...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!

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Me dost think thou protests too much about soccer

I'm backtracking on my earlier post that soccer's got a brand problem. If we use Kathy Sierra's love/hate model, I think soccer - specifically soccer in the U.S. - will be just fine. MLS fans are showing up, teams are starting to make some money and the soccer-haters are besides themselves.

Did you see them come out of the woodwork in the aftermath of the Men's National Team 0-3 drubbing in their World Cup opener. They fell all over themselves announcing that this proves that soccer will never make it here.

I think all it proves is that soccer is hated by a certain group, to the point of distraction. I think many baseball, basketball and hockey fans are coming unglued with the amount of publicity the sport has gotten and can't stand sharing the spotlight. Why would they be so vocal?

I watch the standings and will catch a few innings of Cardinals baseball game on TV, but I really don't care for the sport; I don't understand its nuances. The NBA is a snoozer until the playoffs for all but the most rabid of fans. And hockey on TV has never been a draw because you don't get the added benefit of the crowd that is every bit as important as the action on the ice. But you don' hear me or others slamming those sports in message boards or on blogs. I just don't care much for them.

To me, they're like Brussels sprouts, South Park and beauty pageants: they don't make it on my radar.

Soccer, on the other hand, is on the radar of many sports fans. And during this period of time every four years, the rest of the American sports landscape gets nervous that soccer, someday, may actually reach its potential here, too.

Update 6/19/06: It seems that a lot of people are taking notice. Check out the ratings...soccer during the day on cable is beating out hockey finals on broadcast in primetime!

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Photo: Reuters

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Maybe it was just that time of the season

We were munching down on our $3.95 piece of chocolate cake in a small bakery along the Blue River running through Breckenridge, Colorado last week. Eating didn't slow us down from making plans for our next meal, and we asked the cute chick behind the bakery counter if a certain restaurant was any good. She gushed, "Yes, it is." and nothing more.

That's the kind of less-than-friendly responses we got from people in this tourist-dependent mountain town. The website says that friends are welcome, so it was quite a shock to see the brand disconnect between the communication and the reality. Perhaps it was simply that time of the month, er, season - they must have been dog-tired from the winter ski season and hadn't yet geared up for the summer season that, by the closed attractions, must start around June 15th.

The front desk guy at the time share resort that had invited our friends to visit treated her like the guy behind the glass at a hotel that rents rooms by the hour. When he couldn't find her reservation, he told her "sit down over there and I'll got figure out the problem." When my friend relayed this incident to the salesperson showing her the resort, the salesperson replied "that's because you aren't an owner." I wasn't there so I don't know if this was said in jest as a bizarre sales pitch or if she really believed it, but it, too, was shocking. She was more important than an owner: she was a prospective owner!

We received the opposite treatment from a man in the tiny town of Fairplay, a burg on the other side of Hoosier Pass from Breckenridge. It was a small mountain town that catered, I'm sure, to workers and residents more than the occasional tourist who stumbled into town. We were considering driving over Boreas Pass, and when we pulled up to ask directions and get some feedback on the safety of crossing the pass in our gas-sucking family minivan, he was quite friendly, telling us that it was a nice drive, not a bad road because it had been regraded two years ago. Then he gave us perfect directions to two different parks in which we could have our picnic lunch.

It was a completely different experience. Two contacts with locals divided by a mountain, and a world apart.

The town of Breckenridge and the entire area was beautiful. Clean. Easy to get around. But, based on our experience, the Breckenridge brand warriors need to get everybody on the same page.

This is a great picture from The Korky on Flickr...I lost my camera somewhere along the way :(

Technorati Tags: , ,

I met a zombie in Ogallala

We managed to survive a six-day vacation across three states without once stopping at the Golden Arches, but we did meet a zombie at an Ogallala, Nebraska Wendy's.

It was a clear summer evening, and darkness hung in the air as we entered the largely empty Wendy's restaurant to get a late night meal. After standing at the counter for a couple of minutes, Wes stepped up, looked at the cash register and then yelled at someone in the back, saying "You didn't sign out at the register." He then turn to us and asked us if he could take our order.

I should have said, "I doubt it" and moved on. It took 15 minutes to get two rather large orders of burgers, chicken nuggets, fries, baked potatoes and a drink. They had no chicken nuggets, but it would take about three minutes, we told us. After ordering baked potatoes, he said they didn't have any potatoes, then he said it would take two minutes to get some more, and asked us if we wanted to wait.

After several other missteps, he started to tell us his tale of woe; how he'd been there since 10 that morning, went home for an hour before returning, and how two others had called in sick and they only had one person preparing food. And there was a manager there because I saw her void part of the order he screwed up.

This wasn't Wes' fault. He was tired. He was overworked. It was his manager's fault and the owner's fault and Wendy's fault. They didn't prepare him to own his brand. They didn't empower him to treat people right, no matter the time of day. He didn't know or care about the Wendy's brand; he was just earning a paycheck.

Mike Wagner calls these types of workers zombies, and they can ruin the good work of a brand owner. Wendy's has a lot of minimum wage workers but I've never seen one this willing to stab the brand in the back, all because of lack of sleep.

Ogallala Extra: We also stopped in at a small grocery store and had a great brand experience. It was late so one of the two entrances were locked, as is common when stores are open late. Although we would have appreciated a "use other door" sign, we were greeted by a sweetheart of a cashier who smiled warmly while checking us out, let us out the locked door when we asked about it, and then held it open for another confused late-night shopper. I can't remember the store name or the employee's name but I'll go back if I ever get to Ogallala.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Utah gets to the point with its plate

The Brand Warrior was on vacation last week, driving across Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado for a few days in the mountains. You don't earn the title "brand warrior" by shutting down for a few days, so brand observations kept coming along with the miles on the family minivan.

As we played the old license plate game (Okay, the adults played the game while the kids watched videos, played Gameboy and asked "are we there yet?" every 14.3 minutes) I started thinking about the valuable little piece of real estate every state owns on the back - and sometimes the front - of their citizens' cars.
And I began to make a few unscientific observations about the role license plates play in brand management and the success or failure many of them have achieved.

  1. Plates serve one of three roles, by my estimation: simple identification, brand building and marketing. The plates on trucks seem to be the best example of identification. Use simple helvetica letters for the state name and big letters for the plate. Brand building plates simply remind you about the state, whether it's important to you or not. Illinois is a good example with it's "Land of Lincoln" tagline. So is Ohio with its claim to be "the birthplace of aviation" to trump North Carolina's claim on the Wright Brothers. None of those claims, however, do a very good of attracting visitors. The best marketing plate, in my humble opinion, is that of Utah. The plate reads "Ski Utah". Simple, direct and active. They don't want you to live there, they don't want you to visit there, they don't want you to look for history there. They just want you to ski there. The rest will come when you ski there. Brilliant!
  2. Plates are a great way to make money. In the old days, each state had but one version and no pictures. Along the way between Des Moines, Iowa and Breckenridge, Colorado we spotted at least a dozen different versions of Colorado plates. And I'm not talking a template with a different type of emblem for a special cause. I'm talking totally, completely different plates. The Colorado DMV website lists 82 different types of plates! They must make a fortune off license and registration fees in Colorado (they don't make it off hotel charges: our bill for one night in Golden included the room rate and one line item for taxes of about $2.70!). A quick web search shows that Tennessee has 90 different plates, California has 11 versions and 117 different logos, mostly for specific military groups. And Texas, where everything including the DOT budget is bigger, has more than 120 different plates to share your message.
  3. Some plates are beautiful, but illegible. The Minnesota plate is as stunning as the lake country but you can't read it unless it's standing still. Illinois has replaced the familiar blue box and san serif type with a new, white, simple plate with "Illinois" spelled out in stunning cursive, but you can hardly read it unless you're driving at the same exact speed in the other guy's blind spot!

If license plate graphics interest you, check out this site for a more technical history of each state's plate and some good reference photos. Illinois gives visitors a history of license plates here.

So, hats off to Utah for making use of a great little piece of real estate to support its brand. The rest of the states - or at least the 33 we saw on our trip - could use a little work. Make it different, inviting, relevant and truthful and you'll make it yours Tennessee, or Illinois, or Texas.

Technorati Tags: , ,