If you've been hanging around here for any length of time, you're sick of hearing us say it.
Your brand is the one way your Core Customer should feel about your business.
One way, because focus is essential.
Feel, because all decisions--including buying decisions--are made emotionally and justified later.
Core Customer because, when you understand the one person to whom you're speaking, you understand how to be resonant and relevant.
With that in mind, allow us to look at that simple, ground-corn product, the humble tortilla chip.
Specifically, let's look at a small, regional brand here in the west that goes by the name, Juanita's.
JUANITA'S IS A TORTILLA CHIP OF DISTINCTION
This is a chip that one might refer to as "restaurant-style."
It's a rustic product made of stone-ground yellow corn, a trace of lime, vegetable oil, salt and water.
Juanita's is a classic American success story.
An immigrant Mexican family moves to Hood River, Oregon.
In the 1970s, they rent a room and start making mom's authentic, Mexican-style corn tortillas to sell in local markets.
One by one, the family members leave their other jobs and work in the tortilla factory.
Today, they're huge in a regional kind of way.
If you want to read the story, it's on their website.
On the bag, there is a topline version of the story:
"To make a great tasting tortilla chip,
you first need to know how to make
a great tortilla. For over 50 years our
mother has prepared fine, authentic
Mexican meals insisting on only the
finest ingredients. And for over 26
years our family has brought to the
public the same dedication to quality
with the brand named after
her .... Juanita's."
WHEN THE FABULOUS HONEY PARKER AND I THROW A PARTY, THIS IS OUR GO-TO CHIP
We serve it with a homemade salsa cruda, which is basically a mix of chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, salt and lime juice all stirred up in a bowl.
Our guests scarf it down. And someone always asks, "What kind of chips are these? They're great."
We show them the simple bag with its red and green logo that looks like the signage off an old Los Angeles taco joint. They nod and crunch.
Last week, when I went to buy Juanita's for our traditional July 4th barbecue at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress...
The supermarket was out.
On the shelf, there was an enormous void where our beloved Juanita's usually live.
Holiday locusts had descended ahead of me.
I began perusing the alternatives. There were a couple of brands that seemed equally rustic and unsophisticated in their branding.
But I looked at one that seemed especially relevant.
LA COCINA DE JOSEFINA
I already knew the story of Juanita's Horatio Algero roots.
I looked at the bag of chips from La Cocina De Josefina, and it seemed equally unsophisticated.
A simple drawing of a Mexican woman rolling out a tortilla by hand.
Turning the bag over, it was not dissimilar to Juanita's:
These tortilla chips are made
with the simple ingredients of
corn, oil, salt... and love, ---
because we believe that every
bag of La Cocina de Josefina chips
is an invitation. To share. To
connect. To come together with
people who are important to you.
Made right here in the Pacific
Northwest, we care greatly about
the product we create for you,
and make sure to only use quality
ingredients. The result is a flavorful
tortilla chip that we think you'll
find simply delicious. So grab
some friends, open a bag
With the dearth of Juanita's, two bags of Josefina's went into the cart.
The salsa was a hit. People scarfed down 97% of it using a bag and a half of chips.
The next evening, I was sitting with the leftover chips, considering how much they tasted like a Fritos corn chip. Could Josefina have displaced Juanita in my chip repertoire?
Looking at the bag, it seemed odd that there was no website listed in the labeling.
Wondering about Josefina's heritage, I googled her chips.
Dear God, what have I done!
This rustic tortilla chip, made with the simple ingredients of corn, oil, salt, and love...
Is a poseur!
Or, as they would say in Spanish, "Presumido!"
The chips from La Cocina De Josefina are made not with love at all, but with filthy corporate lucre!
JOSEFINA'S CHIPS AND HER SIMPLE DRAWING OF HER ROLLING OUT A TORTILLA...
...are a product of Frito-Lay, Inc.!
Be still my heart!
Nowhere on the packaging is there any indication of this relationship.
The closest they come to any admission is in the address:
Made in Vancouver, Washington
for La Cocina de Josefina by
Cocina Autentica, Inc.
4808 NW Fruit Valley Rd.
Vancouver, WA 98660
Google that address, and you get a map of Frito Lay's Vancouver production plant.
Why this lie by omission?
FOR EXACTLY THE REASON INDICATED AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS SCREED
The Frito-Lay marketing department knows that a brand is the one way the Core Customer should feel about the business.
One way, because focus is essential. They have focused on creating what seems to be a family-owned brand of chips.
Feel, because all decisions--including buying decisions--are made emotionally and justified later. And any simple chip "made with love" is a viable substitute for the absent Juanita.
And Core Customer because they want to have a voice that is resonant and relevant. They understand they are speaking to someone who appreciates the rustic family nature of Juanita's brand. Understanding how this person feels about Juanita's helps them matter in this person's quest for chips over, say, Tostitos.
But why have they done this?
Why has this big dog perpetrated this big lie by omission?
THIS IS A CORPORATE STRATEGY
Publicly, they say that they don't mention Frito-Lay because it is a regional product only. Frito-Lay is a national brand.
But dig a little deeper, and you find that Frito-Lay has a new strategy of going after strong regional brands.
And wisely, they look at someone like me, who's a fan of my regional brand. They know that in no way would I, in looking for a substitute for my Juanita's, buy a product from a subsidiary of a $75 billion company.
But the small-brand BS stamped on the back of their bag, along with the homespun look of the package, is exactly what they know I will respond to.
I have been played!
And this proves exactly why Slow Burn Marketing insists that as a small business in the 21st century, being competitive in one's marketplace requires understanding what it means to have an evocative brand.
THIS BIG DOG HAS DONE NOTHING ILLEGAL
But they have concocted an implicit lie of a brand in an effort to squeeze out a little guy.
Is it fair?
Do I have anything against Frito-Lay?
Am I glad to have been duped like this?
Because not only does it make me a smarter consumer.
IT ALSO GIVES ME GRIST FOR THE SCREED MILL
Like so much yellow corn being stoneground for tortilla chip slurry, we have a salty object lesson for the small-business marketer.
If you brand well, and you build your business, you can become a threat to the big dogs.
If you were around a few weeks ago when we talked about Dollar Shave Club and their acquisition by Unilever last year for a billion dollars cash, that's another example of threat management.
Wisdom on the street is that Unilever paid far more than the brand was worth just to prevent someone else from buying it.
Most of us will never be big enough to inspire fear and big-money attacks or acquisitions.
Some will. There are a few followers of the screed who will make it happen.
But by understanding why branding works and knowing how to throw an emotional dart at the heart of your customer, no matter how small you are, you can win big in your marketplace.
Mere component parts like corn, oil and salt are beaten into the ground by the idea of love.
Even if it's all a lie.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.