on the web for residents, of course, but the casual web browser who wants to “feel” a reason to be attracted to Estes Park within a 10-second attention span should not have to even see this site.

From a graphic design point of view, the town site has some decent photos, but there are too many navigation schemes (top links, side links, mid-page tab links, sub-mid page graphical links) and the design needs to be simplified.

e_park_visitor.jpgHowever, the real key, from a branding perspective, is the Visitor site. And my first comment here is that the home page of the existing site is far too busy. While it does contain a lovely photo showing the beauty of the Rockies – a key strength – the rest of the home page is a jumble of color blocks, with too many links, too many different categories, and too many fonts.

What is really needed here is a theme. A story. Something that stands out about Estes Park, and makes me say, “Hmmm…I think I want to find out more. Maybe I really need to visit this place.” It is one of the cardinal errors of web design to throw it all out there – give the web visitor an overwhelming number of choices – instead of leading him/her on a journey of exploration, with an immediate emotional hook. The town, and the site, needs an engaging narrative.

About half of those links could be eliminated from the home page, and be put into sub-pages. And that isn’t counting the unnecessary repeat links, which are contained both in the blue area, and the green area below it!

One element of the key emotional hook – the sheer physical beauty of the area – is easy to capture and display on the site. And I would continue that by immediately leading the web visitor into a photo gallery of beauty – in town and outside of town (in the Rockies). And, by the way, ditch the webcams. All they do is provide poor-quality static images anyway, that change far too infrequently to be engaging. Just show beautiful photos.

In fact, one idea might be to run a photo contest – let residents and visitors upload their favorite photos of the town/area (perhaps using Flickr as a repository), and periodically award someone with a “Best Of” to keep up the interest level.

Another way to try to get some user/community involvement on the site would be to have an essay contest for prior visitors – What I loved most about Estes Park. The best ones are published, and a quarterly winner gets a free return visit with accommodations for themselves and another family. Referrals are a key way to generate interest, and genuine expressions from “real” visitors will be a powerful draw.

I will note that once you get past the initial home page of the Visitor site, the information and navigation design is quite a bit easier to work with. There is a wealth of information available. One weakness of the entire site is that it is designed with a restriction for fitting onto very low-resolution computer screens, wasting valuable visual real estate. There is very little reason anymore to design any website for legacy computer resolutions.

There is a lot on the Visitor site. There are some good photos. But I’m not finding the “one unique thing.” I need to know why I should go to Estes Park, and not one of a dozen other sites in and around the Rockies. Is there some particularly unique set of events (horse shows, for instance?). Is there something particularly family-friendly about the place, that makes it a primary potential destination for bringing my kids for a week? Is it unique accessibility, positioned between front-range cities like Denver, and the Rocky Mountain National Park? Can we take the contents of this page, and weave a story overlaying it, about how whenever you come to Estes Park, we’re going to give you an incredible mixture of natural beauty and wholesome entertainment? Can the wonderful, airy photo of the inside of a restaurant shown here be adapted to tell a story about unique buildings that you simply must see here at Estes Park – and no-where else?

As with all branding, it comes down to a unique message. A differentiator. I strongly suspect that Estes Park has its differentiators – and that’s the most important thing! Now it’s just a matter of bringing it more evidently, and pro-actively, to the surface.

Get more high-voltage ideas at Other members of the BrandingWire team include: Olivier Blanchard,  Derrick Daye, Lewis Green, Ann Handley, Gavin Heaton, Martin Jelsema, Valeria Maltoni, Drew McLellan, Patrick Schaber, Kevin Dugan and Becky Carroll.

How Would You Brand a Town?

Specifically, a vacation destination in Colorado?

bw_logo_no_tag-med.jpgJoin the BrandingWire team on Monday to see how they (we) take on the challenge of branding Estes Park, Colorado! For a sneak peak – a backgrounder on the town and the branding challenge – click here.

This second BrandingWire collaborative posting goes up “live” on Monday afternoon!

And feel free to play along – what would you do to put Estes Park not only on the map, but on the minds of potential visitors?

Coffee – What’s the Storyville?

The BrandingWire team recently did a collaborative posting on branding for coffee shops. I put a focus on mail-order/web-based growth strategies.

Some of us provided links to coffee suppliers we felt embodied effective strategies and tactics; there were some interesting approaches at these sites. And one of them – Storyville – sold me. I put in an order.

s-ville-mug.jpgWhy? Well, I’m a sucker for good web design, and these people have a fabulous site. I’m also inclined to do business with companies that brand themselves well; Storyville presents a great image and message. But that isn’t enough – they also made an introductory offer that was very difficult to resist. And I didn’t resist (by the way, they highlight the introductory offer right on the landing page – great site design).

The descriptions of their beans, roasting, freshness, etc. got me “sold” on the desire level – I WANTED to try their superior product. The simplicity of choices was appealing – just Prologue (caffeinated) and Epilogue (Decaf). Nice naming strategy.

Like Gevalia, they offer a trial period of a few shipments at a reasonable price, plus a bonus (in Storyville’s case, a couple of nice, branded mugs). Then you can cancel at any time if you don’t want to continue the shipments.

So, how has the customer experience been thus far? In a word, outstanding.

First of all, the ordering process was simple and straightforward. I got a confirmation e-mail for my order. Good start.

cimg0728.jpgSecondly, the 2 packages arrived very quickly (shipping from Seattle to NJ). And I was VERY impressed with the packaging – see the accompanying photo. The 2 mugs were perfectly packed and very nice; the packet of beans was very attractive; there was also a neat little packet with a DVD and a marketing/instruction booklet. And a cover letter. Very nice boxes and print materials. Great marketing design approach.

Thirdly, the coffee smells and tastes wonderful. As one would expect.

Now, am I going to be inclined to become an ongoing customer? Regretfully, probably not – at $8.49-$9.49 per 1/2 pound bag, I just have a hard time justifying the cost/value ratio. But will Storyville benefit from my customer experience? Since I am a blogger now writing about them – probably so!

(The DVD, by the way, is pretty funny. Part of Storyville’s spiel is the conspiracy of “Big Coffee” to get people to drink coffee made from non-fresh, over-roasted beans. It’s a good marketing twist.)

Growing Coffee – a BrandingWire Challenge

This is a fictitious case study. The BrandingWire collaborative, a group of 12 branding bloggers, are all commenting together on this challenge (see the other posts at Even if the case is fictitious, I’d be surprised if one or more coffee companies don’t glean some insight from it!

The BrandingWire team has been approached by a small coffee company in mid-America. They have a few retail stores, have been in business for 8 years, and are moderately successful – reasonably profitable, no debt – operations are funded out of steady cash flow. They roast their own beans on-site (and boy, does it smell wonderful!), their retail sites are wide-open, relaxed, and kind-of country-funky. There is very strong local attachment to the company, but little recognition outside of the geographical area (it’s a family operation but the owner is committed to doing whatever it takes to create a thriving business). Their brand name is OK but certainly not anything special. They have a lame tagline (Great coffee at great prices!) and no distinctive identity pieces. The logo looks like it came out of a branding bargain bin.

They want to grow, though they’re not entirely sure what is the most profitable path…more retail? Franchising? Mail-order? Corporate coffee service? Something new and unique? They have plenty of capacity to crank out more coffee beans, and can easily add more without undue financial strain if growth really takes off.

They sense the growing competition. Starbucks, of course. McDonald’s is upscaling their coffee. Caribou Coffee is going to move in 30 minutes away. Dunkin’ Donuts may be heading in their direction. How do they distinguish themselves?

That’s the challenge for each member of the BrandingWire posse. Here are some of the ideas I’d bring to the table.

1. Most profitable potential growth with least capital risk – undoubtedly, building up mail-order sales. There is only so much profitable growth to be realized by opening more retail outlets, and it is very capital intensive. I’d go after a broader audience, along the lines of the approach of Gevalia and other suppliers.

2. Creating an approach as a “virtual supplier” provides the opportunity to create a whole new identity. I’d trade on the story of the current stores and identity, but I’d launch a new, catchy name (CoffeeWire. GetRoasted. JavaDirect. RoastedJolt…lots of possibilities) that is universal and memorable.

3. As the heart of the brand identity, there has to be both a story, and a unique differentiator. I’d advise spinning the brand story as the small-town coffee roaster that has satisfied its faithful (rabid) clientele, and now wants to bring “best coffee practices” to a wider audience (e.g., Mill Mountain Coffee in Virginia). As a differentiator, you can work the bean angle (“our mountain-grown beans are from the finest estates in northeastern Guatemala, hand-picked by nephews of Juan Valdez”), but I think that is overdone and not easy for an end-user to relate to. I’d go for the roasting process approach, which, if well-described, can be almost irresistible – who doesn’t want to try coffee that has undergone some super-secret roasting process that produces superior results? Kobrick’s Coffee Company effectively takes this approach on their website.

4. Speaking of differentiators, one of the areas that seems to me under-developed is creative packaging. Bags – whether foil or paper – of beans or grounds all seem pretty much the same. Now I’m no consumer packaging guy, so I’m not sure what ideas are best – but what about a cube or a bag that is clear? With some measurement units along the side, to make it easier to figure out how much to put in the filter for a full pot? Coffee is very powerful for the olfactory sense; why not go after the visual as well? I’m sure there have to be other creative ideas. How about something so simple as a coffee tip/factoid put in little prize package in each bag (and 1 in every 50 is a coupon for a free 1/2 pound of an exotic variety)?

5. Next, I’d look at the whole area of personalization. I can envision a couple of “sliders” in the section where you order YOUR special coffee – one slide to choose roasting (light to dark), the other to choose grind (coarse to fine, or just whole beans). For an extra charge, you can even create a personalized blend of beans, for those willing to make a year commitment of monthly shipments with a credit card. At this point, the coffee is no longer a commodity – the company becomes a unique supplier, helping the customer craft a unique identity with his “own” coffee.

6. Now, how to get traction in the marketplace…first of all, an attractive website with e-commerce capability is a must. Colorado’s Steaming Bean Coffee Co. is a good example. Beside the general navigational ease of the site, the two elements I like best are the little Cart: status link in the upper right, and the personal touch from the CEO (“Please notify me…”) in the left column. Then, I’d go after influential bloggers; find a large number of bloggers inside and outside the coffee blogging arena, and send a complimentary 1/2 pound bag. Ask for their input, either privately or publicly (on their blogs). Bloggers like coffee (by and large), and have an outsized influence. Growing a mail-order market will require cultivating recommendations by thought-leaders.

7. Finally, after all of the previous steps are in place, I’d go for a public campaign. A David vs. Goliath “we dare to take on the big guys” promotion. Have a PR consultant or group take the best coffee you make, package it in plain bags along with (say) 4 other well-known coffee brands (Starbucks, Peets, Caribou, Dunkin’ Donuts, etc.) and line up some companies – say, 10 software companies – that are willing to serve as judges. The java-drinkers get a free coffeemaker and five unmarked bags of coffee, numbered for survey ratings. They blind-rate the different brews and see who comes out on top. The entire process gets blogged, Twittered, mapped, etc. It has the element of risk, of suspense, of daring – could be a great PR stunt if done right. Especially if David comes out on top!

JavaDirect. It’s your coffee.

Those are some of my ideas. Why not hop into the comments and toss in some of yours?

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(Image credit: Flickr)


Get more high-voltage ideas at The members of this collaborative are:

    Olivier Blanchard
    Becky Carroll
    Derrick Daye
    Kevin Dugan
    Lewis Green
    Ann Handley
    Gavin Heaton
    Martin Jelsema
    Valeria Maltoni
    Drew McLellan
    Patrick Schaber
    Steve Woodruff

BrandingWire – A New Power Plant Coming On-line!

bw_logo_no_tag-med.gifAlong with 11 others, I have an exciting announcement for this morning’s post! We’ve been working on something behind the scenes, and now it’s time to take the wraps off!

Next Monday will be the official launch of BrandingWire, which will provide a monthly jolt of powerful branding creativity to the marketing community. Read on to learn more…

What is BrandingWire? It’s a collaboration of high-profile branding and marketing pundits, who are banding together to tackle branding challenges and topics on a regular basis. We’ll take on one theme per month, and apply our combined creative energy to showcase how great branding gets done. We want to put forth Branding That Works!

How did BrandingWire come about? After the tremendous collaborative effort to create the Age of Conversation eBook, spearheaded by Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton, it was obvious that there was a lot of great energy around working together, as marketers, on common goals. The thought occurred to me – if we could do this for a one-time project, how about something ongoing? And so the concept leading up to BrandingWire was born.

Who is BrandingWire? The team of marketing experts making up the charter membership of BrandingWire includes:

    Olivier Blanchard
    Becky Carroll
    Derrick Daye
    Kevin Dugan
    Lewis Green
    Ann Handley
    Gavin Heaton
    Martin Jelsema
    Valeria Maltoni
    Drew McLellan
    Patrick Schaber
    Steve Woodruff

As time goes on, we may invite other pundits to join our posse. It’s like herding cats just getting the “dazzling dozen” above on the same page! Just joking – there has been a sweet sense of unity of purpose and mutual deference, even in the midst of spirited discussion and (at times) diverging opinions. Exactly what you’d expect from a great group of collaborators, who are no slouches at their craft!

In fact, our first branding challenge was BrandingWire itself – developing the name, purpose statement, tagline, graphics, site design, workflow process…and we accomplished it all electronically (we never did end up having that conference call, did we?). All of which proves the point – a “virtual community” of creative marketers can, in fact, do branding.

Why BrandingWire? It’s simple – there’s a lot of bad branding out there, and it’s got to stop! Seriously, many of us see – and comment about on our individual blogs – examples of poorly-executed branding (we also commend the good stuff!). But now we want to showcase our talents and creativity by tackling challenges as a group – focusing our beams together – and try to promote better branding practices. Of course, we won’t hide the fact that for many of us, we hope that a spillover from BrandingWire will be new or increased business.

Allow me to dream for a few moments here. The old model of work, which our parents’ generation once knew, is dead. It’s no longer the case that you’re going to set down your roots in one company for decades, and that organization is going to “take care of you” for the long haul. No, the new model will increasingly move toward teams – even virtual teams – drawn together for projects demanding specific skill sets. And as we build our community and learn to work together, I can foresee that someone will call Lewis Green, and he feels confident that he can do 60% of the work – but Valeria Maltoni is the perfect resource for the other 40%. Or Chip Heath finishes one of his stellar talks, and an attendee comes up to him with a business challenge. He quickly concludes that this sounds like a combination of CK and Matt Dickman. And so it goes – the Collaborative Community supports each other, interlinks on projects, watches each others’ backs. Can we evolve to that? Why not?

OK, you had me at “Hello.” Where’s BrandingWire? Well, of course – In the early part of each month, we will post our contributions on our individual blogs, with a “stub” and a link on the main site. Except this month, of course. To see the inaugural posting, you have to make a note to yourself to go to the site on our official launch date, Monday, June 11th. Also, for ease of viewing, there is a Pageflakes BrandingWire portal, where you’ll be able to see the participant blogs all in one view.

And, we welcome your feedback and comments. BrandingWire is designed to be an evolving work-in-progress, and your part of the conversation will help us focus our energies better. Heck – we may even upgrade our own (rather rapidly-developed) branding as the months go by!

Hopefully, this is enough to whet your appetite for the creative voltage that will begin to flow next week. I can’t tell you what the inaugural posting will be about, but perhaps just a hint…

(Image credit: Flickr)

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Blogroll Updated After Long Neglect

After putting together the Marketing Bloggers portal, which contains over 100 feeds from bloggers spanning the marketing/branding/advertising field, I realized that I had thoroughly neglected my own blogroll on StickyFigure. Some of you have kindly linked to me, and I have been negligent in reciprocating – mea culpa!

So, as of today, here’s my updated list of blogs I turn to most often for inspiration and instruction (and a few good laughs!):

Brains on Fire

Brand Autopsy

Brand Corral

Brand Flakes for Breakfast

Branding Strategy Insider

(this space left intentionally blank) BrandingWire

Chaos Scenario

Chris Brown’s Branding and Marketing Blog

CK’s Blog

Conversation Agent



Coudal Partners

Customers Rock!

Dave Young’s Branding Blog

Diva Marketing

Drew’s Marketing Minute

Duct Tape Marketing

Greg Verdino

Guy Kawasaki

Jaffe Juice

L&G Business Solutions

Logic and Emotion

Made to Stick

Marketing Profs: Daily Fix

Marketing Technology (Douglas Karr)



My 2 Cents


One Reader at a Time

Personal Branding (William Arruda)

Servant of Chaos

Seth Godin

Small Business Branding (where I also enjoy contributing!)

Social Media Marketing

Strategic Public Relations


The Brand Builder

The Branding Blog

The Lonely Marketer

The Name Inspector

The Origin of Brands

The Power to Connect (Todd And)

The Viral Garden

Whisper Brand

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