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3 brand lessons I learned from San Francisco

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This past Memorial Day weekend my wife and I spent five lovely days in downtown San Francisco. We played the part of inquisitive tourists walking the city and exploring local haunts as well as the typical tourist traps. We even found our way north of the city for some wine tasting one day. All thanks to a number of outstanding recommendations from people who commented on this post a while back (as well as a number of others who gave me tips along the way).

The purpose of this trip was to unplug—we didn’t check our phones or email at all (OK, minimally). But, that doesn’t necessarily mean my wheels stopped spinning.

During our visit, we experienced a number of brands firsthand—whether it was product-based (chocolate, wine, food) or experiences. And, like most other PR/marketing-types, I’m constantly evaluating those products, experiences and how they position themselves in the marketplace.

While many of the brands we encountered did little to separate themselves in my mind, three stood out as those unique enough to jar my memory on the plane ride home. And, in my mind, that’s half the battle (it’s not easy cutting through the clutter these days).

But, they all jogged my memory for different reasons. There was something different I learned from each one of them.

Mama’s creates excessive demand. One of San Francisco’s finest breakfast spots, we heard about Mama’s from a few people. What makes Mama’s memorable was the food. Plain and simple. Home-baked breads, savory omelettes and some of the best cinnamon French Toast I’ve ever had. But, what made them unique was something that usually would be part of a painful experience: A line (see photo at left). Not just any line, a line around the corner. And, keep in mind, I’m told it’s about the same length all day long (hour wait, minimum). I’m quite sure at some point Mama’s could have expanded. Their current digs are tiny. But, they didn’t. They created excessive demand (remember the line?). And, they reap the rewards every day. The food doesn’t suffer because they stay small and true to their vision. And, the customer keep coming back. Again and again. The lesson for brands: Stay true to your core value proposition. Resist the urge to branch off into areas where your competitors linger and focus on what you do best.

Roli Roti Sandwich cart focuses on the details. We all have our favorite sandwiches. Mine is the Evana at our local deli (Cecils) in Highland Park. That was, until I visited the Roli Roti Sandwich cart at the San Francisco farmer’s market this past weekend. Run by chef Thomas Odermatt, Roli Roti is the country’s first and finest mobile rotisserie serving sustainbly-farmed meats and organic produce. And, their crown jewel at the farmer’s market in San Fran: The porchetta sandwich. It’s quite simply the best pork sandwich you’ll ever taste. And they do it by focusing all their energy on the details. Homemade marmalade. Organic, fresh greens. The chef personally carving each piece of pork off the roaster. And, his assistant sponging up the savory tastes from the cutting block itself with sourdough bread. Mouth watering yet? The lesson for brands: Sweat the details. Every time. Even when it seems tough. It’s worth it to your customers.

Sonoma wineries foster the complete experience. We visited five wineries in our half-day in Sonoma (yeah, we moved quickly). And, it was very interesting to note how each winery handled the customer experience of visiting their estate. Some created lavish grounds with massive structures designed to handle weddings and other large gatherings. While others went small-town and hosted visitors in barns and small sheds. But only one really produced what I felt was the de facto Sonoma winery experience: Gundlach Bundschu. But, you know what made their experience unique? The people. They had 5-7 different people serving wine to people at a small bar that could accomodate about 15 folks (other wineries had 1-2 people tops–at least the ones we visited). Personal service. Our particular wine expert told us stories about the winery, potential pairings with each wine and even made us chuckle a few times. Her passion for wine and the winery made all the difference. The lesson for brands: Put the people that are passionate about your product or services in direct line of site with your customers–and turn them loose. Could be your marketing folks. In other cases, it might be customer service. Heck, it might b your CEO. Whoever it is, let them shine. And give them many opportunities to talk directly with your customers because it will impact their experience with your brand.

Note: San Francisco photo courtesy of Patrick Smith Photography via FlickR Creative Commons.

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3 brand lessons I learned from San Francisco

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