...goes a long way, especially when I'm thinking about brands, brand management and the power of brands to build successful organizations and careers.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A tale of two tours

On the recent trip to Colorado, I had the opportunity to see how two organizations use their manufacturing operation as a brand building tool, and realize that there are more than one way to tell a story.

First up was the Coors plant in Golden, Colorado. I'm a huge Coors fan and really looked forward to seeing the plant and tasting the samples! When we first arrived at a well-signed parking lot, we quickly got on a small tour bus that covered several blocks of Golden. The driver told us a few things about Golden but we couldn't here it over the bad public address system.

We soon arrived at the plant entrance and were assigned tickets - labels from the various Coors-produced products. What a cool idea! When the "Zima" group was called together about 10 minutes later, we gathered together for a brief explanation of the process and those under age 35 had their IDs checked for the sampling room, and given a paper band to wear on their wrist.

You can't always get close to the actual process, so the 20-something cutie that gave our tour, would point out points of interest through a window, and then stop at a video display to show the details in a produced segment of two to five minutes in length. This happened several times before we arrived at a long hallway lined with product displays. The tour guide briefly touched on each product - including original Coors, Coors Light, Coors Non-alcoholic, Keystone, Keystone Light, Keystone Premium, Killian's Irish Red, Blue Moon, Zima and the recently acquired Molson brand products from Canada.

Then, we moved into the tasting room, which was spacious and staffed with enough people to handle the groups of 10-15 people quickly and efficiently, serving up almost all of the brands available from the brewer. The surprise: we were offered full 16-ounce glasses, limit three. I don't know about you, but if I drank three of those in 30 minutes, I wouldn't be able to drive out of the parking lot, let alone leave Golden (not that it would be a bad thing to be stranded in a tasting room of a brewery)!

Then, as with any good plant tour, we exited through the well-appointed gift shop loaded with everything-Coors, back onto the bus and back to the parking lot with a friendly "did everybody have a good time?" from the driver.

The tour was polished, but not overly so. We went down some narrow corridors and steps. I saw elevators, but they seemed off the beaten path and not very user friendly. The nooks and crannies proved that the tour came after the plant, not the other way around. Overall, it was a good use of the company's brand management investment, in my opinion, and it helped expose me to some other Coors-owned brands that I wasn't aware of.

On the way through Denver a week later, we toured the Hammond's Candies factory tour in Denver. It was a much different kind of tour, but every bit as valuable to the brand. Our group was given tickets and asked to wait in a parlor-type room, and unlike the brewery tour, the free samples were on a small counter on one side of the room, along with some historical displays and newspaper clippings on the walls. Kids were encouraged to wear a paper hat just like the workers wore in the factory.

When we were called to begin the tour, a young women with a thick accent asked us to sit on benches in front of a large screen TV, where she used a remote control to start up a DVD explaining the company's history and the process. The opening image had burned into the screen, leaving a ghostly image behind throughout the film. After asking if this was anybody's first time throughout the plant (about 10 of the 20 or so people in our group had been there before), she escorted us into the factory and used a microphone to explain the process of making candies by hand that we were seeing through large display windows. She was very pleasant, but a little hard to understand. And she was very engaged, not afraid to answer questions by addressing the person asking the question specifically.

At the end, we were, once again, directed to exit through a retail show room where we could purchase myriad products we had just seen manufactured, including discounted items on the "oops" table that didn't meet the company's standards for custom-made orders or weren't' exactly the right shape.

This was not as slick as the Coors presentation, but every bit as effective. Above each station in the factory hung a low-budget but neatly printed sign that described the job being done there. The process was quaint, as were the barber poles, candy canes and other sundries they sold. I was a little surprised, however, to see a small selection of non-Hammond branded items - including Gummy Bears and Necco Wafers - for sale in the store. We also saw assorted chocolate covered raisins, peanuts and other items that we had not heard mention of.

The tour, however, was a very good use of marketing funds, again, in my opinion. The evidence, to me, was the number of people who had already been on the tour had come back for another round.

The brand point: if you have a manufacturing operation, figure out a way to get your customers closer to it. Use explanatory graphics and or a video to tell the parts of the story that can't easily be told in person. And get connected to your customer!

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