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Every PR person has one: The ultimate war story, the craziest thing they’ve ever worked on.  Mine happened 8 years ago this week, when an unsuspecting Cubs fan reached out for a ball and, in the opinion of many Chicagoans, stole the Cubs’ chances of finally getting to the World Series in the process.  Sports fans the world over remember a name that I will never forget: Steve Bartman. Read the rest of this entry »

Like millions of others out there, I got a rather long-winded email from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings this week.  Frankly, the content of the email left me a bit boggled. He was apologizing (but not taking corrective action) and explaining why I should be happy to pay more to get less through a soon-to-be much more inconvenient system.  Read the rest of this entry »

Saturn Aura & Saturn L200

RIP, Saturn.

I’ve got a problem. My wife and I are shopping for a car, but the brand we have purchased for our last 4 cars (yes, we may have been obsessively loyal) no longer exists. So what brands to consider now? And why?

And while I pondered these deep questions, I also began wondering what made customers “brand loyal” in general. I’m sure there are boatloads of reasons, simple and complex, but 6 obvious motivations jumped out at me. (Feel free to add your reasons in the comments.)

And, it also occurred to me that companies can probably work a little harder to make it easier for their customers to be loyal. How? The obvious way is by spending some resources to reinforce or promote one (or more) of these loyalty reasons. Some companies do this really, really well: think Apple, IKEA, In and Out Burger, Zappos, and NewEgg. Others? Well, not so much.

1. Trust. Customers know what to expect when buying from companies they are loyal to. This trust can take many forms, but generally will include reliability, or ease of use, or suitability for a particular task. In short, there are no surprises: it’s worked in the past, and they expect it to work in the future. This applies to big purchases, as well as mundane ones like diapers, trash bags, laundry detergent and underwear.

2. Ease of doing business. Customers buy because it’s easy to make a transaction, and customer service is painless (sometimes even fun). Amazon and Zappos are great examples. The prices are great, shipping is simple, and returns are (relatively) uncomplicated.

3. Passion. Customers feel really, really strongly about the brand. Usually there are other intangible factors at work here, such as the buying experience, or some sort of cult-like following. And it’s a hard thing to foster. Early Saturn cars created this passion, partly because of the way they were sold, and partly because of an unexpected reputation for helping occupants survive horrific crashes. And we all know about fanaticism for Apple products — even in the early 90s when it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to be passionate about Apple products.

4. Appearances. Customers buy something to make a statement. BMWs and Subarus. Rolex watches. Brooks Brothers suits. Even something as mundane as Target. (How many of you have told a friend about a great shelf or shirt you found at Target? Now how many of you have said the same about something you’ve found at Walmart?)

5. Laziness. (Okay, perhaps this is not a motivation to aspire to.) Essentially, customers don’t have any really strong reason to change brands, so they stick with what they’re already doing. Or, in the case of some brands (some cable providers come to mind), customers feel the hassle of changing isn’t worth the benefit, no matter how frustrated they may be with a company.

6. Economic. Customers have some monetary reason to patronize a business. Coupons. Deals. Locality. Even affinity programs, such as frequent flyer miles or credit card rewards. It could be even as basic as price (although this is a very dangerous foundation to build loyalty on, as someone can almost ALWAYS undercut you on price).

Is there one of these reasons your company already commands brand loyalty? And are you doing everything you can to capitalize on your “loyalty advantage”?

One of the first things that attracted me to the marketing and advertising profession was a ketchup bottle. Sound weird? It’s true—before picking a major and packing up for college, I was walking through a grocery store and some Heinz ketchup labels caught my eye.

Read the rest of this entry »

A recent conversation with my nearly five-year-old daughter has reminded me of the basics of crisis communications.  She started the discussion as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Disney World Magic Kingdom castle sideLast week I discussed points 1 and 2 of how Disney creates an immersive brand and makes billions doing so. I talked about the People and the Environment, based on a recent trip to Walt Disney World and a Disney cruise ship.

Without further ado, I’m going to jump right into points 3, 4 and 5.

3. The Expectation: When you go to a Disney property, you expect it to be clean, safe and family-friendly. You don’t expect to see any trash on the ground, or peeling paint, or grime-covered restrooms. You expect to have fun. And Disney, almost always, delivers. The fireworks are always fantastic, the parades are always a bit schmaltzy but well-done, the rides are always fun if not the most thrilling, the bathrooms are almost always clean, the food is almost always expensive but palatable — and the experience is always fun. It takes work to create that expectation, and you’d better believe Disney works really, really hard to make sure that they don’t let you down.

The application: make sure your customers know what to expect from their dealings with you. (And it should go without saying that you should deliver on their expectations.) Product quality, personal interaction, service times — without consistency, your brand is tremendously weakened. If a customer gets a good product the first time and a shoddy one the second, they may or may not give you another chance. (Of course, if they get a shoddy product the first time, your chances of repeat business are about zero.)

4. The Visual Cues: Disney’s staff are masters at using graphic design, architecture and foliage to enhance the guest experience. Whether entering a 1700s Spanish-style fort for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, a 1920s mountain park service hotel at the Wilderness Lodge, or the maze-like narrow streets of the Morocco portion of Epcot Center, you really feel you’ve gone someplace else.

United Kingdom streeet in Epcot at Disney World

Disney's attention to detail can transport you to an English street in the middle of Orlando

One of the things that makes navigating all of these various “worlds” possible is the consistent visual branding and graphic design. Each park has its own guidemap and signage system, but they are similar enough that once you get the hang of it, you can go anywhere without getting lost. The graphic design elements for each hotel are unique to the property, but follow a common theme and architecture that makes it obvious you’re in Disney World, whether you’re at the Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Polynesian Resort. Wayfinding is simple, and you know what to expect.

The application: strive for consistency and ease of user experience in your visual branding and graphic design. Your colors, your website, your sales collateral, your advertising, even your teams shirts at your trade show booth, should all reflect a consistency of style. That’s not to say that everything has to be cookie-cutter; in fact, a “matching” approach will actually lead to confusion, as your audience can’t tell a spec sheet for one product from a promo brochure for another. But certainly a family look and approach, led by a skilled art director, can increase the perceived value of your brand.

5. The Feeling: OK, yes, this gets a bit vague. But the impression is real. When you go to a Disney property, or sail on a Disney ship, you feel as though you’ve been transported. Yes, sometimes its an over-sanitized version of the real world. But if you can, for a few hours or a few days, be transported somewhere else, who wouldn’t take the opportunity?

Disney realizes this. They understand how to produce this feeling through people, and botany, and architecture, and sound, and food. They understand they can make money by offering the same goods and packaging them with “the feeling.” And they do it well.

Case in point: On Main Street in Disney World is a hot dog store. It sells large hot dogs, nachos, Cracker Jack and drinks. A hot dog and fries is about $7. Yes, $7 — you can probably buy the same thing from a store near you for less than half that. But it wouldn’t be in a turn-of-the-century building with a piano player and folks that meet you at the door and counter staff dressed up in 1920s baseball uniforms. (And they probably don’t sell Cracker Jack, either.) You wouldn’t have the tradition. You wouldn’t have “the feeling.” And you wouldn’t, like our family does, make it the place we always eat dinner on the last night at Disney World.

The application: find a way to incorporate a “feeling” into doing business with your company. It could be something simple, like a pickle. It could be something significant, like having your president or VP of sales calling to check on every order of a certain size. But it’s an intangible that will set your company apart from the others — and perhaps allow you to charge a premium.

No, doing business will probably never be quite as fun as a trip to Disney World. But we can certainly take ideas from the master entertainers at Disney and find ways to improve our companies as a result.

Disney World Magic Kingdom castle at nightOur family recently returned from a Disney trip, and I was left awestruck once again. Not specifically because of the launch speed of Rock and Roller Coaster, or the thrill of Mission:Space (or the neck-rattling twists and turns of Space Mountain), although those sure are fun.

No, it was because of Disney’s amazing skill at immersing you in another world. With careful work with architecture, branding, plants, costuming, and most importantly, people, they transport you from hot-and-sticky Orlando to any number of places, real or imagined, this world or otherwise. And they make it so you never want to leave.

This immersive branding pays dividends for Disney. Their ticket prices easily command a premium over your local Six Flags for, arguably, fewer “thrill” rides. Their hotels also are somewhat more expensive for slightly smaller rooms. And yet, both theme parks and hotels always seem to be more crowded, even in off season, than you would expect outside the “World.”

From a harder-to-quantify perspective, the draw that a Disney vacation holds over a trip to your local theme park for any child (and for a substantial portion of the grownup population as well) is considerable. (After all, where do Super-Bowl winning quarterbacks get excited about?)

So how does Disney do it? And what can we apply to our companies? Books have been written about this topic by people far more knowledgeable than an occasional visitor, but here are my observations from visiting several Disney properties over the course of a week.

1. The People: Yes, they wear uniforms that associate them with their hotel, ride, theme park, or park section. But Tire King employees wear uniforms too.

server at Animators Palette

The dinner servers really get into the act during Disney's "Pirate's IN the Caribbean" night

It’s far more than that. It’s the training. It’s the philosophy that they are Cast Members and not Employees. It’s the well-drilled approach that everyone, from the maintenance crew to the cashiers to the Guest Services folks, are there to serve Guests.

Disney even goes so far as to hire natives whenever possible: we experienced check-in staff at the Coronado Springs hotel from Latin American countries; cashiers in the United Kingdom section of the Epcot theme park from Scotland; and a program director on our international Disney cruise from Australia.

The application: train your people, from your receptionist, to your sales staff, to your customer service staff, to your installers, to live out your company’s brand at ALL times.

2. The Environment: When Disney takes over an area, for better or worse, it becomes all Disney. Once you drive onto Disney property, your eyes are immediately relieved of the hundreds of billboards and business signs that pepper the rest of Orlando. When you climb a Disney cruise ship, you enter another world, a world that is all Disney. (Even the channels on the ship’s TV are almost entirely Disney properties: the ship information line, ESPN, Disney Channel, an ABC affiliate, etc.)

Of course, you have to have a bit of tolerance for the Disney characters (but less than you might think). But what this leads to is a palpable mental vacation. During your trip to the park of the day, you’re greeted by beautiful landscaping, not 45 billboards. I’ve felt similarly when driving into the corporate headquarters of some companies, and, at least for me, it creates a more pleasant mood.

Where this benefits the company financially is that now you are Disney’s captive. You’re no longer being reminded where else you can spend your money, so you (naturally) tend to spend it on things Disney. They’ve even gone so far as to offer a service that will pick you up at the Orlando airport for free, and whisk you in a Disney-branded coach to your Disney hotel. There, you will spend the week eating Disney food, being transported for free by Disney buses (eliminating the need for a rental car), visiting Disney theme parks, playing Disney mini-golf, and eating Disney food. And when your trip is over, the Disney bus will deposit you in front of the check-in desk back at the airport. It’s a wonderful coup for Disney. Every penny you’ve spent is in their pockets. (Except for the airlines. Who knows? Maybe they’re working on that as well?)

Disney Dream cruise ship in port

The Disney Cruise Line even went so far as to get permission from the Coast Guard to paint the lifeboats the same color as the yellow on Mickey's shoes.

The application: although you can’t buy a few thousand acres of swampland and transport all your customers to be your captives, you can make sure your customers have no reason to go anywhere else. Make your website a living example of your brand, and make it possible with content and internal links for your customers to find everything they need right there — ROI calculators, customer reviews, product specs, contact information. This also applies to printed collateral and ads as well — make it as easy as possible for your customers to do business with YOU, and not look somewhere else that might lead to losing business to your competitors.

Next week I’ll write about the Expectation, the Visual Cues, and the Feeling. The end result, though, is that when you leave a Disney property, you feel disappointed that you’re leaving. I can’t imagine any brand, B2B or B2C, that wouldn’t want their customers to feel a similar way.

Chick-fil-A logoPeople here at VantagePoint will tell you that I am a big fan of Chick-fil-A. On my way to a client meeting yesterday, I had only a few minutes to grab a quick bite. I had two options: Chick-fil-A or another leading fast food restaurant that I won’t mention by name. Because of my brand loyalty to Chick-fil-A, I was able to make the decision quickly and pulled into their parking lot. What happened next really made a significant impression (and hence the reason for this blog entry).
Read the rest of this entry »

Over the Christmas holiday, I took some time off to see my family in Atlanta. While I was there, I treated my dad to a day at the new World of Coca-Cola at Pemberton Place in Centennial Olympic Park. Having grown up in Atlanta, the headquarters of Coca-Cola, I’ve always preferred Coke over Pepsi. And after spending about two hours on the self-guided tour, I can say that I have a new admiration for the brand – a true marketing machine.

Entrance to World of Coca-ColaAlthough my favorite part of the tour was the 4-D theater, I really enjoying learning about the history of the brand and how Coca-Cola became a universal name through its marketing and advertising efforts. While Coca-Cola is a great product (with its secret formula) that can sell itself, it was the company’s marketing efforts that really helped drive sales in the beginning.

Coca-Cola is a consumer brand, but there are several B2B marketing lessons that can be taken from the soft drink giant:

World of Coca-Cola Tasting Room1. Use word-of-mouth marketing. It is often the best, most credible way to get the message about your product/service out to the public. Because “cola” was a new word when it was created, the makers of Coca-Cola had to educate the public. Initially, thousands of free drink coupons were distributed to help introduce the concept and spread the word.

2. Choose the right go-to-market strategy. For several years after it was created, Coca-Cola sold for just $.05 per bottle so that the average person could afford to try it. As a new concept, the beverage had to be priced right. Once the popularity and demand of the product increased, so did the price.

3. Select the right partners, distribution channel. To become a national player, Coca-Cola knew that it had to increase production and distribution. To do so, Coca-Cola partnered with independent Coca-Cola bottling companies around the world. Additionally, Coca-Cola realized early on that what it did best was to create the recipe and market the drink. Therefore, they left the majority of bottling up to licensed Coca-Cola bottlers.

Coca-Cola and Norman Rockwell Painting4. Get some publicity with the right crowd. From Norman Rockwell paintings to a slew of celebrities, Coca-Cola has appeared almost everywhere. From the beginning, Frank Robinson, the bookkeeper turned marketing genius, was the main proponent for advertising at Coca-Cola. He had the idea to put the Coca-Cola logo on everyday items. By doing so, the brand quickly became a household name, and the promotional product industry has never been the same. (You can see a bottle of Coke placed at the bottom of the lady’s dress and on the table in the upper right portion of the painting.)

Coca-Cola marketing signage5. Integrate your message. As you can see in these pictures, all of the Coca-Cola branding is integrated. The Coca-Cola script logo, originally penned by bookkeeper Frank Robinson, has helped make the brand unique and stand out from other beverages. That script is internationally known and has appeared on countless promotional materials and advertisements.

Have you been to the new World of Coca-Cola? If so, what was your favorite part? If not, I definitely recommend checking it out the next time you are in Atlanta.

We were thrilled to be honored with 34 awards last night from the BMA Carolinas — including our 4th Agency of the Year award.


VantagePoint's Gwen Groover, Dave McQuaid, Ryan Meister, and Donna Malone (l to r) with BMA Carolina's president Chad Hartman (center) after the awards program


In a fun spy-themed party in downtown Charlotte, MC’d by Chad Hartman and Kamran Popkin, we won 4 gold awards, 16 silver awards, 13 bronze awards, and the coveted Agency of the Year trophy.

The awards recognized the breadth of the work that we produce, as we won for websites, microsites, integrated campaigns, direct mail, ads, posters, corporate identity, packaging, videos, social media, CD-ROMs, sales collateral, and public relations.

And a broad base of our clients was honored in the awards given as well — in total, work for 14 different clients was recognized.

  • Gold awards were given for work done for Cryovac, T&S Brass, and VantagePoint Marketing.
  • Silver awards were given for work done for BMA Carolinas, Cryovac, Estes, Milliken, Ortec, Polydeck, SEW-Eurodrive, Span America, T&S Brass, and WEG Electric.
  • Bronze awards were given for work done for Barnhardt Manufacturing, Estes, Itron, Sensortech, SEW-Eurodrive, Span America, T&S Brass, and U.S. Xpress.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our clients that make all this stellar work possible, as well as to a wonderful team of VantagePoint professionals who work tirelessly to produce great work for our clients. And thanks to Chad and the rest of the BMA board for all their work, as well as to Kamran for his witty MC-ing. Thank you all!

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About VantagePoint

VantagePoint's integrated approach to b-to-b marketing combines keen insight with bright ideas to strengthen your brand's market impact, no matter what the economy. Let us help you get a fresh perspective.

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