by Joe Sylvester
Susquehanna Brewing Company in Pittston makes good use of social media to promote its brand. It’s the company’s state-of-the-art brewery, though, that really gets potential customers’ attention.
That’s why the company holds public events in its brewery.
“I figure our number one salesman is our brewery,” said Fred Maier, who co-founded the company with his father, Ed Maier, and Mark Nobile.
The Maiers are descendants of Charles Stegmaier, who brewed the first lager beer in the Wyoming Valley in the mid-19th century.
Susquehanna Brewing Company is continuing the family tradition of connecting with its hometown. Founded eight years ago and actively selling beer for about six years, the brewery is a good example of establishing a local brand, said Justin Matus, associate professor of business at Wilkes University.
“They’re a strong regional company, the right mix of quality product at a fair price and good at social media,” Matus said.
SBC holds tastings and tours. There is personal contact through those events and personal sales.
“They integrated themselves into the community,” Matus said, noting the events SBC hold for nonprofits.
“In the beer world there’s a saying, ‘You can’t out-Budweiser Budweiser,’ ” said Maier. “We’re hyperlocal. We really wanted to raise the bar of craft beer in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Promoting an experience
Promoting a brand is about generating interest. When McDonald’s remade its image to promote a healthier menu that included salads, it was promoting an experience to draw interest, marketing experts say.
“We used to advertise,” said Tim Calpin, Times-Shamrock Communications marketing director, print and digital.
Now companies are vying for mindshares to keep the consumers’ interest.
“It’s rarely about ‘buy this sandwich,’ it’s about, ‘We’re a good experience,’ ” Calpin said. “It’s less about product and more about lifestyle marketing.”
Grabbing and keeping consumers’ interest is why many companies choose names that don’t say what they sell. Think Google, Yahoo and, locally, Pepperjam, a computer marketing company.
“The first step is awareness,” Calpin advised.
“A lot of times your brand is your introduction, and you want to pique interest,” he said.
Companies should also project value to potential customers, after first figuring out who the audience is. For newspapers, for example, that audience is readers ages 16 to 80, Calpin said.
“Once you figure out who your audience is, you appeal to make all things revolve around that.”
Getting the message out
Matus said businesses compete on low prices or they compete on differentiation, or brand.
“Typically the messaging behind the brand is they’re different somehow,” he said.
Some brands have become the generic term for the product, such as Band-Aids or Xerox.
“The other part of the conversation is, somewhere in this equation, you have to turn a profit,” he said.
Sometimes brands that seem unbeatable face competition that could topple them.
“In the ‘90s, it was ‘Walmart is going to rule the world,’ then along comes Amazon,” Matus said.
A lot of great companies have come and gone, he said, citing such names as IBM and W.T. Grant.
He said part of the story is the brand messaging.
Sometimes that’s not even through traditional advertising. Matus said word of mouth, testimonials and social media are ways to get a brand known, especially for those building a new business.
“If you don’t have a busy street corner or pop-ups on Facebook, it’s a little bit of a numbers game,” Matus said.
Sometimes the owner’s name becomes the brand, such as McCarthy Tire Service, Jack Williams Tire and Auto or a number of area funeral homes.
“How many funeral homes keep the family name, even if the family doesn’t own it anymore,” he said. “Building that trust – it’s another power of the brand. People become familiar with it and they trust it.”
Matus said there should be a distinction between advertising and brand building, though a business could advertise to build a brand.
Starbucks doesn’t advertise, but it still built a successful chain.
“It was the right product at the right price at the right place,” he said.
But, Matus noted, Starbucks grew by selling ‘coolness.’
“You’re not getting a cup of coffee, you’re getting instant cool,” he said. “That’s part of what you’re paying for – cool.”
He said Starbucks attracted customers through word-of-mouth.
“As they got traction, they got free media,” Matus said. “That’s always helpful.”
Conversely, one bad incident could smear an entire brand.
He said he has students look at a company and come up with ideas to make it better. One suggestion was an airline for Disney. But, he said, there is too much risk associated with that idea.
“What if a planeload of families on the way to Disney goes down,” Matus said. “What did you do to the brand.”
He said the action Tylenol’s manufacturer took following product tampering that led to seven deaths in the Chicago area in 1982 is a great example of protecting a brand. After someone laced the acetaminophen capsules with potassium cyanide, Johnson & Johnson took the capsules off the market then redesigned the packaging. That led to reforms in packaging in other over-the-counter products.
McDonald’s has not only adapted to changing tastes in this country by providing healthier options, it also has adapted to other cultures. Matus said the restaurant chain offers vegetarian burgers in India and spicy pork in Asia.
He said an Apple or a Google shouldn’t get overconfident. Sony, while still a strong company, is not what it was in the 1970s, when it had a big following. The Sony Walkman was a powerful brand because it made music portable, he said.
But he said Sony might have become a victim of its own success. As it got into the entertainment business, which is a different skill set, it faced more competition and there was a shift in technology.
Coca-Cola failed miserably when it introduced its “new Coke” in 1985. Three months later, the company brought back the original Coke and the new Coke became Coca-Cola Classic, then later Coke II, and was discontinued in 2002.
“They alienated millions of loyal Coke drinkers,” Matus said.
Calpin said it’s important for companies when launching a brand to look at where they want to be in 10 or 15 years, if they want to eventually expand their clothing line to sell to other age groups, or if they want to expand to sell online across the country or even in Europe.
But owners should be true to their business in developing a brand and keep it simple, Calpin said, citing John Deere.
“Don’t be afraid to break trends,” he said.
And they don’t have to spend a lot of money. Finding a good graphic artist can help the business develop a logo and image, he said.