In his excellent book, MARTketing – the heart and the brain of branding, Javier Sánchez Lamelas, the former Group VP Marketing of the Coca Cola Company, tells of an encounter over drinks in which he learnt all about the power of building your brand experience around your particular brand and not just the market generic customer expectations.
It was the 1980s and Javier was studying for his MBA in Barcelona. One of his friends was interning at NH Hotels, the fast expanding Spanish hotel chain led at the time by Antonio Catalán. Javier arranged to have a drink with his friend but when he arrived, Javier found Catalán was there as well.
Over the course of a couple of drinks, Javier asked, “So, how is it that your hotel business is growing so rapidly while others stagnate?”
The immediate reply wasn’t quite what he expected. “I am not in the hotel business. That’s why I’m growing so fast.”
Javier pressed on. “Then what business are you in?” he asked.
“In the business of giving rest to executives. That’s my business” came the reply.
Catalán went on to explain his thinking…
“Our breakfasts are better, tastier, and start earlier in the day than in traditional hotels. Business meetings start early and executives do not have lunch until late in the afternoon. Soccer teams and artists stay for free or at very low rates. Then business guests see them in the bar or the lobby and brag about it when they’re back at the office. We do not have bellboys: executives do not need help toting their carry-on luggage and they know very well that room 215 is on the second floor. Laundry is returned in less than 5 hours, ready for wearing the next day. And in case somebody wants it earlier, the service is also available. We all know how embarrassing it is to attend a meeting in a messy shirt…”
As Javier sums it up, “It was a great lesson over drinks”.
“We haven’t the money, so we’ve got to think” is a famous quote ascribed to Sir Ernest Rutherford, the New Zealand born physicist who laid the groundwork for the development of nuclear physics.
More recently and in a marketing context, it should perhaps be re-ascribed to Jo Malone who recalled the clever and extremely cheap stunt she used when launching her brand in the USA saying, “When you are an entrepreneur and you have no money you have to think and you have to turn on a sixpence.”
Following the success of her first store in the Walton Street, an early fan Dawn Mello, president of luxe Manhattan retailer Bergdorf Goodman, offered a deal to open a concession in the Fifth Avenue store in 1998.
Speaking to an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival she explained she had arrived with only “1,000 bags and product” and real no marketing budget. “I sat there in a hotel room thinking: ‘I am going to fail, what am I going to do?”
It was time to start thinking.
Luckily, she and husband, Gary Wilcox, came up with an ingenious idea about how to create some noise without actually spending any money on advertising. “We called it walking the dogs.”
Malone contacted 50 people she knew through friends and asked them to take one of her bags for a “walk” every time they left their homes and went out and around the fashionable districts with her bags every time.
A simple strategy that paid off.
“These bags started to be recognised in really savvy parts of New York City, so when we opened the store people thought there was already a store somewhere. There wasn’t. There were empty bags wandering around New York City.”
A year later, Estée Lauder bought the brand. Malone stayed on as creative director until 2006, when she stepped down after recovering from breast cancer.
She launched her second perfume business, Jo Loves, in 2011 but didn’t need to rely on an empty bas stunt to gain publicity.
And the moral is if you can’t out-spend your competition, out-think them
Delighted to be able to announce that my new book of brand stories – “How Coca-Cola took over the world … and 100 more amazing stories about the world’s greatest brands” will be published by LID Publishing next year.
As with “The Prisoner and The Penguin”, each story will have its own moral, but this time, thanks to Guy Chalkley, each story will have its own little cartoon. It will contain tales about brand origins, naming and identity, communication, revitalization, marketing society and of course branding.
I’ll post more details nearer publication date.