Our perspective at VantagePoint

An eye for branding | Three best practices from glasses gurus Warby Parker

We are nearing the end of a full re-brand for one of VantagePoint’s clients, and what better way to make sure we’re doing it right than with a little review of three best practices for branding, exemplified by the optical gurus Warby Parker.

It’s in the details 

Warby Parker’s story was simple. Naturally, the co-founders began their company when one of them lost his glasses. They quickly realized just how expensive glasses were. They also realized that there was one company in particular that dominated the optical market, silently cheering on the bully every time he broke your glasses and gave you a swirly.

Warby Parker knew that trying to stand up to the big guy would be a tough feat. One thing they knew they could rely on was branding, really good branding. This takes us to our first lesson in branding: Details matter.

Warby Parker went so in-depth with their branding that they chose their color specifically after the blue-footed booby because this exotic bird has “a little bit of flair, a little bit of quirk.” Step aside, Big Bird.

Co-founder and co-CEO Neil Blumenthal explains his viewpoint on branding saying that “Details matter. They create depth, and depth creates authenticity.”

When considering your own branding, don’t overlook the trees when getting a good view of the forest. Sweat the details of color, typeface, logo and style to ensure your branding reflects your company’s character and message.

When things go wrong

There is beauty in vulnerability.  I recently watched a brief TED Talk on the power of branding when things go wrong. Renny Gleeson spoke about the dreaded “404: Page Not Found” that plagues online users whenever they land on an incorrect web address. The consumer hates it, you hate it… but part of the power of branding can simply be how you handle those customer inconveniences. Renny said it perfectly: “Little things, done right, matter. Well-designed moments build brands… A simple mistake can tell me what you’re not. Or it can remind me of why I should love you.” Take for example Huffington Post’s 404 page. Can’t say I’m upset about landing here.

Warby Parker’s 404 page has never been their issue. Their vulnerability surfaced when they began allowing members the opportunity to order five pairs of eyeglasses, for five days, for free. Their inventory was out the door, which meant opening their apartment door and inviting customers to try on the few pairs that remained in stock. This awkward moment — and a time in which a brand may throw in the towel — led to building some of the first and strongest brand advocates for the company.

The takeaway: rather than denying a weakness or vulnerability, seek out creative ways to circumvent or support them that will in turn reflect and reinforce the positive elements of your brand.

Customer service, a top marketing tactic

There is nothing like the Net Promoter Score to give a business insight into how well it’s doing with customers. Let’s just hope the survey didn’t come out before you came to the conclusion that customer service is and will always be one of the best marketing tools. Customer service gives your brand the opportunity to foster a relationship, even in its most vulnerable state. It allows you to promote your brand’s unique personality and if done well, can make an evangelist out of even the most skeptical.

And yup, you guessed it — Warby Parker’s Net Promoter Score is up there with the best of them, scoring an 84 (on a potential scale of -100 to 100).

(Shameless VantagePoint Plug: Our team sent the survey out to our clients and received an 86!  We’re pretty proud of that and the brands we support.)

As you’re building your brand, don’t get so wrapped up in the development of brand identity or corporate structure or the spreadsheets to keep the place running that you fail to focus on the customer experience. Happy, satisfied customers are some of the best marketing you can’t buy.

Do you have an example of a brand that blew you away with their customer service or their brand story? We’d love to hear it in the comments below. And if you’re considering a rebrand of your own, be sure to ask yourself these three questions first so you don’t get started on the wrong foot.

Unicorn magic: Lessons for B2B marketers from the Starbucks stunt

Unless you were living under a rock, you heard about the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino. Every media source I used there was something about it. DJs were talking about it on the radio. My social media feed was blowing up about the Unicorn Frappuccino. What did they put it in? Was it bad for you? Many loved the color and its sweetness. I did not partake of the delicious treat, but now I am living with some regret.

Starbucks did a lot of things right launching this new “stunt food” product. They paid attention to the chatter. Unicorn-themed food and drinks were trending, as were unicorn emojis. They tapped into this retro theme and brought new customers into their stores, increased their stock price 1.8 percent in one day and sold out of the product in certain markets. Not bad for a drink that was available only for five days.

Forbes detailed the marketing tactics that launched this product. And while the Unicorn Frapp was clearly a consumer product from a B2C organization, there are a few lessons that carry over into our B2B world:

  1. Tap into social media. Leveraging social media in advance of the drink’s release built suspense and cultivated an eager customer base. Likewise, a strong social media presence can help B2B companies rally customers and potential customers around your company and its offerings. This means devoting resources to creating compelling and consistent content. Those companies that utilize these tools properly can optimize relationships within their communities to reach potential customers they never would have landed otherwise.
  2. Nurture brand evangelists. People who love your brand help spread the word. Customer loyalty can accelerate growth and create a competitive advantage in B2B as well. In order to develop strong loyalty, you’ll need to have a deep understanding of your customers. What are their challenges? What do they want? Solicit feedback through phone or in-person interviews or by utilizing short surveys after key interactions. The insights will help you gain perspective into how customers think. You can then use these learnings as part of your marketing efforts.
  3. Use national news and awareness days. Tie your marketing or social media efforts into a day that will get coverage, and capitalize on a built-in national awareness. Though not explicitly tied to National Unicorn Day, the release of the Unicorn Frappuccino came only a few days after that event had made waves on social media. Real-time marketing allows companies to act based on current and potentially trendy events. It works because you’re taking advantage of an emotional time and making yourself relevant, gaining some important public recognition while generating interest and providing a boost to your brand.

8 Social Media Tips from a 2-Year-Old

If you’re trying to better your social media skills, there’s no reason to run out and buy a “Social Media for Dummies”-style book or pay to attend evening classes. Instead, turn to some of life’s most basic lessons, the ones I find myself repeating to my 2-year-old day in and day out.

If you’ve ever raised — or been — a toddler, you may recognize some of these time-tested phrases that conveniently double as great social media ground rules. These eight basic concepts not only create the foundation for a pretty typical childhood education, but also for establishing successful social media practices.

1) Keep it short and sweet. There’s no sense in lengthy explanations when it comes to 2-year-olds. Short sentences with a focus on the important words are not only the best way to make your point, they’re the only way. You can skip the baby talk when it comes to social media, but the principle remains the same. Short, punchy posts stand a much greater chance of hitting home with your readers, especially when your content is competing against a smorgasbord of other posts. If your thought is interrupted by the “Read More” button, you might want to consider shortening it up.

2) Use pictures. My daughter certainly can’t read yet, but she knows every barnyard animal by sight. Always add an image or video with your post. They help grab attention, further the story and increase the overall size of the post, giving it more real estate on your audiences’ screens.

3) Get on their level. Nobody, not even a toddler, likes being talked down to, and eye contact goes a long way in ensuring you are understood. Likewise with social media, know your audience and adjust your voice accordingly. If your general audience has only a basic understanding of a topic, don’t try to impress anyone with your own extensive knowledge. It leaves readers behind and less likely to come back to you for more information. Keep your content on their level and share only what your audience will understand and connect with.

4) Get on a schedule. The hardest days with my 2-year-old are when normal nap times are missed, meals are skipped, mornings come earlier or nights go later than usual. When we stick to our normal schedule, everyone and everything is at harmony. You’ll feel the same if you have a schedule to follow and stick to with your social media posts. Without a schedule you’ll be left making decisions on the fly, which will lead to inconsistent posts and a decline in performance. Find out when your audience is most likely to view and engage with your posts, and stick to their schedule.

5) Learn to share. A 2-year-old needs to learn to share, plain and simple. It’s the nice thing to do, and it’s how you make friends. I’ve seen firsthand how sharing a stuffed puppy can go a long way at daycare. Sharing in the social media world helps makes friends, too. You want others to share your content, so why shouldn’t you share the content of theirs that you find interesting and relevant? They’ll take notice and will be more apt to give you a share in the future.

6) Learn from your mistakes. My daughter once touched the furnace when it was on. Now every time she walks by she lets everyone know with a shake of her hand, “Hot. Daddy, hot. Don’t touch.” If in the social media world you come across any signs that tell you what you’re doing isn’t working (i.e. no engagement), it might be time to switch things up. Maybe it’s the time of the day you’ve been posting, maybe you’re lacking an image or video. Learn what doesn’t work so you can avoid those mistakes in the future.

7) Ask politely. Toddlers can pack an unbelievable amount of sass in a small package, but my daughter is learning asking for something instead of demanding — and throwing a “please” on the end — is much more likely to get her what she wants. The same goes for your social media posts. Don’t just expect that people are going to do what you want on their own volition. There’s no harm in asking for a share or retweet, or asking your audience to comment or visit a provided link. Your readers are people, too. Ask nicely, and the results might just surprise you.

8) Go ask your mother. This one might relate more to dads than 2-year-olds. Sometimes I’m in no position to make a decision and have to defer to higher powers. And let’s face facts — that’s Mom. I see no problem with a couple cookies before dinner. I had some myself. But Mom will intervene and let me know I’m making a bad call. On the cookies-before-dinner and social media fronts, use a “What would Mom say?” approach. If ever you think a post might come across as controversial or offensive, and as a business you certainly want to avoid this, just think, “What would my mother say if I showed this to her?” If a post wouldn’t fly with my mom, leave it alone. There’s always a way to get your point across without alienating anyone. That, and moms are always right.

Are there any other childhood lessons that you think offer some good guidance for social media? Share them in the comments below. And if you’re looking to put lesson no. 5 to more use, check out this blog on finding valuable content to curate and share.

Menus in 2017, Part 5 | Spicing it up

When Nancy Kruse spoke at VantagePoint’s Insight2Impact Foodservice Marketing Summit, she laid out five predictions for menus in 2017, which we’re highlighting in this series of blogs. While the first four — on “clean” foods, the death of dieting, comfort foods and breakfast — are all significant drivers of change in 2017, this final one could perhaps be called the runt of the litter.

“The disruption here is minor but real,” Kruse said of the ongoing influence of ethnic foods on American menus.

What it is

Experimentation with ethnic foods has long remained a chef’s staple for introducing new and interesting flavors and novel menu features.

But, “the velocity with which ethnic items are being introduced has slowed slightly. I think it has been trumped by the need for chefs and purchasing agents to get on board with the whole clean foods thing,” Kruse said.

“Attention has shifted, at least momentarily, elsewhere.”

Still, foods and flavors inspired by other areas of the world continue to show up everywhere from QSR chains to independent restaurants and university dining halls.

Why it’s coming

The top two reasons why diners choose ethnic foods are to look for something different or discover new flavors, according to Technomic research.

To some extent, what enters the American palate is influenced by what enters American politics. One trend Kruse predicted for 2017 is “Cuban 2.0” thanks to improved relations between the U.S. and the island nation.

Havana 1957, a small Florida chain, offers a sneak peek at the range of bright flavors that could influence food and beverages on a larger scale in the months to come.

Where it’s showing up

Flavors from the Mediterranean are cropping up in somewhat unexpected venues, including Arby’s roast beef gyro.

But the star of the moment, Kruse said, is the chickpea.

“What took us so long with this? They’re readily available in massive volumes. They are cheap. They are versatile. They are nutritious,” she said.

From the falafel burger at Umami to 1000 Degrees’ falafel-topped pizza and the hummus bar at Kennesaw State University, the humble chickpea is making an impression, particularly as a vegan or vegetarian menu option.

Ethnic foods experimentation is also showing up in some creative mashups, like Red Robin’s Red Ramen Burger, which features ramen patties in lieu of a hamburger bun.

McAlister’s Deli last year introduced its West Coast Banh Mi, a kind of Vietnam-meets-France-meets-the-American-South sandwich featuring sriracha, pickled vegetables and pulled pork served on a baguette.

Up and coming flavors include the Korean gochujang, a condiment made of fermented chilies.

Noodles & Company’s marketing for their gochujang meatballs employed a variety of best practices for introducing new ethnic foods, Kruse said — describing the flavor as “sweet and spicy,” offering a pronunciation guide and identifying it as “barbeque sauce.”

“Americans have never met a barbeque sauce they didn’t like,” Kruse said.

And Good Housekeeping magazine recently promoted a meal of gochujang green beans and meatloaf — “the 20th century meeting the 21st century by means of gochujang,” she said.

What’s next

Despite the fact that they have been slightly eclipsed by the demand to think in terms of clean and “free from” eating, ethnic flavors remain a key menu R&D driver, still offering ample opportunity for creativity.

“Put it on a meatball, put it on a hamburger, put it on a bed of pasta — and you can get the American consumer to try just about anything,” Kruse said.

What new ethnic or fusion flavors have you encountered lately? Let us know your take on this menu prediction — or any of Nancy Kruse’s others for 2017 — in the comments below.

Pepsi vs. Coke (Or: The Very Fine Line of Exploiting Current Events to Sell Your Product)

Two ads.

Two soft drinks.

Two groups of beautiful, ethnically diverse 20-somethings.

Two relevant counter-cultural movements.

Two messages of peace, love and unity.

Two very different receptions.

A simple lesson on why it went so darn well for Coca-Cola and so down-right horrible for Pepsi.

Act I: I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke (And Make Billions of $$$)

Unless you grew up in an apocalypse-proof bunker like Kimmy Schmidt, you’ve seen this famous 1971 Coca-Cola advertisement.

When Don Draper (not really) came up with this ad while sitting on a hilltop in southern California, the country was experiencing a great cultural shift amid an era of increasing global instability. The protests of the Civil Rights and antiwar movements had headlined the newspapers for years as the Cold War and nuclear arms race tensions ebbed and flowed. The country appeared to be fighting (or searching) for its soul with the juxtaposition of the sexual revolution; the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy, his brother and senator Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X; the steady rise in drug use; and the dramatic fall of religious observation. As in all uncertain times, good folks long for the real thing — togetherness.

Coca-Cola saw its opportunity. Coke could be that vehicle for harmony. The line “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” conveys a moment of pause, of shared experience and understanding. Coca-Cola was telling us that with so much violence and hatred, it’s the small acts of kindness — like sharing a Coke — that will win the day in the end.

The beautiful and multicultural younglings singing together were ushering in a new era. No longer the greed and selfish abandon of our fathers, but an era of love, peace, sharing and mutual respect. And Coke, “the real thing,” will help them achieve this goal.

Coming hot on the heels of the Civil Rights movement, the multiracial gathering subtly hinted that the new America was a diverse America, and we need to be cool with that.

A big gamble.

If people feel like your ad campaign is explicitly taking advantage of real-world situations, especially ones that involve human suffering, to sell a product, it could have devastating results. But Coke walked the tightrope. They stayed away from exploiting actual events and instead hinted at the Utopian alternative everyone craved for — with Coke at the center, of course.

It went off without a hitch. The public ate it up, and it became one of the most iconic and groundbreaking commercial advertisements in American history. It was so popular, in fact, the song created for the commercial became a hit record.

Well done, Coca-Cola.

ACT II: Jump In! (to the Internet-Fueled Fires of Public Condemnation)

Again, unless you have lived off the grid as a beet farmer and just now stumbled across some internet by chance, you are aware of the now-infamous Pepsi ad starring Kendall Jenner.

Like 1971, today’s cultural and political climate is rather unstable. The talking heads of partisan news outlets and the á la carte flavor of truth-telling, to which all too many of our politicians and leaders have subscribed, has fanned the flames of general misunderstandings and intolerance between people.

Internationally, the awakening of the Russian bear, the rise of proto-state militant groups like ISIS and Boko-Haram, and our “What are we really?” relationship with our allies has Americans nervous, as does the rise of violent nationalism, police brutality and responding protests, and the general struggle over the “culture war” domestically.

Time for a soft drink to save the day, right? It worked before!

This time around, Pepsi seizes the opportunity. Like Coke, it would try to express the longing of the younger generation for peace and harmony through advertising. Unlike Coke it sought to do so by emulating a real counter-cultural movement: Black Lives Matter. And unlike the nameless faces of the hilltop Coke ad, Pepsi crowned Kendall Jenner, whose family needs no introduction, to be the symbol of the movement.

At the climax of the ad, Jenner, a new addition to the feature protest, coyly hands a Pepsi to a police officer and saves the day.

Pepsi branding, hip music, a positive message, beautiful people drinking Pepsi and a celebrity are colorfully utilized to create a culturally sensitive and relevant Pepsi ad that is in tune with the world around them — and all with Pepsi as the vehicle for peace. Did I mention Pepsi was involved?

So how was it met by the public? Well, the gods of public opinion were not pleased with PepsiCo. The company received near universal condemnation across the country. Social media and late night comedians had a field day with this ad. The protest advertisement was being protested by everyone, including Bernice King, daughter of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. It was the laughingstock of bad public relations (until the United Airlines episode).

Pepsi pulled the ad and apologized:

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

So what happened? Four things that doomed Pepsi’s ad stick out to me:

  1. Unlike the Coke commercial, which came across as authentic, this came across as contrived. Attaching celebrities to movements where they don’t belong in order to sell a product is obviously insincere. Coke avoided this by using only extras.
  2. Your product does not solve problems. We all know handing a Pepsi to a police officer does not make the problem go away, and Pepsi seemingly trivialized something that we should take seriously. Coke avoided the pitfalls of current events by showing a kind of alternate reality.
  3. The Pepsi hand off obviously echoes the famous and powerful photograph of Ieshia Evans defying the police in a Black Lives Matter protest. This could have been effective from a marketing standpoint except for the fact that Ieshia was black and ultimately was arrested after the photo was taken, and Jenner is white and got to dance in the street. The faux pas of replacing an African-American teacher with a white celebrity who’s famous for being famous in an ad that echoes a Black Lives Matter protest was lost on few. It is of no surprise that the country is divided on protest movements, such is the nature of things in contemporary America, but generally everyone has recognized that at least this one thing doesn’t sit right.
  4. Lastly, the internet does not forgive, boys and girls. Once the ball of shame gets rolling, it doesn’t stop. There is no mercy for the misstep on the almighty interwebs, and the bigger the name the harder they fall. The social media echo chamber also has a tendency to exaggerate the egregiousness of any situation, so any miscalculation can quickly turn into a moral injustice. Perhaps if social media had been around in 1971, Coca-Cola would have caught some flak for something.


On the surface these two ads seem similar, but one correctly waded through possible issues and was a groundbreaking success story, and the other fell headlong into every possible pitfall and is being universally scorned.

Wait, I take it back. Pepsi did bring us all together, just at its own expense.