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A Mom & Pop “Adirondack Quality Brand”?
May 9, 2013 - Ernest Hohmeyer
We are small communities and businesses’ competing it seems for the same slice of pie. The problem is the pie doesn’t seem to be growing any larger. And I hear the remark from many who believe that for the foreseeable future this pie won’t grow that much.
We appear to be muddling along. Spring has sprung its eternal optimism and we are hopeful for a strong summer. We are realistic enough to know we still have an over-dependence on tourism and as such at the whim of too many elements we cannot control: lousy summer weather, violence that threatens travel, gas prices and the stock market are just a few that can overcook our Adirondack pie.
Never mind the changing trends of our customers that are not only affecting your small business but how other key local industries operate such as health care, education and even local government. What happens there does affect you and me too.
It is hard not to hunker down like a wounded hunted animal. Sometimes we are wary of even the community non-profits we have supported because they seem to be eating from our pie too.
So why should I share my pie with you? If I do and it doesn’t work, won’t I starve?
And maybe that is the problem that I have to keep reminding myself: things change – they are always changing – faster and faster it seems in this technological society we have created.
“It’s Not for Me”
Many must read these posts and think: “Yea, but it has nothing to do with me. I am not an attraction or a hotel; I am simply a retail shop on Main Street or a motel that caters to folks dropping in. I don’t need an aggressive marketing plan and even if I wanted one – I can’t afford it. And bottom line, I am competing with you anyways – I don’t care if you are right down the street or in the next town.”
Yes, this is all true to an extent. Plus, some of us don’t even depend on the tourist. We are service businesses, engineers or non-profits. But would we like a bigger pie?
So, this time I am not going to talk about change. I don’t want you taking a big breath and saying “Sounds good but it will take a big effort to change and I don’t have the time.”
Increase the Pie?
Simply put, is there a way to work together to potentially reach more customers?
Being independent has its advantages. There is a market for unique shops and experiences.
There is also a disadvantage to being small and independently operated – we have no recognizable brand like an Olive Garden, Dick’s Sporting Goods or a Holiday Inn.
I know, we may not want to be them either, except that maybe for a day we would like their volume of customers.
So isn’t there an oxymoron going on here? Our businesses can’t become a brand and I don’t want to become a brand because it may mean losing my independence – right?
Hang on there for a minute. Let’s really talk about what a brand means. Last time I posted about a Paul Smith’s College function on branding I was involved with. The guest speaker Jim Anhut of International Hotels Group defined brand as “delivering a promise consistently.” “Consistent delivery delivers results” Anhut stated and went on to describe the “brand pyramid” that begins with a “brand promise.”
So what does that mean? We go to these national brands because we know what to do expect. It is clear what they are about.
What They Are Not?
But here is an even bigger point to me that no one seems to focus on when it comes to branding – you also have a clear idea what they are NOT.
Mr. Anhut talked about the huge market for brand properties –and it is growing. He did not explain why but in previous posts I talked about the “travel of mediocrity” or safe travel. Many travelers stay at a brand property, dine or shop at a brand because they believe it to be safe or clean or as Anhut stated, it is about consistency.
Travelers don’t know what to expect at our independent businesses. But perhaps it more about what they are afraid of NOT what to expect. Are we clean, customer friendly – what exactly do we offer? Do we serve local foods; carry local and USA brand products? Above all in this branding world Mr. Anhut described, is there a certain level of consistency?
By ourselves, it may be next to impossible to create a “nationally recognized brand” for our independent small retail, service and tourism businesses. But together can we create an “Adirondack Quality Brand”?
A Mom & Pop Adirondack Brand?
Now this may mean a lot of different things to many people and the devil is always in the details, but to work we need to be clear what it is and what is NOT (after all it is a brand you know).
To start this conversation, a “Mom & Pop Adirondack Quality Brand” could mean: • Independently operated and Adirondack owned • Employ local people • Use local products • Utilize sustainable practices • Have a customer service policy • Commitment to quality
What would it NOT be? • Government regulated • Mandatory • A one size fits all approach
A Marketing Opportunity?
Sure, we have web sites and social media information about our businesses. But how many times have we remained uncertain after reviewing this information? Isn’t that one of the reasons related to the proliferation of all of these review sites? We still are not certain; there are too many choices – “Ah, the heck with it I am going to pick something that I know…”
Could we together create this “brand consistency”? One that has different levels for our many unique businesses but has a common message of what we stand for?
We already do many of these things that the “national brands” promote. We are proud of our businesses, we use “American made” and our businesses life - and sometimes death – is built around customer service.
In fact, I would argue that national brands are trying to be like us: personal service, quality care, use of local products, etc. In many cases they cannot do all of these things as for example to get their price point they have to import products.
We can. We need only to borrow a page out of their marketing text book and give it an Adirondack twist.
We may not have to do a thing with how we operate our businesses. We may need only to “package” or “brand” it.
How can we get started? Once again there are a models right in our backyard as well as a host of national and international programs.
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