Chick-fil-A Gets Spicy

I love Chick-fil-A.  In my book, their Chicken Sandwiches are only surpassed by Turkey Sandwiches.  I also love their marketing.  Chick-fil-A has found a great mix of mass media and word-of-mouth.  Their “Eat More Chick’n” billboards have reached and almost iconic status.  Chick-fil-A has also demonstrated that they are one of the top word-of-mouth marketing practitioners as they have launched their new Spicy Chicken Sandwich.

What did they do right?

They built tension and anticipation – Chick-fil-A teased their existing consumer base for weeks by promoting a countdown to the launch of the sandwich on Facebook and on banners as consumers made their order in the drive-thru.  It would have been easy to just launch it and make it available, but instead, they were disciplined and created a simple word-of-mouth opportunity.

Company execs told consumers why they were launching the sandwich – It’s pretty simple, but when consumers know why a brand, product or line extension exists, it allows them to authentically share stories about it.

Discussion was encouraged – It’s not all that risky to launch a Spicy Chicken Sandwich, but Chick-fil-A opened up the lines of conversation and as of this post, over 1600 comments were posted on their Facebook page.

Chick-fil-A created scarcity and a VIP event – Perceived scarcity and elevating the attention to loyal/heavy users are two classic word-of-mouth marketing strategies.  Leading up to the event, Chick-fil-A accomplished both in one effort: they gave consumers the opportunity to make an appointment for their Spicy Chicken Sandwich.  It’s common for the Chick-fil-A drive thru to have a long line, but reservations for a fast food restaurant?  That’s unheard of and they did it.  The consumers who participated walked away with a great experience that they will share with others.

Chick-fil-A does a lot of other things right in their marketing.  For more information, check out my collection of articles on Chick-Fil-A marketing.


Are you building a totem pole for your brand?

I spend a significant amount of time in the Northwest where Totem Poles are a common sight.  When I was walking around West Seattle today, I stopped and looked at one that is at the Admiral Viewpoint and overlooks Elliott Bay and Downtown Seattle.

The purpose of totem poles (or in this case, story poles) are to document key people and events that had a significant impact on that settlement or region.

Story Pole

Alot of marketers do a poor job of creating their own version of totem poles.  Most of the time marketers are busy looking at the present or future to stop and think about the people that will come after them.  How many times have you stepped into a new job to find out that’s it your job to piece together the facts and learn about the history of your brand(s).

The past is important.  And I’m not talking about conducting a business review of the last 12 months or quantitative research to understand how A&U has changed over the last couple of years.  The past is everything from the founder of your brand to the people who played a role in building it to sales results, to advertising archives, media coverage and anything else that has shaped the brand.

Everyone is busy, but I challenge you to take a couple hours a month to build your brand’s story pole.  The people who follow you will appreciate it.


Naragannsett Really Wants to be Your Neighbor

Narragansett is a beer brand that has been around since 1888 and seen it’s highs and lows.  Most recently, Mark Hellendrung, who was one of the key players in building the Nantucket Nectars brand has brought ‘Gansett back.  He relaunched the brand in 2005 and has been doing things the right way.

Their website alone is a great example of building a strong brand on word of mouth and transparency.  In fact Mark isn’t building a brand, he’s on a mission.  He’s taken one of Naragannsett’s weaknesses of not owning a brewery and made it a strength by creating a cause for New Englanders to support so that they can grow the business, build a brewery and help the economy.  Brilliant.  My favorite part is the powerpoint they share on the “Support the Cause” (not website) home page. 100% transparency on numbers and vision.  If only employees of all companies could be so lucky!

The best part is that all of this is 100% real.  It’s not some phony “support the cause” that will go away when the campaign is over.  Mark and the rest of the folks at Gansett seriously want to be “your neighbor.”

Mark and I traded a couple emails and I asked him some questions on how he is positioning the brand and building it from scratch.

Neal: What are your thoughts on brands having a home base from an operational and marketing standpoint? How do you bring that local positioning to life without the use of big advertising campaigns?

Mark: I think localness is a differentiating idea, and the concept has been building for a while and has only accelerated in the last 18 months. You could see it starting a while ago with the re-emergence of things like local farmers markets and the backlash of corporate sell-outs and jobs going overseas. Then when the economy when south, I think you had people realizing that this model doesn’t work, and now the thought leaders are saying how can I create local jobs, support local businesses, etc.

I actually think the use of big advertising campaigns risks undermining your local authenticity in that you start to look like a big company, and consumers are pretty cynical right now. So you’re left with a path build on relationships (selling one account at a time), a lot of sampling, word of mouth marketing and use of social media.

Neal: How have you found your brand influencers or loyal consumers for Nantucket Nectars and for Gansett?

Mark: The thing about Narragansett Beer is that it’s built on 120 years of heritage, so while we work to contemporize our story it’s still fairly well-defined, i.e., there are only so many different ways it can go. Given that, we try to look at the beer drinking community and try to identify who would be most interested in our story and most likely to carry it on.

Neal: What was the best use of your limited marketing dollars since you relaunched Gansett a few years ago?

Mark: Investing in our street team (sales and marketing) is the best use of our dollars. It builds availability and distribution. The team does a lot of sampling, which is critical in that we’ve got a great beer, we just need people to try it. And the relationships that we create cement us into the community.

Neal: I assume you don’t spend a ton of money on consumer research to uncover opportunities or validate marketing campaigns, so can you give me a couple examples of how your gut instincts have worked or not worked?

Mark: One thought we had going into this that didn’t play out was that there were a whole lot of older guys who grew up on Gansett that would be interested in our comeback and switch back. What we learned though is that many (not all) of these guys were just too far gone and settled into their routine of current brand choice. We thought we could switch them because when we talked to them that weren’t overly excited about their brand. However, they weren’t necessarily dissatisfied either, so there was no real motivation to switch.

On the flip side, we had a feeling that the craft community would appreciate our beer, and it’s played out pretty well. For a lot of the craft guys, I find that they love their craft choices but when they find themselves in a higher usage occasion or are just looking for something a little lighter, they really didn’t enjoy settling for one of the mainstream domestics. Our beers have a little more flavor and our brand has a little more character and you can see us selling some Gansett in “craft bars” whereas the mainstream beers aren’t even on the menu.

Neal: Thanks Mark. Keep up the good work.

Are Your Business Cards Doing Their Job?

Business cards are fairly useless unless they’re interesting, memorable and on-brand.  It’s not like people use a rolodex or put them in a business card folder anymore.

But if you get it right, business cards can still be incredibly effective.  Here’s a link to “11 of the Geekiest Business Cards,” Geeky, yes – but they all share a few common traits: memorable, on-brand and awesome.

Check out these uber-cool Lego business cards!

Lego Business Card

Brand Audit: The Gap

Let’s face it: you can’t swing a dead cat in Anytown, USA without hitting someone who learned how to fold sweaters, er, I mean, worked at The Gap.  In fact, I’m willing to bet a Turkey Sandwich that even YOU worked at The Gap for at least a day.

For whatever reason, The Gap seems to be a bit of a lightning rod when it comes to retailer holiday ad campaigns.  So you might have noticed that The Gap really didn’t have a holiday ad campaign this year.  But what they did do is launch a variety of celebrity filled YouTube videos featuring popular holiday songs.  You can check them out here, here and here.

I totally applaud them for ditching the TV ads and it probably didn’t affect their sales this holiday season one bit.  And I applaud them for embracing social media and trying to do something on YouTube.

Gap Videos Holiday 2008

But here’s the problem: I don’t think it worked.  As far as I can tell from looking at the videos as I write this blog, none of them had over 100,000 views.  Shouldn’t a brand like The Gap have videos that get over 100,000 views?  Good idea, poor execution:

  • Where is the Facebook page? (I couldn’t find it)
  • Where is the integration with these videos in store?
  • Where is the bag stuffer referring consumers to the vids online?
  • Where’s the Twitter support?
  • Most importantly, where is the motivation for consumers to share the videos?

It’s not necessarily all about the number of eyeballs that see the ad, but there really isn’t anything all that viral about this campaign and I think that comes out in the number of views.

But let’s put all of that aside.  I was at The Gap today and it was totally boring and that’s my real issue with them.  If you’re going to whack all of your advertising, then you better improve the actual brand experience, which for The Gap, is in the store itself.

Since you and I both worked at The Gap, we know that every customer that comes in MUST be greeted, right?  Big deal.  What does that do?  How about getting your employees truly excited about the merchandise?  Instead of the boring, “How are you?” how about, “Hi, have you seen these awesome sweaters?”  It’s nothing that some good training couldn’t solve.

Look, I know keeping the jeans and sweatshirts folded is uber important.  But is it the ONLY thing?  And is it more important than interacting with your customers?  And I realize that some people don’t want to be bothered when they shop, but I know there’s a way to talk to people without being annoying.

Instead of boring canned music piped in, how about a DJ spinning records on the busy days?  I’ve seen other stores do this and it’s pretty cool.  You don’t even need to hire someone to do it, just train your employees to do it.

Instead of eroding the perceived quality of your merchandise and training consumers to wait for sales by taking 30% off of everything, what about doing bounce back gift cards?

I know that there are some really smart people that manage The Gap brand, and I think they’ve made some moves in the right direction.  But I think there’s still some work to be done.

For a look at the photos I took at The Gap today, click here.

What I’ve Learned About Packaging Design Projects

I’m knee deep in a packaging redesign and it got me thinking about things I’ve learned from past projects.  Over the course of my 10+ year marketing career, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of interesting projects and in my opinion, a packaging design/redesign is a marketer’s most challenging responsibility.  It doesn’t get any bigger than planning and deciding what consumers see on the shelf. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of award-winning packaging designs, but I’ve also been a part of complete catastrophes.  Through this process, I’ve learned a few important things:

  1. Take your time – If you’re going to rush the design, just don’t do it.  You’ll be better off sticking to what you have or delaying the launch.  It really easy to fall into that trap of “well, we need the project finished by X date because the packaging vendor is paying for the set-up fees”  Believe me, I’ve been there.  But it’s not worth it.  Once that packaging hits the shelf, it’s part of the brand forever. There aren’t any “mulligans” in packaging.
  2. Complete redesigns don’t work – It’s really tempting to say “sales suck, so we need to reinvent the brand and give it a complete face-lift.”  Again, I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this one – and there is no better way to freak out of your sales team than to spit out a completely design that has no link to the brand icons and equities.  Make subtle improvements through time.  It costs more, but it’s way more effective.
  3. Let your sales people bitch about it – The good thing about about sales’ feedback is that they will look at it from a more functional standpoint.  Let them give you direction on the how it will fit in the shelf set and what the distributors/buyers look for.
  4. Go for it and don’t cut corners – Before you even think about spending money on anything else, you gotta get the packaging right.  If that means spending more on the packaging materials, so be it.  Take the money out of the advertising budget.
  5. Learn from others, but don’t copy – There are a lot of good ideas out there, so by all means learn from them.  But don’t ever try to knock off a brand that has been successful.  Consumers are too smart for that stuff and they’ll call you out on it.

Ads in Your Menu is a Really Bad Idea

I went to a birthday dinner at The Cheesecake Factory last night. For a fairly common chain restaurant, I’m really impressed with the level of detail they go to. The servers are well trained, the decor is on par with Las Vegas casinos and the food actually pretty decent.

But they have advertising in their menus?!

Bad move.  Terrible move.  I don’t even care if it is advertising for high end brands/retailers that mirror the restaurant’s image (which it wasn’t). Ads in the menus is just super tacky and being that this is one of the key interaction points, I walked away thinking less of them.

Our tab for a group of five was $100 and there was 35 minute wait for the table. It seems like they are doing a pretty good job managing the restaurant end of the business.

Cheesecake Factory: Just drop the menu ads that earn you a fraction of your total profit and concentrate on you core business. Plus, you spend way too much on your image to let shit like this ruin the of the hard work.