Building a Sustainable Brand Community

Years ago a study was released proving that children recognized brand logos more so than symbols of century-old religions. The McDonalds’ Golden Arches was called out more readily than the Christian cross. This made for great fodder in the press at the time with many pundits decrying the shameful state of civilization but the dismay was short-lived.

Religion of all stripes and types are horribly outspent from a media perspective by big brands and, in the case of fast food, the fervent will visit a Burger King or KFC much more often than the occasional Sunday service. Churches, 234-ronald-mcdonalds-waisynagogues and mosques have been outnumbered for decades.

Branding has always been about belonging to a club. Brands provide a vessel of perceived shared values and a homogeneity that our tribal natures desire. To put this in context I often joke about the skateboarder and snowboarder tribes asking ‘Why do they all dress the same?’ The sarcastic but accurate answer is, ‘To be different’.

In the past few years I have been exposed to the Ironman phenomena. These grueling contests see participants swim 2.4-miles (3.86 km), bike 112-miles (180.25 km) and run a 26.2-mile marathon (42.2 km). Mont Tremblant, Quebec, where I make my home, has begun hosting Ironman events making a name for itself as a mecca for triathletes (note my deliberate use of “mecca”). The area has now held several Ironmen including the North American Championship in 2014.

My wife and I have volunteered to help out several times serving as security, banquet server, and bike course monitors. We have also been happy to cheer on the sweaty competitors before we retire to our deck for a triathlon of cocktails. In all seriousness, our catbird seat has allowed for some interesting observations about Ironman or what I term an “event and achievement brand”.

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Lessons from the Lemonade Stand

The dependable lemonade stand is not only an enduring summer icon but also a slice piece of trade rich with business lessons. This past summer I made a point of stopping at those I spotted. I learned that the exchange of flavored water for a few coins may appear simple but represents aspects critical to business. If you look closely the humble stand provides a mini-MBA covering funding, strategy, production, marketing, customer service and reinvestment. It all starts with thinking about the lemonade stand “industry” which is:

Fiercely competitive with low barriers to entry

Both seasonal and weather dependent

Reliant on a commodity, easily substituted product

Seemingly undifferentiated overall

Unattractive from a revenue and profit perspective

For each of these conditions, one has to tailor the business to succeed. As daunting an industry as it is this has not stopped thousands of young people from starting them up each and every summer. Here are five lessons for your children and your own enterprises.

Delight with a Superior Product

Of course, we will all part with our loose change to help out a tiny entrepreneur. But if the lemonade is tart, weak, overly sweet or thimble size we will force a smile, wish them luck and complain about the product back in our car or as lemonade-stand_5we cycle away. This reaction is no different from any other disappointing purchase. I have gone back to a stand twice if the lemonade is legitimately pleasing in taste.

A superior product differentiates, communicates care and quality, provides value in the exchange, engenders loyalty and prompts word-of-mouth.

Pick a Smart Spot

Location has always been critical to business. As a child, I ran a stand at my home in Winnipeg, Canada situated on a quiet street and later that day while dumping the warm, unsold liquid treat down the drain vowed to learn from the experience. The next time I loaded up my wagon, trundled half a mile, and set up outside the gates of The Tuxedo Golf Club. With that experience I learned another lesson – have adequate stock. My location was so good that the would-be Tiger Woods cleaned me out fast.

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