Fun with branding and PR

I love hearing about the creative paths businesses take to get people involved with their brands. A great way to create brand loyalty and get people excited is to make them feel like they are part of your experience. Part of good marketing is being creative and letting yourself and your customers have some fun!

Nearly 25 years ago, a soft drink lover named Peter van Stolk started a small soft drink distribution company in Alberta that marketed a line of fresh-squeezed juices. Soon, van Stolk took his blossoming business to Vancouver, B.C., where he acquired the rights to develop and promote several “alternative” beverage brands.

Eventually, van Stolk decided to get out of the distributing trade and focus on branding. He concentrated his efforts on an alternative soft drink company known as Jones Soda, which, at the time, had six flavors targeted at consumers in the Pacific Northwest. By the end of the 1990s, van Stolk had found a unique way for Jones Soda drinkers to feel like they were part of the Jones family—by printing photos consumers submitted to the company right on the bottle label.

You can imagine what kind of stir this made. The draw to buy a six-pack of Jones Soda quickly grew beyond the availability of flavors such as fufu berry and green apple to the chance at seeing one’s own photo printed across the label or peeking into someone else’s life in a neighboring state.

What we can take from the Jones Soda experience is that sometimes we focus so much on what we think our target audience wants to hear that we don’t take the time to let them do the talking! Great branding and public relations (PR) starts with building solid relationships with an audience, and sometimes the simplest way to do that is to let them do some of the work.

Another excellent example of this strategy is Chiquita Banana’s recent campaign that lets banana lovers design the blue stickers that dot banana skins in the supermarket. This approach is a contest where the company chooses winners, but it does an excellent job of raising brand visibility. If I design a label and I lose, I’ll still be curious to see what won, which means I will definitely make a pass through the produce section at the local supermarket!

So what are you doing to let people in on the fun? It doesn’t have to be as sophisticated as printing customized soda labels. Maybe it’s as simple as adjusting your menu based on feedback on your Facebook page. The point is that you should do what you can to make your customers feel like they are insiders—that their experience matters. So try to be creative. You might just have some fun while boosting your bottom line.