Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Local Brands or How the Internet Gave My Husband Beer

I have all sorts of thoughts flitting through my head about local retailers, branding, and marketing in the age of social media, so bear with me if this post is a little scattered. I promise, I do have a point or five, though I may make them in a round-about, not-entirely-clear fashion.

Point one: Brands matter.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Not me, brands don't affect me." Yeah, well, you're wrong. That's what we all think and we're all wrong. I'm reading a bunch of books that explain how and why they affect us. Brands affect our brains. Or how about this story, where the mere act of carrying around a Victoria's Secret bag affected how the bag carryer felt about herself?

Point two: Local brands matter.

My husband has loved Creemore beer for a long time. It's a brand of beer not available in B.C. It used to be a small local brewery located in Creemore, Ontario. It's still located there, but it's now owned by Molson. Technically, it's not a local brand anymore, but it was when my husband started loving it. And when we visited two summers ago, we saw that it has maintained its small brewery charm. On that visit we bought Creemore glasses, a Creemore hat and, of course, Creemore beer. My husband likes to call it "The Happiest Place on Earth."

My husband started using Twitter a few months ago and took to it immediately. He rarely uses Facebook, but Twitter, he likes. He likes it even more now, because through it, the Internet gave him beer.

One of the first things he started tweeting about was Creemore. Things like how Creemore was the best beer not available in B.C. How on a trip to Ontario, the first thing he was going to do was look for Creemore. Long story short, @CreemoreKaren, who tweets for Creemore, noticed all his comments and said it sounded like he worked for them. He asked if that was a job offer, she said no, but offered to send him a coupon for an eight cans of Creemore.

He e-mailed me, "The Internet gave me beer."

My response was suspicious. "Hmmm . . .  I don't know if I like this. Some strange woman (or "woman") from the Internet wants you to send her your address so she can buy you booze . . . "

Luckily, @CreemoreKaren was legit—I believe she's Creemore's marketing director—and before long my husband got his coupon. Someone my husband knew was going to Ontario and he agreed to pick up the beer for my husband and bring it back in his luggage.

My point here is that when people like a local brand, they are loyal to it. They will go to great lengths to promote it. They will go to great lengths to seek it out, even if they live several provinces away from where it is sold.

Point three: If you own a local store, you have a brand. Build it.

Your brand is not likely to be built around a fancy logo or a multi-million dollar marketing budget—that's what big brands do. I think people stick with certain big-chain brands because they know exactly what they're going to get wherever they go. People don't eat at McDonald's because it makes the best hamburgers. They eat McDonald's food because they know it's going to taste the same wherever they go.

Local brands are different. A local brand is strongest when people know it offers something they can't get anywhere else.

Your brand could be built on a sandwich—a delicious sandwich that people can get only from you.

I had an interesting exchange on Twitter on Tuesday with a number of local New West people about what I think is a great local brand in the making. It all started with my tweet: "Can't stop thinking about the pulled pork sandwich I had at Graze in Sapperton yesterday. So good."

I added the hash tag #newwest to my tweet. Before too long, someone from New West wanted to know where Graze was. Then someone else mentioned Graze has a ribs and beans night on Friday. Someone else complained that we had made the newsroom hungry and now, how were they going to put the paper out? (Though I have to say, in my experience, it's not hard to make a newsroom hungry.) I and others who had eaten there ended up making several people who didn't know about Graze curious and, in some cases, hungry.

And here's my point about marketing in the age of social media: people will build your brand for you, with or without your participation.

If you want to shape your own brand, it's probably best to participate. Pay attention to social media. If you don't know how to use Twitter or Facebook, find out how. Google "how to use Twitter" or "how to use Facebook" and you'll get a ka-jillion results.

In doing my experiment, I've searched online for New Westminster businesses and checked for those that have Twitter and Facebook accounts. There are some exceptions, but a lot of New Westminster businesses don't have much of an online presence. I realize social media isn't the only way for businesses to market themselves, but it is a way and it is usually a very low- or no-cost way.

Point Four: This is the most important point. Go to Graze at 450 E. Columbia St. (See all this free work I'm doing for a local brand? And I've only had one sandwich there!) Have a pulled pork sandwich. It's so good. The meat drips with sauce, there's a satisfying crunch of cabbage with every bite, the bun is so soft and delicious . . . it is truly food for the soul. It will leave you with a warm glow in your stomach and your heart. Graze also has a deli and grocery items and vegetarian menu items.

Point Five: I really need to stop writing about food at night. I'm so hungry right now.