Category Archives: Brand Management

Estes Park: a Resort with an Inferiority Complex

As you probably know if you’ve been here before, I’m a member of the BrandingWire posse, one of twelve branding bloggers who monthly tackle a common branding subject.

This month that subject is branding a resort destination, specifically, Estes Park Colorado. You’ll find a branding brief we all worked from at

Estes Park has an inferiority complex.

Situated at the east entrances of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Estes Park appears to want to be known for that and nothing more. It’s image is subservient to RMNP and it accepts that role. On the official website, there are great photos of RMNP, but not one good photo of the town itself.

Estes Park logo

Residents of the area apologize for the town’s gift and souvenir shops and the congestion of its main street. And although everyone knows taxes are reasonable only because of the tourist traffic, most of the better educated, retired segment of the community would rather there be no expansion or the hurly burly of a summer tourist season.

Even the long-standing tagline is deflective: “Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park”. (You go through a gateway, you don’t spend a week there.)

As stated in the branding brief, Estes Park requires a larger tax base and cash flow to maintain traditional town services and to promote Estes Park as a desirable place to vacation.

The Town of Estes Park itself is responsible for funding and managing promotional activities, and they certainly are doing a great job in distributing literature to anyone who asks. They also run several modest ad campaigns as well. The town just completed a new convention and visitors center, a concert venue and a new website – They are instigating shuttle buses to get visitors from the motel areas into downtown this summer.

In order to achieve their financial goals, I suggest FOCUS.

An unfocused Brand Is Confusing

And Confused Prospects Don’t Become Customers.

I believe the solution is market segmentation.

There are several market segments to choose from, and several that need minimum “maintenance”. The day-trippers and RV nomads will come through as they have ever since the automobile became common. The small group of summer residents with second homes in the Estes valley, and families who habitually rent cabins by the week, will continue to come.

Scenes of Estes Park and RMNP 

I suggest focusing on two specialized groups: conference and meeting organizers and tour organizers. Though both segments are very competitive, Estes Park can be differentiated to appeal to these organizers and their clientele. There are two advantages for Estes Park: 1) extending the season into the fall and spring, and 2) welcoming people predisposed to spending money – some expense account derived – over a three-five day period.

It Takes a Village 

I’d work with facilities – the YMCA of the Rockies, The Stanley Hotel, the more up-scale restaurants and motels – to provide the infrastructure for such groups. I’d make sure there was entertainment and activities available for non-meeting times, even during off-season. I’d encourage attendees to spend by offering coupons and discounts for attractions.

But most of all, I’d want the stakeholders of the town, residents and merchants alike, to buy in. In other words, do an internal branding program. Help make each stakeholder an ambassador and evangelist to visitors.

The Brand, Estes Park, starts with the scenery and wildlife, and continues through the activities and events people experience. But the thing that will encourage folks to return to Estes with their families, and to talk up their Estes Park experience to others back home, is the overall feeling that they were welcome and that the people of Estes Park wanted them to return. That emanates from gracious and hospitable people whose honest desire is to help visitors enjoy their experience.

Also, for all market segments, I’d attempt to change the way Estes is thought of as a place to stop for a night or two and then venture on. I’d want to implant the idea that Estes Park is the only place you need to go to enjoy a vacation of a lifetime. That Estes provides all the activities and events that any and all family members will find enjoyable and memorable.

Think of Estes Park as a Destination Instead of a Gateway

So instead of branding Estes Park as “The Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park”, I’d go with the idea of “Awesome in So Many Ways”, or “Estes Park: It’s a Happening”. Then I’d make sure the Estes Park website and promotional literature reflected the variety of an Estes Park experience.

As it now stands, the website is static. I’d place plenty of videos on it. Panorama sweeps, wildlife sequences, downtown walk-abouts, concert and horse show performances. I’d show people enjoying Indian crafts, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, snow-shoeing, golfing. I’d do views from the aerial tramway.

I’d video kids splashing in a pool, riding a train, playing miniature golf, etc., etc.. Also, I’d set aside a section of the website for travel agents and tour organizers, together with programs to get them to do tours TO Estes. I’d have another web section for meeting and conference planners.

Then I’d hire a staff to coordinate these activities.

These suggestions do mean synchronizing and focusing the town’s thinking. Instead of attempting to be everything for everyone, in means singling out certain lucrative market segments and concentrating efforts there. And those efforts mean not only promotional materials and tactics. It starts with the mindset of the town’s influentials, then spreading that evangelistic message to every resident, every merchant, every tour and meeting organizer, every travel agent. And finally, by demonstrating the message to visitors, you allow them to carry the message back home: “Estes Park is the only place you need to go to experience a vacation you’ll remember forever”.

Estes Park: Focus and follow through. Focus and fulfill your promise to visitors. Focus and thrive.

Now that you’ve read my blog, you can read what the other posse members have to say about branding Estes Park. Just go to, or look up individual blogs from the BrandingWire listing in the right column.

Martin Jelsema


Unconscious Brand Building

I’ll wager there aren’t many readers of this blog who have ever heard of North American Manufacturing.

But I believe they’re one of the best-branded companies going.

They’re a very successful old-line provider of combustion components and systems for industrial applications.

I think they’ve gone about establishing a brand in the business-to-business sector that serves as an example all of us might attempt to achieve.

I first learned of North American Manufacturing while working as new product marketing manager for Coors Ceramics. (Many don’t know that Coors founded this business before WWI to supply bottle stoppers for their beer, and then chemical porcelain equipment when war with the Germans become imminent. Until Coors began making these vessels, Germany was our prime source for these vital lab tools.)

Anyway, I was asked to explore joint developmental partnerships with combustion-related companies to test a high-temperature industrial ceramic heat exchanger for industrial furnaces and kilns back in the late 1970’s.

Since Coors was a customer of burner manufacturers for their kilns, our R & D people were very familiar with combustion component suppliers. They suggested I first talk to North American Manufacturing.

I made a trip back to their headquarters in Cleveland. Their plant was old, undistinguished. Inside, their offices were sparsely furnished with old wooden desks and book cases filled with all sorts of data associated with combustion. I met with their marketing people and their product development staff. Almost to a man (no women in executive positions in those days) these people were engineers. They carried slide rules, wore ties and short-sleeved shirts and brought their lunch boxes to work.

North American Manufacturing logo

I found out later that every individual I met had written articles, book chapters, standards documents and white papers about combustion. They were experts. And more, they were passionate about combustion.

Because of these individuals, and those who came before, the company had established itself as the leader for combustion-related equipment

They had actually written the Combustion Handbook for Industrial Applications. Whenever combustion people gathered for technical symposiums or conventions, North American Manufacturing engineers participated on the panels. Almost single-handedly, North American Manufacturing had written the ASME standards for combustion.

What was more, these engineers were always available for one-on-one consultations with customers and prospects. They didn’t consider themselves to be “marketing” or “sales” people; they were just advisors for their customers’ combustion solutions.

Most innovations in burners, insulations, etc., were developed by North American Manufacturing.

They still dominate the combustion equipment industry. With worldwide distribution, and with the decline of “rust belt” industry in the U.S., North American Manufacturing has adapted.

I may be presumptuous, but I doubt while building their brand anyone within the company had consciously thought about branding. They just wanted to be the best at what they did.

So what can we all learn from this example? I’ve identified seven strategies that I believe have contributed to their leadership:

  • Find and develop employees passionate about your company, your products and your customers.
  • Be active in your industry’s development through standards committees, trade associations, seminars, workshops and publications.
  • Actively innovate new products and product improvements.
  • Provide innovative and dedicated services to install, maintain and troubleshoot customer applications.
  • Stick to what you know best and do best.
  • Practice patience and look to long-term growth.
  • Finally, associate with major engineering schools to further the science and engineering of your product category, and to develop preference among students in the field.

Is business-to-business branding any different from consumer product branding? I think there are major differences, and this example from the combustion industry demonstrates several of them.

Martin Jelsema

Can a company “own” green?

If you’re following this blog, you know I initiated a series of blogs about color in branding.

Now, color has made the business section of the Denver Post.

Al Lewis of the Denver Post ( has written about an upcoming case which should interest everyone involved in branding.

It seems that the giant lawn and garden products company, Scotts Miracle-Gro doesn’t want a competitor to use green in their trade dress. They’re suing TerraCycle to cease and desist from using green and yellow in their packaging and “confusing the market” with similar packaging to Miracle-Gro.

The packaging is not at all similar to my eyes.

I’d download pictures of the respective packages and put them side-by-side except the TerraCycle has used a “gimmick” to demonstrate their environmentally-friendly packaging – used, recycled plastic pop bottles – and they show it’s origin by morphing the TerrCycle label into a pop bottle as you “mouse over”. Anyway, here are the corporate urls of each so you can make your own comparisons.

The point is there is no similarity in type, design, shape or name of the competing products. The only similarity is the color combinations. So can Scotts “own” those generic colors. I’m pretty sure the Pantone numbers are not identical, and they aren’t used in the same proportions.

Now to be as forthcoming as I can, there’s another issue in Scott’s suite – they take issue with the TerraCycle claim that their Worm Poop (yes, that’s what they call their product, probably because of its main ingredient) is superior to the “leading synthetic plant food”. That’s another debate.

Al quotes Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, who thinks “this is more about the fact that we’re taking shelf space at Home Depot and Wal-Mart…than customer confusion”.

I agree. So does a trademark expert and law professor Wendy Seltzer who Al quotes as saying, “No one is allowed to monopolize necessary colors.”  She contributes to an informative intellectual properties blog branders should find valuable at

Although the article didn’t define “necessary colors”, I suspect that means primary, secondary and tertiary colors; the web-safe colors of the internet and the pms colors of the Pantone palettes.

I’ll just bet the packaging issue between TerraCycle and Scotts will never come to trial. At least I hope not.

Martin Jelsema

An early branding mistake by duPont

In the early 1960’s, I was a participant in one of the classic branding failures of the era. No, not Edsel. Not nearly as glamorous or as expensive as that one, but equally embarrassing to the brand owner, duPont.

The brand was Telar, the never-drain anti-freeze. I was an assistant account exec on that account while at BBDO. Here’s the story.

For many years the sale of anti-freeze was falling. Why? Because the “new and improved” anti-freezes of the day, and especially the Prestone brand, kept getting better. People discovered they needn’t drain their anti-freeze every spring even though the “experts” and the anti-freeze companies admonished everyone to do so unless they wanted their radiators to rust out.

Dow Chemical developed a new product they called Dowguard, a full-fill anti-freeze. It contained distilled, corrosion-retarding water and anti-freeze mix. Folks had to completely drain their cooling systems and fill it completely with Dowguard and they were told they wouldn’t ever need to drain and refill their cooling systems again.

This worried duPont, and so they developed and introduced Telar.

Now they’d done some research concerning sales of anti-freeze. They found that about 35-percent of respondents did not drain their anti-freeze annually. Another 30-percent drained their own.

Remember, this was circa 1960. Discount stores were just becoming popular. This was a trend anticipating Pep Boys, Checker and NAPA toward do-it-yourself auto servicing.   “Traditional” outlets like service stations, garages and auto dealerships were feeling the pinch.

duPont had a strong relationship with the auto servicing industry. Their entire distribution system for all their automotive products was as strong as any in the industry. Their relationships were very tight and DuPont thought the best way to market Telar was through this strong network and not through discounters and chains. So they only sold through their traditional chain and advertised as such, both to consumers and to the trade. And to make the deal even juicier for dealers, DuPont priced Telar at about 30-percent higher than their regular Zerex anti-freeze.

But dealers, knowing this was a “never-drain” product, feared they would lose sales (especially from the 35-percent who were still visiting their facilities to have radiators drained yearly). So they weren’t enthusiastic partners, stocking only token amounts of Telar, not promoting it and only installing it if customers asked them to.

Consumers who came in asking about Telar (the ones who rely on their mechanic’s advice) were not getting really enthusiastic endorsements. Thus, because of no dealer support and a product that flew in the face of many years of tradition (drain every year), Telar failed.

What duPont  had not considered were industry trends and consumer behavior. There was some arrogance involved. Mighty duPont, management thought, could buck the trends toward discounters and maintain a viable network of servicing dealers. Based on past innovations, they believed consumers would embrace any new product from the duPont labs, even if priced above comparable performing products.

The moral: be sure to scan and interpret industry trends and consumer behavior before branding new products.

That is why I encourage branders to build a branding platform with one of those planks being industry/product category trends, and another being complete descriptions of market segments and supply chain participants, and the factors that motivate members of those groups.

Quite often these planks are overlooked by smaller organizations because of research costs and the time it takes to gather critical information.

But I believe it’s just as essential to the success of a brand as positioning the product or creating the brand’s identity.

Martin Jelsema

Colorful Branding – Number 1 in a series

Without doubt, color is a vital element of branding. Except for a powerful brand name, color is the most important branding element, in my opinion, because of the emotional power of color.

Color invokes associations and set moods. It may be a “subliminal” element in that most people will not consciously be aware of a brand’s color(s) or the associations it evokes. In fact, unless a color is absolutely prominent (and may even have the color’s name in the brand name – GreenThumb, Selsun Blue), most people could not name a color associated with a brand unless its been around for years – think Kodak, Scott’s, Tide and UPS.

The emotions elicited from colors can be greatly influenced by the context in which it appears. For example, green is the color of money and suitable for financial service businesses. But it is also the color of trees, lawns and shrubs so environmentally-conscious brands will probably opt for green. Green is also associated with “green light”, “green horn”, Kermit the Frog and a Jolly Green Giant.

Then, too, colors may signify different associations in different cultures. For the Japanese, white is associated with death, whereas in Western culture it stands for purity and beginnings. Care in selecting colors for a global brand is almost as important as selecting a brand name that “translates positively”.

HGB color wheel

Another factor: most brands have multi-colored visages. So what happens when two colors tend to “contradict” each other? What affect does the FedEx  purple and orange have on target audiences, if any? Just another factor to consider when establishing the elements of your brand.

Then there are other ways to combine and contrast colors based on color theory and the color wheel. These techniques will provide cohesion, harmony, vitality, tension, serenity, and any number of other reactions to  the brand.

So this series will tackle color. I’ll start with blogs about each of the major colors, then speak to color combinations and then to color theory as it pertains to branding.

So please keep coming back to explore colorful branding facts, ideas and opinions, and please let me hear from you about your experiences with color in branding.

A new definition of branding.

Here’s a little different definition of branding. Branding is establishing a two-way relationship by matching your needs to your company core competencies with the needs of specific, selected market segments.

The emphasis is building a two-sided relationship. It’s knowing your prospects and their needs, both physical and emotional needs. It’s fulfilling those needs and helping them achieve their desires.

By finding those segments that you can serve better than your competitors can is the first step in establishing your brand.

The elements of the brand (name, logo, tagline, package design, etc.) and its associations (spokespersons, alliances, media selection, etc.) can be deliberately and specifically tailored once you match segments to competencies.

Now you have a strong foundation for a brand. Segments and competencies are two of six planks I’ve identified as essential in building a brand platform. (The others are positioning/differentiation, analysis of industry and product category, analysis of competitive SWOT, and brand hierarchy.)

But most essential in developing a power brand is the match of market to your strengths so that both company and customer benefit.

Martin Jelsema

Think networks, not markets, when building a power brand

From a branding perspective, I’ve come to appreciate a potent comment by Scott Degraffenreid, author of Embracing the Nude Model – The Art and Science of Referral Marketing. In a conversation several months ago, he suggested we think about networks rather than markets.

No one says, “I’m a member of the market for pink, hip-hop-toned cell phones”, but they’ll passionately admit to being part of a MySpace community of teen-aged girls who adore Eminem. Networks have common interests and might even have an agenda. They are populated by like-minded and like-motivated individuals. Some “reside” on the Internet and some are locally connected.So our goal in branding and marketing is to become part of selected, relevant networks. Don’t try to “manage” those networks or even manipulate them. Just relate in positive ways. Contribute meaningfully to them. Support them in their common quests to achieve whatever the network represents.

Once members “resonate” with you, once they see your goals are their goals, you build trust, and for some, an obligation to do business with you.

For larger companies with national or global distribution and traditional infrastructures, this will be a significant paradigm shift; one that most will not make even if they so desired. Too much baggage. Too many “old school” practitioners. Too few visionaries.

But small organizations, particularly those oriented to local markets, can surely benefit from thinking in terms of networks. Individual entrepreneurs and franchise operators could certainly embrace marketing to networks.

Here’s an example. If I were a dry cleaner with shops throughout a metro area, I might approach schools about helping to raise money for band uniforms or to finance a bowl trip. If I both contributed to those funds and made my shops collection centers, I’d gain recognition and appreciation. I might even clean uniforms for half-price and clean flags and banners for free. I’d not only gain appreciation from band members and their families, I’d probably get their regular cleaning business as well.

The idea of branding on the Internet takes on greater significance if you wish to explore Web2 and the implications for social networking. Here the possibilities become almost limitless. I’ll be blogging about this phenomenon and how it could affect your branding process in the coming weeks.

Martin Jelsema


Branding on the Internet

I’ve blogged about how direct response marketers often disdain branding, believing it is not necessary.

To them, the offer is king. Make an enticing offer and back it up with benefits, testimonials bonuses and a great guarantee. Then get that package into the hands of a targeted list of known buyers of similar products and you have the making of a direct response empire.

Thousands of folks are attempting this very formula on the Internet today, and a few are making a darn good living with it. There’s one more aspect to the business model. It’s called the “back end”. That’s where they attempt to sell their first-time customers more related stuff as often as you can. That usually means until the customer get sick and tired of more offers hyping more mediocre ebooks and study courses and they cancel their email association with the marketer.

As a somewhat skeptical student of their methods, I’ve been deluged with email notices, newsletters, RRS feeds and “viral” give-aways promoting these products. And though almost to a person they will tell you they are building relationships with their customers, these “marketers” are really only selling whatever they believe they can foist upon their customer base before those customers become non-customers.

Their concept of building relationships is starting their email with…”Hi Martin, I hope your day is going well. I think the offer below will double your income in a month. Learn the secrets and earn big bucks with this new…” Gag!

But I think things are changing.

Several Internet marketing “gurus” seem to have retrenched and have reconsidered the value of branding as a tool for building and maintaining relationships.

Rich Schefren, one of the most astute Internet coaches around, has been preaching for over a year that Internet marketers need to quit being opportunists. If an Internet marketer is to be more than a “freelance gunslinger”, he/she must build a business that stands for something their customers desire. And branding is one of the major tools to do that through recognition of market needs and desires, company core values attuned to those desires, and a desire and presentation that reflect both. An on-line brand needs to be as strong, as consistent, as unique as a brand for a glass-and-mortar business. 

Now another voice is being heard. Ben Mack, a veteran brand planner with several large ad agencies, has written Think Two Products Ahead. Though not primarily directed at Internet marketers, he launched the book to Internet marketers using some of their favorite devices and methods. Ben deplores the lack of appreciation of branding by small companies. He advocates determining what he calls “brand essence”, which is similar to the “intersection” of “company strengths” and “what customers value” presented by LePla and Parker in their really practical book, Integrated Branding.

Ben describes a process that small businesses, including Internet marketers, can use to develop a brand. It’s practical and fairly easy for a business person to do because Ben has made it his goal to “take the mystery out of branding”.

So for those Internet marketers reading this blog, I suggest paying some attention to establishing long-ranging relationships with your customers through the simple idea of matching your core competencies with customer needs and desires, and do it consistently through branding.

Martin Jelsema