Panera Bread’s Success Keeps Rising

I loved reading this recent Time Magazine article about the raging success of Panera Bread company and its various reasons for success despite the tough economy.

I’ve been a big fan since I walked into my first Panera store about 9 years ago.

Panera stock is up 26% this year and is one of the top performing stocks of the decade with a huge 1,560.65% return! And, they’re rocking this year too.

Here are a few ways in which they’ve achieved their remarkable success:

  1. They do not discount – they add value
  2. They execute well against basic fundamentals
  3. They innovate (e.g., paninis*) and continuously improve
  4. They know who they are (not a “refueling” stop – they’re a treat) and work to make their experience special – not cheap
  5. They’ve watched cash flow and have strong cost controls that allow them to re-invest and build when costs are low
  6. They operate with an enthusiastic non recessionary mindset (love this)

For example, CEO Ron Shaich’s enthusiastic non recessionary mindset is pretty basic, but enlightening and focused, “We understood that the fundamentals of the marketplace really haven’t changed,” says Shaich. “Unemployment went from 5% to 10%. There’s 90% of society that is still employed. I couldn’t capture all those people that are unemployed. They weren’t eating out at all. All I could do was stay focused on who my target customer was, and not be reactive.”

Mindset and focus are so important. Instead of focusing on the negative (e.g., 10% unemployment – woe is me attitude), they focused on improving their services to the working 90% of us (glass 90% filled).

Panera didn’t invent a totally new model – they just work it better than most everyone else.
*P.S.: Contrary to what you may believe, Panera did not invent the Panini, which dates back to the 16th century and became popular in America in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s – long before Panera came into existence. Again, they simply made it better! Innovation doesn’t always have to mean “new” – it’s just as effective to be “new and improved.” It also helps to have a CEO who knows the business inside and out.

You Miss 100 Percent of the Shots You Never Take

Worst Bolivian Police SketchHockey great Wayne Gretzky is credited with the quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” It’s a good quote to keep in mind as you enter the New Year – and I believe it rings true for all of us.

In fact, this police sketch of a suspected murderer is a fine example. When you first look at this police sketch, you may think a three year old drew it, but an actual police sketch artist in Bolivia – whose work will never appear in the Louvre – drew it and two suspects were found as a result!

Life is all about results – not intentions.

It just goes to show you that you need to take a shot…you need to take more shots to score and win. But to shoot more often, you also need to show up more often too.

Hollywood Director Woody Allen once said that, “80 percent of success is just showing up!”

If you want to succeed more in 2010, take more shots and show up more often than you did this past year – this past decade – and you’ll be more successful!


Merry Christmas

Today and every day, all of us at BrandMill wish you and your family and friends the peace and goodwill of this very special season.

If you’re still looking for a last minute Christmas gift for someone, consider these suggestions from author Oren Arnold: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.


BrandMill Campaign Helps Priory Hospitality Group Win Pittsburgh’s Grand Marketer of the Year Award from American Marketing Association

AMA Priory Pittsburgh's Grand Marketer of the YearFor the second consecutive year, a BrandMill marketing campaign has helped a client become a Marketer of the Year recognized by the Pittsburgh American Marketing Association. However, this year’s recognition is extra special because BrandMill client, the Priory Hospitality Group took home first prize honors as Pittsburgh’s Grand Marketer of the Year!

Here’s the full press release from the Pittsburgh American Marketing Association.


Media Contact:
Kim Butler – President, Pittsburgh AMA

The Priory Hospitality Group Named Grand Marketer of the Year

PITTSBURGH, PA – December 15, 2009 — The Pittsburgh chapter of the American Marketing Association held its 3rd Annual Marketer of the Year Awards ceremony Wednesday, December 10 at LeMont. Bill Flanagan served as Master of Ceremonies. The Priory Hospitality Group was presented with the 2009 Grand Marketer of the Year Award for its Winter White Wedding marketing campaign.

“The Priory Hospitality Group is thrilled to receive the Grand Marketer of the Year award from the Pittsburgh AMA,” said John Graf, co-owner of the Priory Hospitality Group.  “It is an unexpected and treasured honor to be recognized among some of the illustrious brands that call Pittsburgh home.

Winners of Pittsburgh’s only results-based marketing competition were recognized in 9 categories for their marketing excellence and effectiveness.  The 9 finalists and Marketers of the Year in their respective categories are:

  • Art Institutes of Pittsburgh, EDMC, Education
  • Benner Commerce Park, Real Estate
  • Butler Health System, Medical/Healthcare
  • Channellock, Industrial/Manufacturing
  • Giant Eagle, Retail
  • Pitt Ohio Express, Business/Professional Services
  • Priory Hospitality Group, Sports/Entertainment/Travel/Hospitality
  • Private Wealth Advisors, Financial Services
  • Sauereisen, Construction
David "Mr. McFeely" Newell of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Accepting Fred Rogers' Pittsburgh AMA Hall of Fame Award
David "Mr. McFeely" Newell of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Accepting Fred Rogers' Hall of Fame Award

Mr. Fred Rogers was honored posthumously at the event as a local and legendary brand and inducted into the Pittsburgh AMA Hall of Fame for his unique and impressive marketing impact throughout western Pennsylvania and the world.  Dr. Dean R. Manna, Robert Morris University, was honored with the Distinguished Educator Award.

“The event was a huge success,” said Kim Butler, President of the Pittsburgh AMA.  “We are honored to celebrate such phenomenal marketers in the Pittsburgh region and to shine a positive light on the marketing profession.”

About the American Marketing Association and its Pittsburgh Chapter
The American Marketing Association, one of the largest professional associations for marketers, has 38,000 members worldwide in every area of marketing. For over six decades the AMA has been the leading source for information, knowledge sharing and development in the marketing profession.  For more information, visit

Founded in 1946, AMA Pittsburgh is celebrating its 64th year as the largest marketing association in the region with more than 300 members and supports an additional 900 professional marketers who utilize AMA services and resources. Its mission is to support the professional growth of these 1,200 marketing executives through a variety of initiatives such as educational seminars and programs, a luncheon speaker series and networking events.  For more information visit

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15 Branding Lessons from the Salvation Army

Salvation Army Red Kettle

You may complain every so often about the number of competitors you face, but consider yourself lucky you don’t work in the competitive nonprofit world. I know, with this economy, you sometimes feel you are a nonprofit…but that’s beside the point.

There are over 1,000,000 charities throughout the U.S. – some great and some not so great – and the Salvation Army is one brand that is head and shoulders above the bunch. It was recently ranked as the second strongest non profit power brand behind the YMCA.

The late great father and guru of modern day management Peter Drucker called the Salvation Army the most effective organization in the world.

The Salvation Army doesn’t have a brand problem, you see a Red Kettle and you know where the money is going. Due to the today’s economy, donations are down (as they are with most all non profits) and requests for services such as food and shelter are up.

However, with the expected downturn in end of the year donations, which are often a critical source of revenue for nonprofits, keep your eye on the Salvation Army because these folks rock in what they do and how they do it.

And, here are 15 reasons why the Salvation Army brand is so successful (and a few things Marketers can learn from them in terms of building a quality brand).

  1. They do remarkable things – they rebuild and save lives
  2. They have integrity – and their mission is a faith-based calling.
  3. They’re authentic, honest, sincere, consistent, reliable and transparent
  4. They have a consistent brand image served with key brand icons such as their Red Shield logo and Red Kettle (you see a Red Kettle you know where the money is going).
  5. They have a great story and tell it over and over again wonderfully well (read Red Kettle Story here).
  6. They know what they stand for and who they are (read 11 Articles of Faith) and read their 12 Position Statements here about abortion, alcohol and drugs, economic justice, euthanasia, gambling, homosexuality, human equality, human trafficking, marriage, pornography, religious persecution and suicide. Now, you may not agree with all of their positions, but you cannot argue that they do not know who they are and what they stand for…do you?
  7. They’re a proven brand that’s been accountable for over 130 years which has made it one of the world’s largest and most trusted providers of social services
  8. Most of their work is done without beating their own chests – their word of mouth buzz is delivered by the grateful people they serve
  9. They’re transparent with their fundraising (83 cents of every dollar goes directly to providing services). The Army’s administrative costs are not charged against funds donated.
  10. They get results
  11. They’re typically the quickest responders to people in need (see Wall Street Journal article – Advantage: God – Why the Salvation Army beats the Red Cross – about the differences in their respective responses during September 11, 2001).
  12. They generate multiple streams of revenue via many online and offline methods (e.g., Classic, Virtual and Mobile – Red Kettle Campaign in retail and heavily trafficked areas and online Virtual Red  Kettle Campaigns).
  13. Their flat decentralized organizational model (e.g., each U.S. region typically controls its own e-mail campaigns) includes Salvation Army officers, staffers, lay people, volunteers and other committed fans. According to this USA Today article from a few years back, it coordinates nearly 4,000 officers, 113,000 soldiers, 420,000 members, 60,000 employees and 3.5 million volunteers. FYI by contrast, Wal-Mart, the largest private employer, has 2.1 million associates.
  14. They have a rabid fan base of marketing partners and such as JCPenney (see online Angel Giving Tree program), Target and Wal-Mart.
  15. As their donor base has been getting older, they’ve worked hard to be more modern and relevant and have ventured more heavily into Web 2.0 Marketing with Facebook (500+ groups), Twitter, iPhone apps, online banner ads on AOL, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and Yahoo. They try to be everywhere their fans are – especially younger fans – and are into newer edgier tactics such as magic and stunts.

If you’re still looking for that perfect Christmas Gift to give, consider giving to the Salvation Army.

Merry Christmas and have a great New Marketing Year!

P.S.: Here’s an inspirational interview on the management philosophy of the Salvation Army’s National Commander Israel Gaither. He’s a heck of a guy – and why not – he’s from Pittsburgh!


Reset Your Recessionary Mindset

RESET BUTTONIn my 25+ year professional life, I’ve survived, thrived and worked through four global recessions. And, I am now working through my third U.S. recession and about seven periods of negative economic growth over one fiscal quarter or more.

I’m alive, enjoying my life and generally O.K. but certainly my business situation – owning my own business in the marketing industry – is a delicate one.

For well over a year, I’ve told my family, friends, business associates and continue to repeat to myself (to firm my belief) that recessions are a state of mind and we’re really in a time of reset not recession.

The economy is resetting people’s values of time, money, relationships and more. And, things will be different even after Wall Street settles down and hopefully a lot of people get back to work.

In my business, I’ve reset (and continue to do so) the solutions we offer and the value we provide. This recession has been a wake up call for me to hit my reset button and clean up my professional and personal life. But, I certainly saw it coming. Didn’t you?

We all had it pretty easy a few years ago – just about anyone was making good money at their job and on Wall Street.

I remember in 2000, young kids right out of college who had a little bit of HTML code experience (and no real  life expereince and even less common sense and street smarts) were making high five figure incomes.  Today, with Web technology advances making it easier for anyone to build a Web site – even for free – those days are long gone for those early 2000+ college grads.

This recession for me has been a good time of sorts. It’s made me work to provide more value to clients, increase my skill set in areas I never worked in before and bulletproof my tried and true skills.

And, as a result we’ve been rewarded with new clients, extended contracts and additional business from existing clients and industry awards from the Public Relations Society of America and the American Marketing Association.

Sure, it’s easy to blame others and the economy for why you may be struggling today, but if you’re honest with yourself, you saw the signs of the times changing a long time ago. The good thing is it’s never too late to change and keep making changes.

I’ll continue to hit my reset button when times get a little slow and tough and for now, in 2010 I plan to offer my clients:

  1. Quicker response times due to systems we’ve put in place
  2. New and improved marketing solutions due to re-investments in our team’s knowledge base and thought leadership
  3. New and improved Social Media Marketing offerings
  4. Marketing packages of value-added solutions
  5. Marketing Seminars, Webinars and Workshops
  6. Books and tool kits
  7. New Mobile marketing offerings and expertise
  8. More ROI – results driven solutions to drive customer acquisition, retention, winback and referrals
  9. More accountability in our actions
  10. More of everything – more nice, more helpful, more smart, more quick, more patient, more listening, more understanding, more seeking win-win opportunities

With the reset I’ve gone through, I feel I’m more recession proof and on a path of purpose and passion than on a road of obligation and duty.

Everyday you have choices to make to be better than you used to be or remain the same. Choose to be better, choose to reset and be recession proof.


Marketing Mantras, Mission Statements

business lotus positionWhen I worked for a few major Fortune 500 brands, I hated this time of the year for this was when we’d be either writing or rewriting our Corporate Mission Statement.

Mission Statements to me lack passion, try to cover too much ground, use senseless $10 words and no one follows them and no one ever remembers them.

I’ve always preferred Marketing Mantra’s like those recommended by Guy Kawasaki as explained here Success Magazine.

Mantra’s create more meaning, reveal what you stand for and provide a transformational guidepost.

As my company has delved more deeply into the Hospitality Marketing Consulting arena, I’ve been studying all of the top performers such as Ritz-Carlton whose Mantra is magnificent, “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”

It positions, provides a brand promise, anticipates behavior and is perfect. Not hard to remember either…right?

It’s no wonder they’re the Beatles of the hotel industry.

Read more about the Ritz-Carlton’s Gold Standards here!

My father started my brothers and me with family mantras when we were young.  For example, right about this time in December, he’d create a family Mantra tied in to a rhyme for the New Year – it was fun. No matter how tough or good our times were our mantra gave us focus, direction and a battle cry for the family unit.

After my father passed away, I picked up the torch with my nephew Joey. This year’s family mantra is, “It’s not if, it’s when in 2010!”

This simple statement means that all of us plan to accomplish several goals (we list them annually) we have put off achieving for one reason or another.  We know we’ll achieve them in the New Year, but we’re just not quite sure when! But, we will achieve them.

To quote the famous poet, marketing God, lead singer of the Doors and Lizard King himself, Jim Morrison

“The time to hesitate is through,
No time to wallow in the mire,
Try now we can only lose,
And our love becomes a funeral pyre.
Come on babe light my fire
Come on babe light my fire
Try to set the night on fire!

My Mantra for my BrandMill marketing consultancy is simply, “We build strong brands.”

We don’t say we’re an advertising agency because we aren’t. And, when clients ask me what we do I simply tell them, “We build strong brands.” Then when they ask me, “How?”, it gives an opportunity to provide them with the myriad of ways and examples how we’ve done it repeatedly over the years.

Set your goals for 2010, but also create an overarching simple Mantra to add focus, meaning and provide direction for your team and for you too.

“Leave your Mission Statement behind in 2009,” and Rock On!


Make a Rule to Break Stupid Rules

breaking rulesI recently went on a golf vacation with my two brothers – both celebrating a 50 and 53 birthday. Not really on a hard and fast budget, we were looking to play as many fun, attractive and challenging courses as we could in our limited time together.

In the pro shop of our second round, two elderly gentlemen casually approached us as we were about to pay.

My 50 year old brother asked to walk with a pull-cart and was told, “You can’t, it’s against the rules at this time of day.” My brother who is an ex-college football player, marathoner and in great health and just walked a course the previous day with no challenges was ticked off as was I.

Then, as we boarded our golf carts, the same guy hurriedly ran out to us as we were about to tee off on the first hole and said, “I’m adding a single golfer to your foursome.” And, when we explained again that we were on vacation together and just wanted to play by ourselves he sternly said, “Well, that’s the rules, I don’t make them, the Board does and I have to follow them.”

So, we asked for and got a refund of over $150. That day the golf course lost more than $250 because of lost food, beverage and souvenir revenue. Plus, they’ll lose more in the future, because my brother vacations in the area a few times each year and will never go back – let alone refer anyone to play there.

Our rule? You tick us off and we don’t pay you or use your services and talk badly about you to lots of people. I’m sure a lot of folks follow that rule too.

We then took off and went to another golf course a few miles away – a far better course – and walked away with better memories to boot.

Now, I’m all for rules – without them you have total chaos – however people need to be trained to offer solutions when rules don’t make sense.

The course was not crowded, it was short and flat and was an easy walk in the park. Plus, we would have paid a little extra to play by ourselves.

Also, if the golf course attendant would have been friendly to begin with (a basic greens fee these days) and took a little time getting to understand our situation – vacation, special birthdays – his common sense might have prevailed because there are always special circumstances to bend said rules.

I’d bet that if our situation was presented to the “Board” – which I’m sure will not be the case – they would have let us play as a three some and let one of us walked.

I wonder if the Board has a process on place for employees to bring improvement suggestions to the table based on customer feedback?

What crazy old rules do you still follow that prevent your front line employees from making a sale, saving a sale and creating a happy customer?

Make a new rule in 2010 to break all stupid rules!

P.S.: Here are two cool quotes to keep in mind.

“Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.” Dalai Lama

“If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.”
Katherine Hepburn

P.P.S.: Next time you’re in Florida near Bonita Springs, Naples, Ft. Myers area, play golf at Stoneybrook Golf Course. Not only is it a great Florida golf course (it’s Ft. Myers best golf course and facility), the people are super nice!


Why Southwest Airlines Rocks

southwest_airlines_logoSometimes I think marketing is a pretty easy business. Do right by your customers and they’ll do right by you – follow the Golden Rule.

One company that makes a hard business look easy and that rocks my marketing world is Southwest Airlines. Since 1999, Southwest’s domestic market share has increased by 48%, while the five network carriers have seen their combined passenger base shrink 20%. This year, Southwest will fly about 28 million more people than it did in 1999, while its rivals will fly a total of 62 million fewer passengers!

Southwest is a leader – pure and simple. They’ve been zigging while the Big 5 have been sagging for years. They start by being friendly and have built their brand around LUV.

Southwest is gaining valuable market share, even as it reduces its overall flying, by exploiting a competitive weakness at other airlines. The universal competitive weakness among all of Southwest’s competitors is the perception that they are out to “nickel and dime” passengers with fees for services that were once part of the base airfare.

southwest airlines bags fly freeSouthwest’s ‘bags fly free’ marketing strategy is pure genius and is proving to be another major success for them. Check out this story from the Chicago Tribune, Southwest landing flyers with its ‘bags fly free’ strategy.

Do like it when companies ding you for every little thing?

Do you ding people with your pricing?

Recently, I flew Southwest to Florida for a little golf vacation with my brothers and even my golf bag was checked in for free. Plus, the smiling, friendly faces and natural customer rapport they provide was pervasive throughout my experience – from service counter to stewards to pilots. It was a great experience.

BP 1.00 airAnd, as I thought about this Blog post and my favorable Southwest customer experience of saving at least $100 with their ‘bags fly free‘ policy, I thought about my BP gas station experience earlier in the day. BP charged me $1.00 to put air in my tires (see copy in bottom right corner)! Make that two tires – my dollar didn’t last long enough to top off the air for all four tires.

So, here’s the $24,000 question.

Do you ever hear of anyone raving about their recent experience at a BP gas station?

Didn’t think so!

P.S.: Check out how well Southwest’s stock price has outperformed BP’s stock price over the last 10 years! It’s obvious Southwest is a marketing rock star!