Friday, October 30, 2009

Is Marketing Gobbledygook Destroying Your Brand?

How Hafner Vineyard avoids the trap and builds a brand that pops.

I spend a lot of time in this blog talking about the use of Internet technologies to build brand image and sell products, particularly for smaller businesses. David Meerman Scott recently wrote a blog article about technology marketers’ use of stock photos of people – you know, those indistinguishable photos of too-beautiful-to-be-true people.

For me, the article raised an important question: is marketing gobbledygook destroying your brand?

Do you find yourself copying words, pictures and graphics that make you look and sound like your competitors? If so, it dilutes the distinctiveness of your brand. In today’s cut-and-paste society, technology makes it all too easy for marketers to fall into the marketing gobbledygook trap – and many do.

Not Hafner Vineyard.

Hafner Vineyard is a small, family-run vineyard in the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. It makes wonderful Chardonnays and Cabernets. You can get their wines if you dine in dozens of restaurants in California, or by ordering it from the vineyard. That’s it.

I was introduced to Hafner a few years ago, when I received a direct-mail piece from the company. I am a wine-lover, so I assume that they bought my name from one of the many wine and travel publications that I subscribe to.

Regardless, the direct-mail piece was so beautifully designed, written and produced that it immediately drew me into the winery. It appealed to me as a wine-drinker who is always looking for new wines and wine-drinking experiences. I bought. And I bought. And I bought for clients at Christmas. The products are wonderful, and I have become a raving fan. As have my clients, who all asked: “where did you find this wine?” (It found me and made me love it, like all great marketing.)

Hafner recently published a new web site, and their brand just pops off the page. Like that first direct-mail piece, the web site makes me feel like I am at the winery. It brings me into how they make the wine, who makes the wine (no stock photos or self-consciously hip bios here), and how to buy the wine.

Hafner is notable because of how it uses technology. And sometimes less is more.

When I placed my first order, I received a personal confirmation phone call from the head of marketing, Scott Hafner. I always know when my standing order will arrive because I receive a postcard (how low-tech but reassuring – a person sent this!) When I placed my Christmas-gift order, I received a confirming call from one of Scott’s colleagues to review the information.

Shipments usually include a little gift – some hand-drawn postcards of the winery, or some permanent corks for resealing wine. When you buy something from Hafner, you can always speak with a person if you want. (And, when I posted a comment about Hafner wines on a New York Times article, Scott recognized my name and called me again.) I have an open invitation to visit, as I am reminded on occasional postcards. I am, for sure, not their biggest customer, but they always make me feel as if I were their most important customer.

Granted, some of these processes may not be scalable for a larger business. But it’s the thought that counts. Hafner’s marketing works because it is 100% empathetic: Scott and his family put themselves in the customer’s shoes, and use marketing – high-tech and low-tech – to create a 100% marketing experience. Larger businesses can achieve this by using technology creatively: just think about Zappos - another favorite of mine.

The trick is to let your brand values rule, not the technology or “popular” marketing practices.