Excerpts from Chapter 4: GEO-Branding

Comments Off on Excerpts from Chapter 4: GEO-Branding

In developing their authentic brands and creating sustainable awareness, brand loyalty and prominence in the minds of their customers, many of the entrepreneurial business leaders we interviewed closely linked themselves with their hometowns or states. One of the most important aspects of brand building for small and regional businesses who plan to build their identity nationally is to “own their region.”

Building a regional identity helps your brand’s story resonate within that region and beyond. In turn, this leads to creating the image that you are the brand in your area. This is the process that we refer to as “Geo-Branding.”
Without question, regional identity can be expanded to a national brand appeal. The local connection is powerful because the brands that originate and radiate from there are like a pebble dropped into calm waters. The rings can spread as awareness and new brand fans are created. This is achieved through such building blocks as word-of-mouth, improved distribution, smart, emotionally-stimulating packaging, sampling, and in blogs and communities on the Internet. Moreover, grassroots public relations, through its influential third-party endorsements, delivers high impact media exposure that can generate consumer demand, or pull-through.

“The key to growing a business is that you need to be meeting some segment of the consumer’s needs,” Ben Cohen explains. “If you’ve got a small business and a product or service that is not popular, you simply have to change your product or service to be more popular. If you have a small business and the product or service is quite popular, and you’re selling as much as you can make in a smaller geographic area, then your business is one that’s ready to grow larger. Just don’t grow any faster than you can develop good managers. You have to keep it authentic.”
Entrepreneurs who have practiced Geo-Branding have benefited from the intrinsic, positive associations of a geographic locale. By owning a territory, these innovators automatically created something real. Not only by connecting with real places, but the feelings and associations people have with those places—whether or not they’ve been there!

In 1978, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started serving homemade ice cream out of a converted gas station in Burlington, Vermont. Within a very short time, by creating a homespun and amusing image, they had built the Ben and Jerry’s brand into the signature ice cream of Vermont. Soon, they “owned” the ice cream market in New England, and they later became a national phenomenon. It wasn’t just ice cream; it was a story about two guys who created stories behind every brand, from Chunky Monkey to Cherry Garcia.

Maine is one state that consistently spawns nationally beloved, smart brands. It is perceived as being a clean, genuine, down-to-earth place that is the ideal origin for natural products—especially water. Even if you have never been to Maine, you can imagine open spaces and natural goodness.

Take for instance, Burt’s Bees, which Roxanne Quimby established as a ubiquitous brand in this lightly-populated state before taking the brand national. Another example is Tom’s of Maine. The company was founded by Tom and Kate Chappell in 1970 with just $5,000. Their mission was to make toothpaste and other personal care products, made without artificial or animal ingredients and without using animal testing. Today, Tom’s products are sold at more than 40,000 retail outlets worldwide. Their fluoride toothpastes are the only natural alternatives to earn the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance. Though Tom’s of Maine was acquired by Colgate-Palmolive for $100 million in 2006, the previous owners retained a 16 percent share in the company, which remained based in Kennebunk, Maine. Under the terms of the deal, the original, authentic Tom’s of Maine’s policies were retained.
Also from Maine, but with a strong regional following throughout the Northeast, is Poland Spring Brand Natural Spring Water. Now a subsidiary of Nestlé, the company was founded in 1845. Poland Spring’s water originates from multiple sources in the state including Garden Spring and Poland Spring in Poland, Clear Spring in Hollis, Evergreen Spring in Fryeburg, Spruce Spring in Pierce Pond Township, and White Cedar Spring in Dallas, Maine.
The products of Ben and Jerry’s, as well as those of Burt, Tom and Poland Spring are consumed—often ravenously—well outside the geographic boundaries of Maine and Vermont. Geo-Branding emotionalizes the brand and bonds people to it through helping them connect to the place and to a perceived way of life. Vermont, for instance, emotes a clean, pure, simple, natural, genuinely good feeling. While this is a generalization, you get the point.

Jim Koch’s Sam Adams brand resonated in the Boston area, and soon he “owned” the beer market in Beantown. This gave him the platform from which to launch his Samuel Adams product nationally. Another regional brewing company that had a passionate regional following before going national is Adolph Coors in Golden, Colorado. Before they established a nationwide distribution system, Coors had such a reputation that consumers often made buying trips to Colorado from states where the highly-prized beer was not available. The plot of the 1977 movie Smoky and the Bandit involved the “smuggling” of a shipment of Coors from Texas to Georgia. Thanks to its being a Colorado-centric brand, Coors was the third largest brewing company in the United States during the 1970s, even though it was only a regionally distributed product. Since the late 1980s, with national distribution, it has maintained a position as a top three brewer.

Today, another good example of a brewing company in the Mountain West that “owns” a market is Big Sky Brewing of Missoula, Montana. From its humble, albeit very authentic, beginnings in 1995, Big Sky has gone on to become the signature beer in Montana.

When it comes to “owning a territory” there are few better examples than the case of the man who, with our help, branded a Christmas tree in Oregon, a state where Christmas trees are a signature crop! Our firm came up with a strategy and created the world’s first real “designer” Christmas tree, Oregon’s Noble Vintage trees, grown by Joe Sharp’s Yule Tree Farms in Oregon’s renowned wine country, the Willamette Valley.

Sharp also recently introduced a live version of his Oregon’s Noble Vintage trees. These trees have a tight, self-contained root system that settles in the earth immediately upon planting. A unique soil “recipe” of pumice and compost, as well as fine and coarse bark, also makes these trees lighter than a normal tree, allowing easy transport and handling. In a recent interview with William McCall of the Associated Press, Sharp explained that he has never found a better Christmas tree than in Oregon.

“It sounds gimmicky—and it kind of is—but it’s working,” wrote Elise Soukup in Newsweek. “While the rest of the national evergreen industry is hurting, as people turn to artificial varieties, Oregon’s Noble Vintage sales have nearly doubled since they debuted last year, largely through word-of-mouth.… The trees, which are culled from the top 10 percent of the crop, are valued for their symmetrical shape, vibrant color, long-lasting needles and, of course, the ‘designer’ moniker (prominently displayed on each tree’s hang tag). They’re especially popular in homes on a holiday house tour because, much like a designer handbag, the Oregon’s Noble Vintage (which looks like a more perfect version of your off-brand tree) can be recognized by those in the know.” Sharp delivers his live trees directly to consumers from his Internet site www.christmastreeoregon.com anywhere in the U.S.

The numbers of those “in the know” have increased dramatically since the trees have garnered extensive media coverage, including a mention on NBC’s The Today Show and a story on the History Channel.

Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm began modestly in New Hampshire and went on to “own” that market for his yogurt brands before going national. Founded in 1983 as an organic farming school, Stonyfield Farm began with a few Jersey cows and a yogurt recipe. In the ensuing years, Hirshberg has built it into a $300 plus million-dollar company and the number three yogurt brand in the world.

Stonyfield executed a smart Geo-Branding campaign using its New Hampshire farming roots, infusing and communicating a special and authentic element to the brand.

Today, Stonyfield Farm products, which include all natural and certified organic yogurt, smoothies, cultured soy, frozen yogurt, ice cream and milk, are sold across the United States. Speaking from experience, Hirshberg has some cautionary words about the transition from a regional to a national brand: “Saying that your energy is best spent getting your product out in the test market doesn’t mean you have to go national when you launch a product,” Gary cautioned. “My counsel to entrepreneurs is to ‘own’ a region, ‘own’ a market, ‘own’ a segment, ‘own’ something. Create something you can defend. Don’t get hung up on the idea that you have to go national instantly.”

Comments are closed.