Soda Pop Maverick Shows Builders New Ways to Market
Everything from soda pop to new cars provided cues to builders attending the May 29 to June 1 PCBC on how they can sharpen their marketing and branding skills to rise above the competition in today’s tough market and beyond.
Peter Van Stolk, founder and president of Jones Soda, told building industry professionals attending the conference and tradeshow in San Francisco how he has been able to compete against “companies that are really big” and prosper.
“It’s not about soda,” said Van Stolk. “It’s about how you do things differently to achieve the results you want.”
Van Stolk started out in business at the age of 23 in Vancouver, British Columbia selling fresh fruit and orange juice out of a church basement; became an importer of other people’s beverages, which he hated; and within a couple of years sold everything and decided to start over as Jones Soda.
He said he founded his company on the premise that “the world didn’t need another beverage business,” and with the two biggest players in the field spending $1 billion a year marketing their brand, he focused on setting his products apart from the rest and developing a deep emotional bond with his customers.
Unable to compete “by playing the rules that everybody else plays by,” Van Stalk started out with flavors that nobody else had and a unique customized branding approach that put photos sent in by his customers on the soda bottles.
By putting “something your customers love on the bottle” and “allowing the people to make the brand theirs,” Van Stolk found that he didn’t need millions of dollars to advertise.
“A brand makes an emotional connection with someone. Start thinking of yourself as a brand,” he said. It takes time, he added, but creating that relationship will get people excited.
“Understand your customers and allow them to discover how cool you are without telling them, and listen from their perspective,” Van Stolk advised. “If they feel that they are being listened to, which is really a challenge, then they feel excited.”
Van Stolk decided to focus on the youth market — from the teens to 24 — and their psychographics and lifestyle trends, and he then placed his product where “kids go to shop.”
“We would sell soda where nobody had ever sold soda before,” said Van Stolk, and that included tattoo parlors, hair salons and clothing stores, where people could see “our coolers and not a bunch of coolers.” Marketing included “guys dressed in orange jump suits” and salespeople on skateboards.
“Maybe there’s a better place to put your sign,” he added. “Sponsor athletes, people who are passionate.”
In order to become a big company, Jones Soda is being marketed as a premium brand and research has shown that the vast majority of people will pay more for higher quality, he said. Also, the product is made with pure cane sugar, not the corn syrup that has become customary in the business, creating the opportunity for advertising slogans such as “Corn is for cars” and “Drink less soda, just better soda.”
“If you can do something where you can change the rules, then you can market,” Van Stolk said.
A marketing coup for Jones Soda was getting Regis Philbin to taste mashed potato soda and other flavors related to Thanksgiving dinner on his television show.
Another key to success, Van Stolk said, is asking his customers what they want and listening to their answers from their perspective. “Ask your customers questions. They’ll tell you straight up,” even if they’re not always right on the mark.
To elicit his customers’ advice, he has even set up a youth advisory board that plays an important role in making corporate decisions.
Branding Through the Senses
PCBC attendees also heard a presentation from branding guru Martin Lindstrom, who reviewed some of the most successful corporate brands around today as well as those that are ineffective.
“Can I smash your brand and still recognize instantly who you are?” he asked. If it’s something as well-established as Tiffany’s blue box, you can.
Building a brand involves building emotion around a product, he said. “You are selling stories. Be 100% honest, but all of you can create a unique story.”
Lindstrom also stressed the importance of appealing to the senses in branding efforts — all five and not just sight. “Every signal can be important for the brand,” he said, but 83% of all branding communication is aimed at the eyes, leaving only 17% for the other senses. “And yet research shows that a full 75% of our emotions are in fact generated by what we smell,” he said.
Followed by peanut butter, the smell of coffee is the favorite aroma in the U.S., he said, and when coffee is brewing in a model home it can boost sales by 19%, according to research, and classical music with a heartbeat rhythm can increase sales by 11%.
Crayola crayons are in 18th place on the list of Americans’ favorite smells, he said, and they show that “you can own a smell. You can brand a smell, a touch, a taste, a sound.”
Play-Doh and Johnson’s Baby Powder are two examples of products that have made an indelible impression on consumers through the sense of smell, he said. Sprayed-on aromas help brand, and sell, cars and sneakers, and the smell of cut grass in a do-it-yourself supply store makes customers more satisfied with the performance of the sales staff.
Since different people respond differently to various sensory stimuli, “the more senses you appeal to, the more people feel affinity to the brand,” he said. Auto manufacturers take every piece of the car they can, including the sounds they make, and brand it.
“It takes time to build the brand,” said Lindstrom, “but the more you involve your customers in the senses, the more they’ll understand why your stuff is so unique.”