From virtual and augmented reality to interactive kiosks and beyond, technology has impacted every facet of our lives. The emergence of these platforms present an opportunity for brands to create immersive experiences for consumers. James Giglio and the team at MVP Interactive are leading the way in tech-driven brand experiences. In this episode, James provides his insight into the way technology is changing these brand interactions and how it enables deeper connection with consumers. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!
James Giglio: This idea of consumer engagement and levering alternative methods to connect with an individual as a brand, it just makes sense.
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone had a terrific holiday of football, and gluttony, and family, and we were dark last week given some deadlines as well as some time off, but we are back with a vengeance and we’re proud to bring you an interview with James Giglio, who is the founder and CEO of MVP Interactive. It’s a great entrepreneurial story, but also a glimpse into the world of consumer engagement.
They call themselves the consumer engagement technology company, but what that means, at least today, is bringing really interactive and fun experiences to sports and other special event venues on behalf of brands. So, that’s Bud Light, that’s a Budweiser, that’s Coca-Cola, Cox Communications, other leading consumer facing brands and whether that’s at a sports venue, like a ballpark or an entertainment venue, MVP Interactive is a pioneer in bringing forth these experiences that really engage and activate consumer interest and connection. Enjoy hearing from James.
Bill: Welcome James Giglio. Did I get that right?
Bill: Nice. You were coaching me. James is the founder and CEO of MVP Interactive. He is with us here at Finch Brands Global HQ. James, we’re honored to have you and thanks for your time.
James: My pleasure. I’m happy to be here.
Bill: As we typically start, I think the folks on the other end of this would really enjoy hearing about your backstory and your journey up to building this really, really interesting company, which we’ll certainly get into, but tell us a bit about the about your journey.
James: Sure. Well, despite where we are today I had an early career in finance. In particular it was real estate finance and trading mortgage backed securities for independent small investment firms up in the New York area. I felt that I have always had … Well, each position was always either managerial role of business development and I think, like most people are, some people kind of go through their journey – you fall into the box, you graduate college and you kind of go through your ranks and what have you – but I always felt that I was pretty good at what I did in terms of connecting with who our end clients were and all of that good stuff.
I had a career trading mortgage backed securities. Right around, I think history tells this story pretty well, but mid 2000s I was starting to field calls from the Goldman Sachs of the world asking me well, a little James Giglio, my opinion on what the market was doing and I thought that was a pretty … I mean, it was fascinating when Goldman Sachs is asking you the questions. I think that kind of … lead you to a head space-
Bill: It’s like when your doctor says, “So what do you think about this?”
James: That’s right. Exactly. To use the term that I’ve told people in the past is it was at that moment that I felt that I needed to get off the beach before the tsunami hit. I started to explore some other creative outlets. I always felt, on top of my business development and/or managerial experience, I always felt a need for some level of creativity and finance is not exactly the industry that allows for that. So, I completely made a career change into the advertising world. I was like a fourth or fifth employee of a very small boutique out of home advertising agency in New York.
I did that for a few years, but what I started to see there was the absolute or the pre-trend, if you will, the need for technology and using that as a conduit to consumer engagement. I started to see some interest in the early 2000s, mid 2000s, mobile apps, the iPhone, all of that good stuff where brands really saw the phone as a medium of communication, the way traditional advertisement is, like the TV.
It was there that I realized the company was doing it wrong and they weren’t really taking advantage of the opportunity. I was actually down in Tampa with my now business partner, who is our CTO, Anthony DiPrizio at MVP Interactive.
We were on an ad pitch together and I pretty much pitched him this idea and said, “Listen, I think we really need to productize this technology and really create a conduit to connection using technology.” And we’re talking facial recognition and gesture, all the popular technology that has happened since then. Snapchat probably wasn’t an even a thought at that timeframe. So, on that note I’m digressing a little bit, but we, despite using the very similar filter facial recognition technology, we’ve been doing that on a kiosk much longer than Snapchat on an app. It’s bittersweet.
Bill: You should go public.
James: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. We didn’t go mobile at first, but in any event, I felt targeting the sports venues and sports community was a perfect piece of real estate to not take advantage. To really leverage a fan’s passion for the brand infinities that they’re following – whether it’s the team and the brands associated and sponsors with that team.
But I couldn’t build the technology on my own, obviously. Working with Anthony for about four or five years at the agency I knew that we had a skillset and capability to really produce these pieces of equipment, if you will, and this technology.
We had our meeting and then while we were in Tampa I realized, “Why don’t I just take advantage of this time? There’s three sports properties here.” I cold called each of them and the Tampa Bay Rays took my call. We went in there, full disclosure, working for another company, pitching MVP Interactive.
We didn’t have a name, obviously. We didn’t have a product, but we had a vision. So, I pretty much sold the vision to the CMO of the Ray’s and his response was, “This is exactly what we’re trying to figure out, creating more of an in-venue experience. We want to have this engagement and theme park environment and technology like this sounds really amazing.”
I use that as pretty much my first piece of discovery and I would say that was in February of 2012, February or March. I spent a couple more months doing some research and in May 2012 I launched MVP Interactive. I did it.
Bill: Starting with two or one and the half or when you made the jump or-
James: It was me and a desk. That’s how I always tell the story. Anthony, unfortunately at the time, he was unable to take the leap and he wanted to work through his contract and whatnot with the agency. I just took the plunge and at that time wrote a business plan and got the first website up and running and started my outreach.
We spent a solid six months prototyping our first product, which is called the morphing station. I was mentioning it earlier, it’s basically now, for most people that understand this, it’s a Snapchat kiosk, but we were a bit of ahead of the curve in what we were doing there. But we were using the same technologies where facial recognition, gesture input and multi-touch screens and what have you.
We had a very rudimentary, sorry for the pun, but MVP, the minimal viable product, in our prototype. I still don’t know how or why, but the executive … What was his title at the time? He was the executive global marketing vice president or something along those lines for the NBA, took our meeting. So I pitched him and he said, “There’s something here, but I’m going to pass you over to my team.”
He made an introduction to some of the other marketing folks at the NBA and they said, “Listen, this sounds great. We don’t know you. We know you’re a startup. We’re not going to pay you, but if you’re able to take your equipment out to the All-Star Game in Houston we’ll give you space on the floor.”
The NBA does a great job with producing fan events. Yeah, it’s called the Jam Session and it’s literally like 24 hours for three days straight and it is a casino-like experience. We weren’t on the directory. We didn’t have an icon on the map, nothing, but what we did benefit from was being positioned right next to the autograph stage.
Bill: Oh, that’s cool.
James: As your Hakeem Olajuwon’s, your Yao Ming’s were getting ready for their signatures and autographs and all of that, folks had to walk past our machine. By the end of the event we registered thousands and thousands of users. Our social impression amplification reached higher than what the NBA was promoting. It was an amazing case study and we were able to literally sign two clients on the trading floor right there. BBVA Compass, which is the league sponsor bank and the Houston Dynamo, which is their MLS team.
That’s really what launched our company. It was great validation and no better feeling than risking it. We didn’t have much money in the bank when we went there, but we came back with a six-figure contract.
Bill: That’s terrific. Fast forwarding to where we are today, I know there’s offices here in Philadelphia as well as in New York and maybe even beyond. How many folks do you all have?
James: We’re a full-time staff of 10 and then we have a bunch of developers based on project flows that we call to from time to time. So, we’re headquartered, as you mentioned, here. We do have a presence in Manhattan. It provides a nice show room on Fifth Avenue and we just opened up our West Coast office via WeWork, which is awesome model. We have a West Coast presence as well so we’re able to really extend our reach that way.
Bill: MVP stands for a lot of things, but in at least in company parlance, it seems to be motion, virtual, play. Obviously, the sports connection. The minimal viable product early. Just looking at some of these case studies, I mean, aside from the fact that many of these teams I detest, like the Redskins and the Yankees.
James: We love all our clients.
Bill: Of course! There’s quite a range of utilizations, there’s quite a range of leagues and brand properties. What is the value to brands? You talked a little bit about what the NBA might have been looking for at the time, but of this kind of immersive on-site, what is the pitch to the brand owners for the impact of this?
James: I think it’s a perfect time in marketing right now because consumer engagement is such a focal point and I think what brands are starting to realize through the use of technology, not only ours, but just our general day-to-day technology that we use as human beings and consumers, is moving away from traditional forms of media, like your television commercials, like your billboards, where traditionally that’s what you had and there was KPM’s and there was research based on that, but where our society is moving towards and marketing to millennial provides a perfect opportunity for experiences.
Each client’s vary. Some look for put through rates and we need to churn these users in 30 seconds or 60 seconds or what have you. Other clients look for email addresses and user information. Other clients don’t care about that and when they say, “You know what, we just want our brand associated to this awesome experience. I think the global brands like Anheuser-Busch’s, your Coca-Cola’s of the world are moving away from their traditional signage model of advertisements where just slapping their logos all over the place right into, “Hey, let’s take advantage of our presence and our product at a music festival, at a sports stadium, at a tent-pole event, at a lifestyle theme park.” So on and so forth, where it feels less intrusive.
I think generationally, I think the younger generations and millennials and what have you, they’re more averse to traditional forms of advertisement, and listen, advertising is not going to go away, we all know that, right?
Bill: No, of course not.
James: But it’s how you remove the pop-up ad experience of advertising that really bodes well for us in creating these experiences.
Bill: Right. It looks like, just looking at some of the greatest hits here and they’re really awesome, there’s a couple different models here. You mentioned what Tampa Bay was trying to do back in the day with the Ray’s making a live event experience interactive and fun and different to increase presumably the value of a ticket and of an experience and the connection, everything else. Then you see brands like you did the Bud Light social lounge with the Redskins this past year, this is a way for a corporate brand to express their values through something that’s fun and in-person. You can easily see why this connects.
James: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a phenomenal case study because from a brand message standpoint, you’re Bud Light, you want to sell beer, right? That’s your goal, but you’re not going to sell beer by having a sign on the concourse.
Bill: Reminding someone that you’re available.
James: You’re available, but how you’re going to sell beer is to create a destination point and you’re going to have engagement, you’re going to have people loitering in a particular area. Oh by the way, here’s a bar and a cooler that you can enjoy a beverage while you’re interacting with virtual reality.
We’re doing all of that great stuff. It’s a phenomenal case study and, again, I think Anheuser-Busch is ahead of the curve in terms of brands creating these 4D experiences.
Bill: Right. We know that technology marches on to your point and I’m sure it’s, even it’s 2012, it’s transformed itself completely. Lot of ink and pixels being spent talking about the potential of VR and AR, virtual reality and augmented reality. What are you seeing or projecting or envisioning when it comes to how what you do becomes even more?
James: Yeah, yeah. Well, I guess my industry input on where I think AR and VR is going. I think despite VR being a little bit more I guess earlier released I think AR is far more scalable and it’s going to be a lot more pervasive in our everyday lifestyle than VR at this point. I think through the advent of Apple’s ARKit it’s going provide developers like us a host of opportunities and engagement points. I think the success of Pokemon Go is a clear indication of how scalable AR can be and how well it can work seamlessly into your day-to-day.
VR, despite our production capabilities and we love doing VR and producing, it’s still very much feels like the Betamax machine or the VCR where it’s a race to the bottom on the hardware. You’re going to see iterations of the LaserDisc, then the Blu-ray Disc. From a hardware standpoint, I think from a consumer, a residential grade consumer engagement, I think is going to be kicked out the affordability a few more years before it’s in every household. But I do think it allows for folks like us, more on the commercial side, to develop these brand experiences through VR, because it is truly a one-on-one experience that gives you access to otherwise inaccessible locations or experiences.
Bill: Well, we’ve even seen base level consumer applications in AR and VR, which happens seemingly rather quickly. Super interesting stuff and I’m sure that you and your team are licking your chops when it comes to what will be possible in the next while.
James: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. One of the things it’s funny though, because you do realize technology moves extremely fast and I think what we’re seeing is an opportunity for AR and VR interest to loop us around into other technologies that we’ve been doing for the last five years. Oh wow, we can, to your point, add all of these ingredients, so to speak, into an experience that provides this extremely unique experience for users.
Bill: Supercool. Whether it be MVP itself or just technology in general, what are some new things that we ought to keep our eyes out for in the near future, either that you can share about MVP’s up to, but just about how technology is changing in advancing the way you’re able to deliver it? What’s next?
James: I guess that’s a two-prong question. I can lend you some insight in terms of what we’re doing and what we’re looking to roll out in 2018, but I think as an industry and society, I think what Amazon is creating is really spectacular and frightening at the same time. Where this automated lifestyle, whether it’s using artificial intelligence or making your life easier through technology is fascinating to me. What concerns me on the technology end is the amount of extrapolated data for the user and this is coming from the producer side of things where I know what’s obtainable in these engagements.
Respecting personal privacy and all of that good stuff, I think, is my slight concern. But I think this is the way that it can change our lifestyle, whether it’s the Lyft’s of the world, the Amazon’s of the world and this artificial intelligence driver, if you will, that’s going to change the way we experience our day-to-day.
As far as MVP Interactive goes, we’re really excited about our media network vision and plan. What we’re looking to do is create one of the first experiential media networks in venues so it’ll be a scalable cross-country network of interactive products, inside stadiums that are going to become more and more commonplace through the game time experience.
We are in this stage of acquiring our early adopters. We’re about 10 properties in right now where we’re really flipping the model in terms of how corporate sponsorship teams have traditionally sold inventory in their stadiums. I guess that’s a lot of insider jargon, but the best way to put it is we are creating the concourse level jumbotron using all of these immersive experiences that we’re giving the teams availability to sell sponsorship onto these units.
One of the things that we’ve learned … and I’m digressing, I apologize for that. One of the things that we’ve learned over the past few years in focusing on sports is despite the billion dollar valuations, despite the million dollar contracts, properties spend very, very little on outside of grass root marketing efforts on this type of technology.
Brands absolutely love it and will spend the money and use and work with the team in a symbiotic relationship, but the team themselves really didn’t have an opportunity to make money on connecting the brands to the vendors, so to speak. We flip that model where we’re providing the property a new piece of inventory that they can sell and earn revenue off of.
So far the response has been tremendously positive. We’re excited about that. That’s what we’re up to, and again, with every technology that you have described here earlier, we’re going to encompass one singular unit that is able to produce all of that.
Bill: That’s supercool. Nice. In your role as a manager and a business builder and a brand builder in your own right, what have been some of the areas of particular focus and interest for you in building MVP Interactive?
James: I think on the human resource side the biggest … Not to discredit any MBA or the value in … Again, that was always an interest of mine, getting an MBA, but I could say over the last five years starting a business, working through all the nuance and details of all of that has been the best education I ever had in my life.
Bill: School of Hard Knocks.
James: Yeah, exactly. It sounds so cliché, but it’s really true because I can’t imagine what I’ve learned or entrepreneurs or even yourselves, working in an agency like this, that an MBA can teach you. A lot of that is the human resource element. I think what’s intrigued me the most is really valuing others that believe in the vision despite the lack of luxury or corporate benefits and things of that nature.
Being able to build a team, maintain a team and have them as equally as passionate to what we’re doing and building and seeing the long-term value in that has been a really fascinating experience for me. On that side there’s been a … I’ve just loved every minute of that.
What’s not so glamorous, trying to raise money for a startup and people poking holes through your dream and your vision and what have you and then the ups and downs of what finances look like and keeping the bootstrap, all the classic stories.
I think we’re going to get to a point … we’re very sports centric right now and I don’t think that we’re ever going to lose focus, but I do see the opportunity to build this very divisional technology company where we have that media network up top, we have a VR production studio on the seventh floor, on the sixth floor we have experiential marketing and event style productions and so mobile apps, things of that nature, because what we’re seeing now is, “Hey, you guys did this, are you able to do this?” Absolutely. If we haven’t done it before we’re going to give it a shot for sure. I think the long-term vision and where we see this going is that multi-tiered technology offering. Maybe there’s a rebrand that we can work with you guys after we move away from MVP, but yeah.
Bill: We’ll do it for 10% less…
James: There you go. There you go.
Bill: I mean, to your point, the company describes itself as a consumer engagement technology company.
James: That’s right.
Bill: That is a pretty clear blueprint for seemingly what you’re into and what you’re chasing and what you’re after. Your path is, your personal path, as you described it to us, is fascinating and full of twists and turns in decisions and tough days and great days, I’m sure. As someone who’s who reached this point, I’m sure some of our listeners are inspired by this. Any words of wisdom that you want to share that have kind of become important to who you are as a business person and a person?
James: Yeah. Well, again, I’m seeing this through an entrepreneurial lens and so I’ll have to answer it that way. Knowing that internally I always felt very entrepreneurial, but I never necessarily had the plan or a direct pathway and I don’t know many people who. I mean, there’s a handful of people, the 20-year-old success stories and all of that, but I think what I constantly tell myself and others is the moment you find your passion that is coupled with a plan you’re on the right path.
I think that, above anything else, that’s how I define MVP and what I’m doing. I’ve never been as passionate about something in my life than this, but I also had a plan. I’ve been passionate about things before, but I was a clueless or I didn’t have the plan, I didn’t have the vision.
When you can couple those two things I think you’re … And it doesn’t have to be starting your own business, but whatever your interest is, whatever you’re passionate about, if you can form a plan of action to succeed or at least go down that path I think that’s a real positive road. It won’t be easy. I’m not going to disillusion anyone with that, but to me, I wake up every day the same way that I woke up in May 2012, on the first day and I go to sleep-
James: Yeah. Right. Yeah. So, the passion is still there.
Bill: What is it about … Sorry I’m interrupting, about what it is that you’re doing that really lights you up? Obviously building the company, obviously the entrepreneurial piece, obviously the opportunity for your life and everything else, but is there a particular ingredient here that’s just supercool to you?
James: I just think it makes sense. I remember thinking back maybe in March of 2012 trying to talk myself out of this like, “This is a shitty idea. Who do you think you are? You’re not going to be able to do that.” And I couldn’t, and in a weird way I kind of make a lot of decisions that way. If I can’t talk myself out of something, because I am fairly analytical, I think, but I couldn’t talk myself out because it just made sense and it still makes sense five years later.
I think technology is … in the way brands are thinking about marketing and advertising. It still makes sense and it’s going to make sense 10 years from now. Is it going to be same technology? No, but this idea of consumer engagement and leveraging alternative methods to connect with an individual as a brand, it just makes sense.
Bill: People dying out for that. Sorry, I interrupted you. You were sharing your words of wisdom and that was one. I don’t know if there were others that you had or if that pretty much sums up your philosophy.
James: I think that really … Yeah, I mean, that really sums it up.
Bill: That’s great.
Bill: Good. James, thank you. MVP Interactive is super cool. We spend a lot of time in this space talking about what it takes to build strong and durable brands and connect with people and as part of that endeavor what you all are doing is really kind of ground level where these connections get forged like this. It’s the closest to the sun way to connect with folks and it’s super interesting I would imagine. I can just imagine given how technology is marching on, how much cooler it’s even going to get as time continues to pass.
James: Yeah. And we’re going to be challenged with keeping up with that and innovating and not really losing sight of what’s cool now isn’t necessarily going to be cool in 10 years, but there’s going to be something cool that we’re going to do.
Bill: Right, right. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time and insight and congrats on all the success so far. We’ll be watching what happens next.
James: Thank you.
Bill: Thanks to James, a supercool guy at a really cool company. We’ll be very excited to see all the new things as they happen. MVP has been fun to watch and certainly will be in the future. Three ways, as always, to give us a little bit of support here at Real-World Branding. One is let’s keep this dialogue going. Twitter is probably the best way @billgullan or @FinchBrands. We’d love to hear feedback on the shows that we’ve had, interesting topics for future guests or one big idea podcast where we talk about something in particular.
As always, we really just appreciate feedback and back and forth with our listener base. In addition to that, we’d certainly appreciate a rating in the App Store of your choice, if we so deserve it. That helps us make sure that others who would enjoy this content about brand of business building will be ever better able to locate what we do and related that is to subscribe, if this is something that you find that you’re downloading when we either send it on a social media or when you think of it.
One way to make sure that you never miss a one of these in our plan is to do something weekly is to make sure that you click that subscribe button in the place where your podcast come from, be that the iTunes store or Stitcher or Sound Cloud or anywhere else, to make sure that it automatically drops and downloads and not only does that make sure you don’t miss any episodes, I think it helps us to. I mean, there’s a mystery as to how the App Store works and how search rankings work with podcast, but we are told that the more folks who receive this automatically the better and more likely the App Store is to elevate us for those who are interested in this kind of content.
We’ll sign off from the Cradle of Liberty.
The post Interacting with Brands – James Giglio, CEO of MVP Interactive appeared first on Finch Brands.
In this week’s episode, we talk all about logos with Finch Brands’ Creative Director, Jess Koffman. We review what makes a logo successful and detail the finer points of great logo design. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding, I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. This is One Big Idea, and today we have ‘logopalooza’ or something similar. We’re going to talk a lot about logos, and we’re going to introduce to the discussion here and to all of you through your earbuds, Jess Koffman, who’s the Creative Director at Finch Brands and is a logo creator and evaluator extraordinaire.
So we’re going to have Jess weigh in a little bit on some recent research about the best logos, as well as thoughts from her own career in terms of what makes a great logo and how we think through how to create great logos and visual identities for clients.
Before we get to Jess, just to set this up, there was a survey by the Morning Consult, the research firm and AdAge were responsible for this in partnership, and they surveyed for favorite logos. They surveyed Americans, I haven’t read the whole methodology, but just general consumers and then also a group that they consider to be ‘brand experts,’ an those are marketers and designers and everything else. They presented their results of the top logos from a perspective of both these audiences, and there were some areas of agreement and some areas of difference, and I’m not sure what the actual criteria were, but we thought that this was the makings of an interesting conversation about the technical and emotional aspects of creating great logos.
Without further ado, Jess Koffman, Creative Director for Finch Brands is here, thanks for coming and joining us.
Jess Koffman: Thanks for having me.
Bill: So Jess, full disclosure, you have developed at least one logo on this list-
Jess: At least one.
Bill: … on the surveys, at least one.
Jess: It’s not number 31, but it should be.
Bill: Yes, that’s a hint. We’ll give it away at the end of the podcast for those still listening, which I know will be everybody. A little bit before we get into it about your own back story, which is really interesting. Could you take us through that career journey up to this point and then we’ll dive into logos?
Jess: Absolutely. I like to think of it as my hunt, my personal hunt for the cruelest winter ever, because I started my career in Chicago, where I worked for a promotional agency on accounts like Coca-Cola in the beginning, and then quickly shifted over to a branding think tank. It was a teeny tiny agency with really big clients. I got to work on some brands like Build-A-Bear Workshop, I did their flagship store, we built the brand Five Below from the ground up, and are happy to see them succeeding locally and beyond, and just everyone from more Coca-Cola work to Microsoft to everyone in between – lots of fun work with that company.
Then Chicago I guess didn’t seem to be cold enough, so I then migrated to Minneapolis where I went in house and worked for Target. Worked with them doing product design and marketing. I designed one of their gift cards, and got to see what makes that brand tick, which is quite an operation. And I got to eat at the Target café.
Jess: Then, I decided it was time to come back home to tropical Philadelphia. This is where I’m from originally, and-
Bill: Particularly balmy today-
Jess: Yeah, yeah.
Bill: … here in November, yeah.
Jess: Definitely. And found my creative home with Finch Brands, and was initially working on freelance projects with Finch Brands and partnering up on the hard ones and now I get to do the hard ones all the time here. Love it.
Bill: Thank you, and we’re so glad to have Jess every single day and though she is modest, the logo in this list that was actually a big favorite of consumers in the survey is the Baskin-Robbins logo, which embeds the number 31 for flavors in the heart of the mark. Anything you wanted to say about that logo or other logo design projects that you’ve worked on that were particularly fun?
Jess: Sure. That one was funny because when they launched it, they actually felt the need to put it on the homepage and say, ‘Do you see the 31?’ And I’m like, ‘Stop, you’re ruining all the magic!’
Bill: That’s funny.
Jess: FedEx doesn’t usually say, ‘Do you see the arrow?’
Bill: Hey look, there’s an arrow in our logo. That’s funny. When we look at the top 10 in this survey, the top four or five, consumers and marketers seem to agree on, if not exactly on the order. Both marketers top five were Nike, Apple, Target, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola. Top five for consumers were Coca-Cola, Apple, Target, McDonald’s, and then Gerber. Nike was down to eighth among consumers.
Then when you go all the way down to the very bottom, there was a whole lot of diversity among what we would call the losers. The bottom five I think for marketers was Anthem and then United Healthcare, maybe a categorical consistency here, and then WeWork, Western Union, and Humana – health insurance taking a beating here.
Then for consumers, the bottom, Airbnb, which quote unquote, ‘had a sexual look’ to consumers, ‘Tells you nothing,’ one consumer said. WeWork was actually in the bottom for consumers too, it’s just a typeface of the mark, lowercase, so it almost looks like it’s one word, ‘wework’ or whatever.
Jess: A non-sexual look.
Bill: Yeah, non-sexual look though, they had that going for it. Slack was down there, Uber was down there, salesforce… So winners and losers, it’s an interesting study and you know, marketers are saying probably what our favorite logos are, probably looking through the lens of what these brands have become and how strong they are.
We thought it would be interesting to hear Jess’s perspective. When we look at some of the logos, either in the survey or elsewhere, what are some of the best logos from your perspective across the whole landscape and what makes them so great?
Jess: There’s a lot of great lessons with these logos because clearly there are ones that rose to the top. Even at the top of the marketer’s list and number eight in the consumers, which is still pretty up there, the Nike swoosh. The coolest thing about that, and it comes up a lot with logo projects with clients, it’s just that it takes time to become an icon. They officially dropped ‘Nike’ from their logo in I think 1995, and it’s been quite some time, but the swoosh is officially their mark.
But the behind the scenes design story of that is that this particular logo was always kind of a thorn in a designer’s side because the story originally was that Phil Knight starting his company and he is like a freelance professor at this random university and he’s doing this product. He grabs a student and says, ‘Hey, I gotta do logos, my investors are coming over from Japan, can you do it, can you do it, can you do it overnight, just do it.’ And so basically, she did it, and he picked one and paid her $35 bucks, which netted out to like two bucks an hour for her-
Bill: Not bad, right.
Jess: … and so then you know, it goes on to become one of the most recognized icons of all time in the world.
Bill: They made it right with her, didn’t they? After a while, but-
Jess: They did, it was a little bit like, ‘Ah, it’s always going to happen,’ but they did actually 10 or so years later give her a gold swoosh ring and took her out to lunch and gave her some stock options too, so she’s pretty set now.
Bill: I think she may have appreciated that more than the lunch at Fuddruckers or wherever the heck they went that day-
Jess: Yeah, right.
Bill: … but she certainly deserves it. What is it about the Nike logo other than the business that was built around it and all that it’s come to mean, from kind of a technical or a meaning perspective, what is it that appeals to you, Jess?
Jess: It’s a very nice stylization, it symbolizes the wing of the Greek goddess of victory-
Bill: Which is Nike herself, right?
Jess: Which is Nike, and so it takes that story and in one clean mark, it tells that and still, even if you don’t know the history behind it, it suggests momentum, it suggests energy, and just the … I mean you can’t separate it from the marketing juggernaut behind it, so it’s motivating for people. It is ‘just do it,’ it is sports, and just a glance at it really fills you with all that association.
Bill: Perfect. To your point, the logo was developed in 1971, and they didn’t take the Nike name off of it for really 25 years, so the business by that time was a multi-billion-dollar global juggernaut, so I guess one can’t force icon status too early, but yeah, incredible, both story and brand that’s been built. Other ones that particularly stand out to you?
Jess: Yeah, I think it’s interesting the number one on the consumer side is Coca-Cola, and this stood out to me because there’s a jpeg that’s been floating around on Pinterest and around the web, and it takes I think it compares the evolution of the Pepsi logo and the Coca-Cola logo, and I think it takes it all the way back to like 1896 or whenever. It shows how Pepsi has followed so many design trends, like they had a cap in the logo then they reduced the cap to the swirls on the cap then they did you know, they’ve got some amorphous swirling thing going on right now. But Coca-Cola pretty much has reserved the original type and the original script and is so iconic.
Now, if you really read into that, that jpeg that has been floating around is a little doctored up and forgets a couple of phases that Coke had, but the point is that when you have equity like that and such a long history, you have to respect that. You’re able to build your brand with the elements that you surround it with and the stories you tell beyond that. They have really stayed true to it and there is a reason why in the South, they ask for a Coke when they want a soda. Their branding is strong.
Bill: Sure, they definitely do and it definitely is, so that’s another one. Another one that obviously is a company that has a tremendous amount of financial and cultural value at this point, hadn’t always, but is Apple. What is it about the Apple logo? Obviously interesting backstory there, but what about it that draws your eye and gets you fired up?
Jess: Other than the fact that they have me, you know, handcuffed to their machines and their smartphones-
Bill: Pretty much, same here.
Jess: … it is a beautiful mark and it has a cool story in the background, and that’s there was a third, lesser known founder of Apple who actually designed their very first logo, which was this crazy illustration, this very vintage storybook detailed illustration of Sir Isaac Newton sitting under the tree, waiting for that apple to drop on his head, and thus discover gravity. It had a banner running through it that had quotes from Walt Whitman or something like that and basically there’s no way that was a logo, it was really an illustration.
Bill: It’s not easy to embroider that on a golf shirt for example.
Jess: Yeah, that would be quite the embroidery. But anyway, that was for Apple 1, with Apple 2, Steve Jobs got involved, the lesser known founder sold his stake for 800 dollars, it would have been worth 22 billion today.
Bill: That’s a shame.
Jess: But anyway, Steve Jobs recognized that this complicated illustration was not going to reproduce well on product, so he tasked his logo ad friends to design something that could carry the story forward and be iconic. So Rob Janoff was the guy he turned to in 1977 and just didn’t give him much of a creative brief, but said, ‘Don’t make it cute.’ Typical Steve Jobs.
Bill: Right right.
Jess: There’s two features of it which are kind of interesting. The fact that it was known for so long to have rainbow stripes running through it and that was sort of a nod to the fact that when they came out with Apple 2, it had color capabilities in the monitor, and that was a big deal at the time, so that was their way of capturing it, and of course Steve Jobs had to stipulate exactly which colors in exactly which order.
Bill: No doubt.
Jess: Apparently, he had a knack for that.
Bill: It just didn’t appear, yeah.
Jess: And then there’s all sorts of design lore out there about why there’s a bite out of the apple and it’s everything from the fact that it’s kind of this coder wink to the fact that byte, like byte is a computer thing and it was a little signature of that, but also that it’s a bite from the tree of knowledge, like Eve taking a bite from the tree of wisdom or what have you.
Then the designer actually who’s been interviewed about it said he simply added a bite so that it didn’t look like a tomato, and when you take a bite out of an apple it’s crisp, and the bite stays intact, and it’s also a way for him to show size and scale, so that it certainly reads as an apple. It certainly does now. It’s morphed a little bit since then, the colors came out, which upset a lot of Apple users, but they did it when they came out with all the different colors of iMacs, and so each one had a matching apple on it, and it became monochromatic.
I guess the fun lesson from this one is really sometimes logos need to evolve, and you’ve got to do it to stay current, and if you have a good reason to evolve, like on product, and your product’s changing and your product has new capabilities, and so forth, then that’s a good time to do it.
Bill: Perfect. Another one, and this is a brand that I know that you worked on earlier in your career is McDonald’s. What’s your take on the arches? I know it performed well, it was number four on both consumer and marketer parts of the survey. What is it about the golden arches that really works? And again, many of these are combinations as you’re telling us of technical aspects, but also history and heritage. So tell us about the arches.
Jess: The arches actually came from an architectural element that were around in the 50s. So the architects had built a giant golden arch in front of the restaurant and in the back of the restaurants, and so for visibility basically. So you could see it from the roadside and say, ‘Oh my God, I need a burger.’ When they had to distill that into a logo, they took a cue from the most notable feature of the geographic location and synthesized it into the arches.
It originally had a little bit of a roof slant to it also going through the golden arches, but that evolved out, probably a good thing. It is the arches that we love today, and like you said, I did have a chance to work with the arches, I had a chance to do a project with McDonald’s where we were building play places that were kids’ gyms to teach them about fitness and how you’ve got to work out a lot to burn off those supersize fries.
Bill: You can say that again.
Jess: It was a big education, but it was fun to work on it, and basically the internal, there’s a lesson in this one too, I guess is that we were putting this gym in and they tasked us with naming it, developing the signage, the graphics for it, the logo, and so we were really excited to come to the table in the first presentation with our recommended name, which was the ‘Clown Around Gym.’ And so there was kind of an awkward dead silence in the room after we said that name, and there is a woman at McDonald’s headquarters whose full-time job is to manage the personality of Ronald McDonald, and she looked at us and said, ‘Oh no, that’ll never work, Ronald McDonald is not a clown, he’s an ambassador of fitness and fun.’
Bill: There we go.
Jess: Then she went on to show us all kinds of pictures of Ronald McDonald skateboarding and surfboarding and snowboarding and-
Bill: Just being creepy, yeah.
Jess: … it wasn’t creepy at all that he had clown makeup and clown shoes, you know? And we actually wound up not using his face on any of the materials that we developed, and just simply did little cropped motions of him wearing a sneaker or whatever-
Bill: Oh wow.
Jess: … and so it wound up being called R Gym, R for Ronald.
Bill: Interesting, interesting. So looking at the list, and again, there’s not a ton of detail, just the rankings, any surprises there from your perspective? We obviously hear clients will come to us and say, ‘We want our swoosh and we want this and that.’
Bill: Anything surprise you based on what we read?
Jess: I mean most of the ones on there are obviously well-celebrated and for good reasons. I’m surprised Amazon isn’t in there since they have taken over the world now. One of my favorite firms overseas Turner Duckworth, they actually did the evolution and built the smile into their logo, but apparently that was not top of mind or prime for most of the people in this survey.
I was also surprised that the Olympic rings weren’t on there because that five-ring circus is always interesting, and when people add it to their products, they literally sell more. They’ve done studies on that, you know, so I guess consumers went for more of the nostalgia touch, like the Gerber baby and so forth, and that’s not surprising. If we had a logo with a puppy in it, that might be in there too, but I mean it’s part of Americana and they still have the Gerber baby contest and so forth. It’s cute, I see why it’s on there.
Bill: Right, no doubt, no doubt. When we use the word brand, oftentimes people may think immediately of a logo or a visual identity, but I think we all know that brand has much more to it than that. Although identity is an important market face and artifact of what brand is and stands for. In that spirit, what role does a logo play in expressing the personality of a brand?
Jess: When I think about brand personality, and this is a logo’s job too, is that, and design’s job in general, is that it’s not just decoration, it’s absolute communication. So that’s why it’s so important for us as designers to really get to know the client, get to know their brand personality, to really dig deep on that.
We do a lot of work with our clients when we first get to know them, we take a look at their brand, see what’s working, see what’s not. Look at the competitors in their space, and critique them as well and see what lessons there are, and really figure out what their personality is. Sometimes we ask if they were a celebrity, who would they be. You would be surprised how many people want to be George Clooney, it’s amazing.
But there is quite a range, and we need to know that so we can filter through as we’re designing – what is this character, how do we portray that, how do they become the approachable person in their industry, and does that mean lower case type, or does that mean that we use really bright, positive color palette involved in it?
It’s not just arbitrary decisions like ‘ah, yeah, my favorite color is magenta so I figured I’d use that. My favorite font is this.’ That’s everything you should not be doing when determining a brand personality and a logo personality.
Bill: Before we go, you’ve highlighted a couple of really great aspects of many of these logos and I think that in and of itself gives a window into how great logos are made and what they mean and everything else. But before we sign off, when you think about designing and assessing logos, what is it, are there a couple of important rules from your perspective that sort of put in practice by our creative team, or ought to be that sort of govern what makes a good logo or a great logo?
Jess: Yeah, absolutely. Some of the basics are pretty simple, but it’s surprising how many logos can squeak through that don’t quite get them right. One of the prime things to think about is that a logo reproduces well at a small scale, and it also has visibility. So when you think of a logo appearing on signage, appearing like McDonald’s did, from the roadside, driving by, and these are all areas of design we consider when we work on a logo.
You can’t do the skinny little tasty fonts for a brand that’s going to have big impact. If you can’t see it from across the conference room, you’re not going to see it from across the parking lot, so you have to avoid that kind of thing.
Then, to get to that level of being an iconic logo and being timeless, it can’t be inflexible. It has to have legs, it has to have the ability to go on and tell stories and be part of a bigger context, and sometimes that means there’s multiple versions of it, it’s modular, it turns into things, but with some parameters so there’s equity in what you’re doing.
Another thing I’d say is that a logo absolutely has to be expressive and own-able. If you can hide a secret meaning or a message in it, it’s awesome, like FedEx, there’s a sombrero inside the Tostitos logo, that little 31 thing.
But I think a big lesson too is just that kind of in the example in the Pepsi logo, the blindly following design trends can be a big downfall, so one of the most obvious examples of this in modern times I’d say is the whole lower-case trend.
So many companies are doing it, it’s like hey, this is not AT&T all caps talking to you, this is friendly at&t lower case talking to you, and we’re going to just go ahead and collect that giant bill from you month to month, thank you. And so a lot of brands do this, everyone from Amazon, Aramark, Ebay, all these people went from having traditional sentence case logos or upper case logos, and went to full lower case in the first letter. Macy’s, Xerox, even Facebook.
So they all switched from first letter capitalization to lower case, and that was right for them, it gives them that conversational feel, and it works in some arenas. But then there’s others who are just traditionalists, they still adhere to the rules of grammar. Who would have thunk it, you know? Lipton, Coca-Cola, Google, and then there’s a reason to be all caps in some markets too, like Ikea, Target, they’re big, bold presences in their space, so Best Buy.
I guess the point for me really is you don’t just go lower case because everybody in your industry’s doing it. You have to find a way for your own logo, your own story to stand out, and you have to be able to own it, so it may be a trend, but it doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
Bill: When you were talking about Pepsi and Coke, one of the points that you were making was that Pepsi seemingly has nipped and tucked and tweaked their logo in response to more or less every design trend over time, where as Coke has maintained sort of a remarkable consistency in the execution of their logo. Is there a time and if so, when, when logos really should seek to modernize themselves?
Jess: You know when it’s time to evolve when you just need to breathe energy into it again. You need to breathe some new life. You’re not reaching the audiences that you want to. There’s a lot of brands now that are doing kind of retro things, like gum is doing, ‘Let’s take a look at retro Pepsi, let’s take a look at retro Juicy Fruit and all this stuff.’ They’re messing around a lot. I think you can get to the point where you’re messing around too much, you don’t want to change it like Pepsi.
I’d say in the past, I think a logo, timelessness for any given logo is probably actually more like a decade, and I think recently it’s probably more like five years, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, it really depends on your brand and you want to make sure that you’re constantly making an impression.
If you have new product offerings, you might want to come out with a splash, you might want to add rainbow stripes into your logo, you might want to do all sorts of things. But I think it’s a good exercise and it’s a good exploration to have. You really need to keep the lens on your own personality and be aware of how that can work for you or work against you. It’s a chance to really connect, and you can’t miss out.
Bill: So this may be an unfair question, and I might be asking a parent to pick their favorite child when they have multiple children, but are you able to say what your favorite logo of all time is?
Jess: That’s a ridiculous question, because I can’t pick one, I have to pick three. And this one, I actually have a little personal relationship to in a way, the I Heart NY logo, by Milton Glaser. I did not design that in any way, shape, or form, that’s not my connection, but what I love about that logo is that it changed language.
The logo design itself changed the way we speak because before that logo, people didn’t really refer to I ‘heart’ things. It was developed for a New York commerce organization, it was for tourism basically and he, Milton Glaser’s riding through a taxi cab just thinking about his city and basically how iconic it is and then designs this wonderful iconic logo with this shorthand of heart.
I kind of did a little borrowing from it when I had my sights set on Target and sent them a thank you card that was I ‘Target’ MN, so thanks Milton, it worked, and I heart him.
Another one that I would say is a favorite is FedEx. When Landor designed the FedEx logo in 1974, it had previously been the full name, Federal Express, and Landor did I think nine months of brand study, you know, just talking to consumers about what they were saying about FedEx. And that’s exactly what they were saying, they were saying ‘FedEx,’ they abbreviated it.
So Landor felt like it was necessary to go with that, to listen to their consumers and really talk about it not unlike KFC or BP or whatever else. In the course of that research and abbreviating it, they discovered that obviously the lower-case E fit with the X in such a way where they could build that forward arrow into the negative space of the mark, and it’s such a perfect symbol for what they do, it’s motion, it’s direct delivery, it’s just perfect and just a testament to the power of negative space, of white space.
So often clients’ tendency is to fill all the white space up, but the white space can be really important, and this logo really demonstrates that.
Then my third one I’d say is not on this list and not on many lists, but it should be. The NBC peacock. It’s brilliant. It’s a perfect visual metaphor from nature. It’s a display of color, and they actually launched the peacock logo in 1956, when NBC did start broadcasting in color and at that point it was this funky looking 11-feathered peacock, and it doesn’t look anything like the one of today, but it was a perfect metaphor.
The way it evolved over time is very clean now and this one even had a little bit of a controversy with it. When NBC merged with Comcast, they first wanted to just call it NBC Universal and get rid of that peacock. Apparently this upset everyone at NBC all the way up to Brian Williams, and they had an internal meeting and launched the NBC Universal logo, but they secretly added the peacock back in because you can’t get rid of that peacock.
I love that one, and it was cool because I looked around for some history on it just out of curiosity and they had this 60th anniversary special when it launched, I mean it was in ‘86 I think and it is so dated, and it has everyone from Johnny Carson to Rudy Huxtable sitting around this huge peacock on center stage, and they’re singing this tribute song to NBC’s 60th anniversary and it’s like, ‘Did you know, did you know, NBC.’
It’s really cheesy, but I thought it was a fun launch, and it made me think about probably one of the most formative moments in my logo design career, which was maybe like a year, year and a half into my career, I finally got a logo chosen, and I got to do a logo for this group called TAP Pharmaceuticals, and this was in Chicago, and they did, I mean it was like an internal group for a pharmaceutical company, but they wanted to throw a party for the launch.
This is my first experience of this and they go to the party and they literally hired a chainsaw artist to carve my logo out of a block of ice, and I was like, ‘I made it! This is amazing! This is going to happen every time!’ But unfortunately, although some logo launches that I have been part of did include things like stilts and lots of cheese platters and custom cupcakes and things like that, no more ice carving, but I am totally up for it in case anyone out there wants to come out with a bang.
Bill: Well, I’ll definitely bring my chainsaw next time to the party. We joke, we know that we at Finch have done T-shirts and obvious things like that as well as more fun and less obvious things like cupcakes, other ways to celebrate the launch or release of a new logo or an evolved logo. We always talk about how the brand needs to communicate externally, but how it also needs to be felt and lived internally, and often the moment of the development of a new logo or the sort of evolution or tweaking of a logo, a cosmetic refresh, is a great time to bring everyone aboard. So ice sculptures, chainsaws, whatever it takes.
Jess, thank you for your time and for your insight. We will sign off from the Cradle of Liberty.
Rob Levin, COO of Printfly shares his perspectives on the role of brand and culture after joining a business that experienced explosive organic growth. His insight speaks to the importance of these elements in sustaining and supercharging the next stage of the business. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!
Rob Levin: Every company has a culture, like it or not it develops. You either get to write that story or it’s going to write itself.
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all, this Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, president of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Big pleasure this week, we have Rob Levin who’s the COO of Printfly Corporation best known, at least in the marketplace as rushordertees.com. We went to the headquarters of Printfly in northeast Philadelphia. You can feel by being there and walking through and just being in the middle of this high activity, high energy place, how much is happening at that company and Rob will certainly walk through his background as a finance person originally and an investor into this operating role and what he found and how he found it and what he’s doing with it and the rest of the leadership team, what they’re doing with it. High culture, high energy, definitely a company to watch. Enjoy Rob Levin.
Bill: Coming to you from the northeast Philadelphia headquarters of Printfly which encompasses Rush Order Tees and we’ll certainly hear more about that. We’re here with Rob Levin who’s the COO of the company. Thank you for your time good sir.
Rob: Thank you.
Bill: Way to start, we’ve been fortunate enough to know a little bit about the under the hood of this place. It’s an incredible tale. Let’s start with you and a bit of your own journey to this point and then we’ll get into the company and all that you’ve been working on since you joined up.
Rob: Sure. I have an entrepreneurial background. I started in the financial services business working for a big insurance company called Principle Financial Group out in the Midwest at a time when they were demutualizing and going public. I had the opportunity to take that ride and watch a 110-year-old mutual insurance company take itself out into the capital market which was really interesting. Pretty quickly after that figured out that I wasn’t well suited for a 10,000 plus person organization and so I left shortly after the IPO and started my own consulting business which grew over a four or five-year period of time where we were doing some interesting things in the financial services space. I ended selling that to an insurance company and five years later I was right back to where I started. Employee number 12,000 at an insurance company.
True to form, that didn’t last very long either. The entrepreneurial bug bit again so about two years later I left there and started another business which was in the lending space. That’s was around 2007 and that was successful up until the financial crisis of 2008.
Bill: Interesting timing on that.
Rob: Yeah, it looked really good going in and if we knew then what what we know now, I would’ve taken a different course. Like anything else, was a great learning opportunity. I would never want to go through that again but having gone through it, lot of lessons learned out of that. We ended up selling off the assets of that business and I started another company with a couple of classmates of mine which was an international reinsurance business. Right back again into the entrepreneurial space and working in that. It was a lot of fun. That was a really good experience. Our clients were global so I spent a lot of time in southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe, working on and getting a bird’s eye view of the health insurance markets all over the world. And did that for a while until the travel got to be a little bit too much.
That business, the first two companies, the first company was completely bootstrap so that was all paid for by client work and a little bit of money that I put in, very little bit. Then when we sold we had a little bit of war chest to start the second business with. Never had to go to any outside investors in the first two businesses and in our third business we did. We knew that we needed a much bigger balance sheet than we were capable of funding on our own. After we got over the first initial hump we did go out and raise a bunch of private equity capital and started that process which is also an interesting experience going out now having to pitch your wares to investors and doing that.
When I came back to the States I was living in London at the time and traveling all over the world, when I came back to the States I actually went onto the investment side working for, first for the private equity company that had invested in us as an advisor to them, helping them do a few deals and then subsequent to that as a portfolio manager, chief investment officer for a private equity fund. Based out of southeast Asia, looking to make investments in the US. That brought me full circle back to the US, working, now I had the full gamut. Starting business, sold a business, invest, raise money from investors and now invested in other businesses.
I take that 360-degree view which led me actually to the Nemeroffs who are the family that started and still to this day, own the business. They were, I don’t know if you want to transition into the next piece. When I first met them, I had been working with a couple of other families on their investment strategy having come back to the US as a chief investment officer. Just consulting with a few families around their investment strategy, how to structure investments, how to make investments in private companies, I had a pretty unique perspective on that. I got introduced to Mike and his brother and his sister and they were at this inflection point with their business. They had started the company fully expecting it to be a weekend project then 13 years later they had built this real robust business and they weren’t really sure what to do with it.
My initial interaction with them was around exactly that. Do we go raise investor capital? Do we sell the business to somebody? Do we go acquire somebody? What do we do with this thing? I got to know them through that process and tried to understand what the motivations were and what do you want to do with the business? And the more that we got to working together the more that we figured out that there was a lot more value in the business that could be developed. It wasn’t the right time to bring in outside investors or sell the company or do anything else. Be careful what you wish for because they were like, well that’s great. You found all this value now come and help us go get it. Help us figure it out.
Bill: That’s cool. Just as our most recent interview with Baked by Melissa, similar alignment. Company with assets deciding what to do next. Bringing in professional yet still passionate leader to be a galvanizer. Tell us, if you wouldn’t mind, about just the structure of the company. The Rush Order Tees brand is market facing and well known. The organization as a whole is under the Printfly brand umbrella. What is Printfly comprised of?
Rob: That’s one of the things that came out of the early discussions that I had with Mike and the management team at the time was really looking at where the value was developed and where the value was brought to market. Printfly is where all the value is developed. Printfly is the production facility and the IT and the IP. All the intellectual property, all of the things that make the business what it is have been developed by and are part of Printfly. Rush Order Tees is really just an eCommerce platform to access a certain part of the market that can then benefit from the Printfly production facility. If you think about Rush Order Tees, Rush Order Tees appeals to a very specific part of the market. Initially a lot of the business that comes into Rush Order Tees is exactly that. Is last minute, I need it right away quickly. I’ve got a deadline, I need to know that it’s here. It’s really just a brand that accesses that part of the market.
In our last iteration of work that we’ve done with you, we’ve got another brand called College Inc. College Inc. accesses a totally different part of the market. It’s colleges and universities and clubs and fraternities and Greek organizations and they have a very different set of needs, they have a different set of products. But those two marketplaces are still powered by the Printfly production facility. That powered by Printfly is really the core of the business. Just a little bit, if we back up a bit, the business really grew out of, it’s one of those things, when you’re doing it, it doesn’t feel deliberate sometimes. It’s much easier to tell the story in hindsight.
What Mike and his brother and sister were seeing was that the screen printing, custom apparel process was very complicated, was very opaque and was very unreliable for the most part. And still today we see it where the customer was made to work on the deadline of the printer. You can have it when we get it to you kind of thing. That was just the expectation in the market. Is this is going to be a pain, this is going to be difficult and we’re just going to have to wait for the printer and oh, by the way, you have to order a 1,000 pieces in order to be meaningful. It’s one of those classic cases of not knowing any better, they went in there and goes, well this is a terrible experience, there’s got to be a better way to do this. If somebody needs their order in a week instead of three weeks, we should be able to do that. The business really started by taking all of the orders that nobody else wanted.
It was a really interesting dynamic because all the screen printers didn’t see them as competition, they saw them basically as fools. It’s like, sure, if you want to do that go ahead. And they would actually send business to these guys. Printfly really developed a culture, whether they knew it of not of doing all the hard jobs that nobody else wanted. They didn’t start with some legacy of what the screen printing or the custom apparel business was and when they got into it they realized very quickly that there was no off the shelf software that they could buy to run a business like that. So they developed everything for the order management side. Once something comes in house, all on their own.
Throughout the 15 years, the company just had its 15th anniversary last month in September. We always say, it’s a 15 year overnight success. It took a long time to get there and 13 of those years it was your classic entrepreneurial, are we going to be able to make it to the next month? Luckily that’s well in the rear view. Over 15 years they’ve had to pioneer a lot of what is now accepted practice in the industry. Being able to set your deadline, being able to rush ship stuff, being able to print on demand. These were, having an online design studio which again, is table stakes for the industry right now, a lot of that was pioneered here because they needed it and nobody else had it and there wasn’t some off the shelf software to buy like there is today.
All of those assets are really Printfly assets and part of what we are looking to do now is okay, how do we drive into more markets using those assets. How can we use the powered by Printfly platform to make the buying experience better in different places?
Bill: What a cool story. The company has also had, in addition to becoming this overnight sensation after 15 years, a lot of, we were talking before we started, of headcount growth. What’s the role, as this growth has happened and as you’ve become part of obviously the leadership group, just from our relationship with you, we know that brand and culture matters a lot here. Could you talk a little bit about the role of culture and of internal communications in helping that growth can be well managed, can be sustainable that that Printfly power is found in every touchpoint and in every manifestation of the company?
Rob: Having built businesses before and invested in businesses at different stage, I know every company has a culture. Like it or not it develops. You either get to write that story or it gets to write itself. When I look at it, culture is people caring about what they do. What does that mean? It can be expressed in lots of different ways and we with your help, have boiled it down into nine core values that we think are the underpinning of that culture. It’s really, it’s getting people to care about what they do. We have a little thing that we write, it’s culture equals people. People caring what they do and culture equals brand. because it really is to me, tied together.
Because every interaction you have with a customer is a reflection of your culture. If people here care what they do and the culture is one where we put customers first, where we start with yes, where we try and solve problems when 100% satisfaction is the minimum that we’ll accept, that then becomes the brand. I don’t think you can artificially create some, as much as we would all like to and just say, okay, this is our brand. If the culture doesn’t reflect than it’s not genuine. It just doesn’t become authentic. Here what’s very unique is every great product has 15 knockoffs that’s the case but the difference is you can’t knock off a brand. You can’t knock off a story. The story here is so unique. It really permeates the culture. Having been part of this process in helping us tease out and express what that culture is, a lot of it really just boils down to that story.
That story of Mike, Lex and Jordan who are the three Nemeroffs, two brothers and a sister who started the business were 15, 13 and 17 when this business started. They really were just trying to figure out where can we add some value? Where can we do something that isn’t being done right now? It was really just through perseverance and hard work that they got to where they got to. It wasn’t like, I had the benefit of coming in here 13 years after it started and building.
Bill: Asset, asset challenge.
Rob: Right, exactly. That’s a great place to come into. For these guys, they didn’t know what they were doing. They did not when I talked to them, outside of work, it’s like they had no idea that they would ever be sitting in a 63,000-square facility with 225 employees, running this big business when they were 16 years old, screen printing in their parents’ garage washing out the screens in their bathroom sink.
Bill: Steve had a lemonade stand back then. He was 13.
Bill: He’s still figuring this out too.
Rob: Yeah, right. You can’t knock off that story. It’s genuine, it’s real. It happened. The culture around here reflects that story. It reflects the fact that these kids struggled for 12 years to try and figure out, to try and get it to the point where it is today and then you have people come in today who just assume it’s always been this way. That’s a really interesting intersection. What we do very well and it was part of, I’ve been here now little more than one year, in this role. One of the first things I did was call you guys, to say, we need to put this thing together because if we’re going to go from where we are to where I think we can get, we have to start being able to articulate this better. You mentioned headcount growth, we doubled our headcount growth in the period of about 15 months.
Bill: That’s amazing.
Rob: But if you walk around here and you see, we’ve done so in a way that we’ve maintained culture. It would’ve been very, we could’ve gone in a totally different direction and we could’ve brought in some really smart, effective operators who would’ve clashed with the culture that we’re trying to build. Not milled well. Having this identity, this culture which then flows into what the brand stands for, now we actually can hire to that. We can bring in people, we know what to look for. It is part of hiring, it is part of our onboarding.
Everybody here goes through the exact same first four days which is interesting for a lot of people because those first four days, the first hour of the first four days is mission, vision, values. It doesn’t matter if you are working in our receiving department, opening up boxes of apparel and putting them on shelves to the head of marketing or one of our developers. You’re sitting in that room all together, throughout that first four days you’re going to screen print a shirt, you’re going to embroider some garments, you’re going to take a sales call, you’re going to listen to our customer care calls. We just think that people coming in and experiencing that for four days, one of things that I’ve seen happen before and I’m sure you have too and it probably drives you crazy, these culture books that you build and these vision statements that you build, they just become plaques on the wall.
Bill: Part of the furniture.
Rob: They just become part of the furniture and here we’ve tried really, really hard not to make that happen.
Bill: Using this as strongly as you do in onboarding and reinforcing and rewarding and everything else as a way of making vision, mission, values referenceable, these fundamental elements of how the company operates and grows and trains, that’s part of it but there is very little that is more frustrating than what really is a missed opportunity for an organization to discover and disseminate its purpose in a way that makes everybody, we spend work, life balance whatever, we spend however many hours here that we all have to. We want ideally this to align with our values and we want to know what expected of us. Everyone has a right to that. What’s happened here is amazing and impressive. You mentioned coming in some of the challenges and opportunities that you saw related to fast growth and the assets and the new way of doing this in a market that hadn’t been as customer friendly, other things that you either knew about or discovered in the early days here that were going to be areas of focus as you thought through how to put this all together.
Rob: I can tell you the biggest thing for me coming in here was I come from a background of being an entrepreneur, working in the investment world, working in the financial services space, in healthcare and I definitely took for granted that this is, I was like, oh, we’re printing t-shirts, how hard can that be? This is custom, this is an easy business. How hard can this be to work? It’s really complicated. It’s very hard and it’s very hard to get it right. If you think about it, no two orders are the same. You think about it, it’s very different than if we’re selling chairs. We have these chairs, you can buy these chairs or you can buy these chairs or this. There’s a limited number of things but imagine if I said, pick any combination of legs, height, width, do you want leather? Do you want cloth? Do you want wood? And every person coming on would have some different combination and then you had to go make that?
It’s quite an orchestra to try and conduct that. One of the things that was super important in looking at that was making sure that when somebody’s coming to you for custom apparel, it’s really important to them. It’s much more significant and it’s very easy to lose sight of that when you’re just looking at it from 30,000 feet and looking at we have this asset, we have this asset, to very quickly lose touch from that customer.
Bill: It’s also very easy to be jaded by it because everyone buys on price and they need it now and they’re very particular as we expect them to be because it’s a big deal.
Rob: Sure. That’s part of the challenge that I’ve had to work with with the company on in terms of strategy is you can’t be everything to everyone. That is one of the things that will very quickly, didn’t work for Sears, didn’t work for Chevrolet, didn’t work for Radio Shack, it definitely doesn’t work for us. There’s an eagerness to want to say yes and we have a core value that says start with yes. Have an open mind. But it’s very particularly worded that way because we not going to always end with yes. We’ll start with yes, we want to have an open mind, we want to be able to if we can do it we’re going to do it but we can’t always end with yes.
Bill: Could be a yes but, perhaps.
Rob: Right. Or we’re going to try. We’re going to start with how can we get it done and if we can’t get it done at least we’ve tried. That also opens you up to a tendency to try and do too much for everyone and you try and please everyone then you’ll end up pleasing no one. We’ve had to figure out what our niche is, what our core customer really wants from us and then leverage that. We have stopped doing certain things since I got here that were not valuable to the business. And as any business, that’s a little scary. Change is always scary to anybody coming in but looking back at it, it was the right thing to do. We did, we shut down two brands that we were running that were, they were just not core to what we were doing. They didn’t serve the right audience and it was just a bad experience all around for everybody. We were able to take the energy there and refocus it on things that we thought did add a lot of value.
Right now it’s a very interesting time in this space because it’s never been easier to say you’re in the custom apparel business. Never. With websites like Shopify and Etsy and some of these places, it’s really simple for you to just throw up a website and say, “Hey, we’re in the custom apparel business.” It’s really hard to execute on that.
Bill: Sure, I can imagine.
Rob: Finding that balance and that’s really one of the things that makes the company unique is we can do both. We can do the front end, we can serve the customer really well because we’ve invested a lot of time in a customer service team that’s a luxury to have. It’s very expensive but we think it’s really, really important. At the same time we feel like it’s critical for us to own the fulfillment. We don’t just take orders and then send them to some print shop in Canada or Mexico or California.
Bill: Find somebody with capacity.
Rob: And keep our fingers crossed and hope it comes out right because our customers, we have this on our website and people don’t believe us, some people test us all the time. We have 100% money back guarantee. If you are not satisfied with what you get, for any reason, even if it was your fault, then we’re going to take care of that. We’ll reprint it, we’ll refund it, we’ll take care of it. In order to do that, we have to have a pretty high standard and we have to control everything. Getting into the business is really easy, executing is really hard. That’s been the biggest challenge here is to make sure that we’re really focused on that customer experience and getting them a high quality good.
We are not the cheapest, lowest cost provider in the marketplace but we think that we have the right balance of customer service, high quality and we’re going to make sure everything is perfect. We’re going to get to you when you need it and it’s dependable. because the worst thing to happen, if you think about custom apparel, you open up that box and it’s not right. Or you need it for your event and it’s not there. That’s really what happens over and over and over again in the industry. We’re very, very focused on that.
Bill: We talked about brand architecture a little bit earlier and how Printfly is designated as the holder of the production capability both in terms of the actual structure as well as presumably the values and the culture that extends into all the different cracks here. Then there’s market facing brands, Rush Order Tees and College Inc. and other things. What are other ingredients in the overall brand strategic approach that you think enable this level of achievement and potential in terms of how the company goes to market?
Rob: At the brand level it’s really again, just understanding who our target audience is. Understanding what that buyer wants and being able to deliver that and nothing else. We do spend a lot of time really trying to understand our customer. Why are they buying from us? What is it that’s important to them? What’s extraneous? What can get rid of? How can we make it easier? We’re constantly, constantly trying to do that. We do that on the website, we do that with our customer services reps, we do that through the use of technology. We’ve just introduced, it’ll be coming out this week, an ability for us, when you’re on the website and you’re designing that shirt and you’re not sure if it’s going to look right, we can just hold your hand literally and figuratively on the website now to help make that experience better. That is a direct result of talking to our customers and them saying, “Hey, as easy as you think your design studio, it’s a little bit tough for us. Can you help us here?”
Then on the Rush Order side, specifically, why are customers coming to us? We have this tagline which we think has really does capture that brand pretty well. It’s your design, your deadline. We know it’s your design, it’s really important to you and we know it’s your deadline and we got to get it there on that. From a brand architecture perspective, it’s knowing who the buyers are that are coming to those different brands and why because the 35-year-old professional who’s buying shirts for their kid’s soccer team and they need them on an event date for something, is coming to Rush Order Tees, is very different than the 23-year-old fraternity kid who need his shirts for beer pong on Saturday.
Bill: Both equally important, mind you.
Rob: Both equally important, absolutely. That 35 year was a 23-year-old at one time.
Bill: They would grow up with the brand.
Rob: But they definitely, they’d have a different experience with the brand. They want different things out of the brand. Understanding what people want from the brands and as we look at going forward and things that we may be doing in the future that’s also, we don’t want to just spin up a brand just because we think it’s cool. We want to spin up a brand or we want to enhance what we’re doing because there’s real value to somebody out there who can use what we do. We either solve some problem for them or create some value that they otherwise aren’t getting.
Bill: Good segue into what next. There’s probably things that we’re not quite ready to share but anything that you can disclose about things that are happening that are new? Whether they be ultimately visible to the market or not. We talked a bit about another shift. There’s a lot that’s happening, lot of growth happening now. What’s next? What should we look for?
Rob: From our perspective we’re constantly looking at where the market is going. What do people want? In terms of our internal growth we really do want to continue to own our production capacity. We want to own the quote, full stack. Everything from the time you place the order to the time it hits your door. As soon as we hand it off to UPS and FedEx we lose a little bit of control but all the way up to that point we want to make sure that we look at it. We’re investing more in things like QA and in new technology and in new machines and Mike and I, Mike who’s the CEO, and I spend a lot of time looking at where’s the technology going? What’s next? Where should be focused? What should we not be doing?
because our focus on customer service and quality, those are the two things. That helps now are our focus into what technology are we going to invest in, not just from the technology, the ones and zero side of things, but in terms of what equipment are we going to buy? What printers are we going to buy? Where are we going to invest in training? Just to constantly raise the bar on that side of things. Then again, just see what market needs aren’t being filled or are not filled well. We don’t need to be the first mover in every market. A lot of times it’s good to sit back and see where other people are stumbling.
I believe in this law of adjacent profits which is when a market gets very, very efficient, it creates an opportunity for a profit somewhere else. When everybody’s going into into discount retailing, it creates an opportunity for a Nordstrom’s to pop up out of there because people still want high quality, high service and are willing to pay for it. We can wait to see the Targets and the Walmarts and Costcos fight it out for a while and let’s see what adjacent profit will come up there. There we’re obviously always looking at what we could be improving on and we’ll continue to do that.
Bill: Your journey, your own journey’s been a fascinating one from large organizations but always with an entrepreneurial spirit, for those who’ve been inspired by your story and your path are there a couple learnings from the road or word that you live by or things that you remind yourself and are fundamental that you are as a guy and as a business that you’d want to share?
Rob: Sure. There’s two things that I always repeat and people around here get tired of hearing me say it and some of it’s come in through our words. They don’t forget it for sure. It’s two things. One is, people always overestimate what they can do in a month and underestimate what they can do in a year. It doesn’t always have to be big, big, big gains. If you make small gains every day and you look back a year, two years out, you’ll be amazing at what you can accomplish. If you think you’ve got to get it all done in the next month, it’s never going to happen. I always remind people just you don’t have to do it all at once, just make a little bit of progress every single day. That to me, I wish somebody would’ve told me that 20 years ago.
Bill: If you win the day.
Rob: That’s it. You don’t have to do everything today. You do some stuff tomorrow. Have a little bit of a longer-term view. Having worked in my own, having built my own businesses and having worked in startups and fast growth industries we have this term of being in startup years. Every month here is like a year somewhere else and you expect so much to get done and things are moving so fast but even then you have to pull back and just say, just make small improvements every day, you don’t have to do it all at once. That’s a big thing and that comes with perspective and time. It’s hard to express to some people, especially when you’re 23 and you’re full of yourself and you think you can do everything. That’s great. That would be one. Small progress every day and you’ll accomplish a lot.
Two is there three fundamental things. Do what you say you’re going to do. Show up on time. Say please and thank you. That will get you pretty far in this world. Those are very simplified things that have taken a long time to winnow down into those three things. There’s a lot of deep meaning behind that. If you’re dependable, if you do what you say you’re going to do, that’s huge. If you show up on time, it’s respectful of other people and you say please and thank you. That’s basically, you said it before, and I say this to everybody who starts here, it’s not quite as far as Tony Hsieh would go with Zappos but we tell everybody on their first day, I get to kick off their onboarding and them through mission, vision, values and I say this, “If anybody who’s here for the paycheck should leave right now.”
Everybody in that room, everybody that we hire, if we hire you here, then you’re pretty smart accomplished person. You can work anywhere. You don’t have to work here. Work here because you want to work here. Given where I’ve been and the companies I’ve operated and things that I’ve done, I want to come a place, to your point earlier, I’m here 10 hours a day, five, six days a week during some periods, I don’t want to go to a place where I’m like, oh, I gotta go to work today. It’s just not fun. Say please and thank you, just be respectful and it is one of our core values is have fun. There’s that question that people ask, if you would give advice to your 20-year self. It’s like, don’t take yourself so seriously. Have a little bit of fun. It doesn’t have to be a grind every single day.
Bill: Steve had, was it 12 or 16 beers on the way here actually? He’s ready to … Steve’s our executive producer, as long time listeners will know. As we close Rob, this has been great. People are knocking on your door. I know there’s a lot to do here. Couple greatest hits you want to brag about? We know the Sixers’ relationship’s been awesome and we were talking as we were plugging things in about the home opener that maybe did not end well. Everyone got an awesome t-shirt. What’s in the brag book for Rush Order Tees or Printfly that you can tell us about?
Rob: There’s so many thing we’re just going through a greatest hits the other day. Looking at our year end. A lot of it’s little things that add up over time. It’s a big insurance company calling us up on the eve or Hurricane Irma and saying, “We need 10,000 shirts by Monday to give our adjusters who are heading down to Florida after this hurricane hits.”
Bill: because they know it’s coming.
Rob: “And we’ve called everyone.” The best stories are the ones that start out with, “I know you guys can do this but we figured.” We see that all the time. Some of them, to the people on the other side of that, that’s huge. That insurance company who we can’t, we won’t tell you who it is but they had called everybody and they finally called us. We got them 10,000 screen printed polo shirts. They called us on Thursday afternoon, they were delivered full stop, Sunday afternoon to them and they were putting them in kits and sending them with adjusters to Florida on Monday. We see things like that all the time. We have a couple of cool projects that are coming up that we can’t tell you the names are but they’re product launches but they need 30,000 shirts to be ready on a specific day that are going to handed out with this big announcement. They’re counting on us.
Bill: You can’t mess that up.
Rob: They are millions of dollars of other things going on around it and TV and video and everything else. Those are cool. Equally as cool as around Hurricane Harvey, we donated hundreds of shirts to people who just needed them and a lot of them who wanted specific messages put on there for some commemoration or outreach. There’s a lot of that goes on here. That unspoken we reach out, there was people who have tragedies or people have things that go and they come on and they order 100 shirts and we’ll ship them for free. Those kinds of things. Sure, the Sixers in great, it’s been a fun ride with them and hopefully this year we can get a playoff game.
Bill: Yeah, right. I can’t imagine the shirts that will be.
Rob: We told them already just put our order in now. We’re in for that. We’ve had some good partnerships. We work the Philadelphia Union now so that’s been a great opportunity to learn MLS and get to know some of those guys. That’s just kicking off. We work with Red Bull. We do Red Bull racing, that’s been a fun journey to look with those guys. Honestly, we have this really cool new partnership that started with the pro break dancing tour, called UDEF. I don’t know if you guys or anybody who listens has followed that but they just had their big, they call it the Silverback Open which is their pro championship out here in King of Prussia. The winner, his video went viral and Chris Brown shared it, Joe Rogan shared it. It’s got millions of views, these guys are unbelievable athletes. It’s a great fun demographic. We’ve got our toe in a lot of waters and we’re trying to talk to a lot of different people.
Bill: Sounds like interesting waters too. All of which are, it’s probably fun to see something like that go viral and say we did that. That’s great. That’s great. Rob, thank you. COO Rob Levin of Printfly, appreciate your time.
Rob: Thank you.
Bill: Thanks Rob for your time and insight. Getting to know this company has been a pleasure and certainly getting to know this leader has been a pleasure for us and I’m sure for all of you. As always, three ways to support us here, Real World Branding. We love the dialogue so let’s keep it going on Twitter, on Facebook, other social media. Either @billgullan if you want to reach out to me directory or @finchbrands or other media too. We always like to compete for ratings and hopefully earn five stars and love seeing new ones pop into the app store, it helps us be visible for those are seeking content like this so we’re grateful for those who have found some joy and insight through this work if you could reward us not monetarily but just with a quick click and maybe a kind word or two. Again, if we’ve earned it.
And then the third way is we’re grooved back up here to keep the schedule going and keep the interesting content going and thus you won’t miss a thing if you just get into that app store of your choice, podcast store of your choice and you click subscribe. Anytime we have something new it’ll download automatically and you’ll be sitting there on the train or in the car or on the plane or just on a walk pondering the mysteries of life and business and goodness gracious there we. Anyway, laying it on thick in the spirit of a wonderful autumn. We’ll sign off from the cradle of liberty.
Cities and municipalities across the nation have submitted bids to host Amazon’s second headquarters. With the promise of economic development and job opportunities, its a no-brainer why. In this episode, we look at the role that this opportunity has on both the Amazon brand and the brand of it’s future home.
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, the premier boutique branding agency and this is One Big Idea. In Philadelphia certainly, and in cities and towns across the country, there’s been a lot of buzz both in the general media as well as in economic development circles about Amazon and their intent to build a second headquarters. The codename, I think, is HQ2. And they promise, in the RFP that they issued at least, that it will be in terms of size and scope, very similar to what they’ve done in Seattle. We’re talking about an estimate of 50,000 jobs created through this initiative with about 100 grand in sort of average compensation, so these are headquarters jobs, less about sort of supply chain and logistics, but we assume a lot of that’s tech and engineering and maybe things like marketing too.
The RFP went out in the latter stages. I think it may have been in August and the deadline for participation just passed, and Amazon announced that they received 238 proposals. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but certainly an emphatic response that I believe included all 50 states in the US and certainly folks in Canada as well. The discussion seems to center around who’s going to win. There’s a lot of horse race kind of handicapping here, which regions seem to have advantages that would be appealing to Amazon.
The RFP did go into at least bullet point detail about some of the things that are really important to the team at Amazon who are doing the selection, but it didn’t get too deep into relative priority or things like a business friendly environment, what exactly that means. So we are all left to handicap this and gossip about it and discuss it. Just using Philadelphia as an example, the impact of 50,000 new jobs. One of Philadelphia’s largest and certainly most high profile employers is Comcast, which employs 16,000 people here. Another one is Vanguard, which is in the western suburbs that employs another 11,000. These are two organizations that have corporate headquarters here. If you combine them and double them, that’s the kind of impact you’re talking about, at least in terms of raw job numbers.
And because of the fact that Amazon, at least on the technology side, seems to be particularly appealing to a particular type, a younger person who’s technology inclined and sort of ever interesting millennial cohort to urban planners, et cetera. I mean, this seems like a bonanza. It’s the biggest of its kind sort of corporate, not re-lo, but decision making sort of RFP of its kind in generations, so not a big surprise that so many municipalities have either collaboratively or individually put forth bids.
There’s a lot of interesting stories as to some of the lengths to which people will go. There was one community in Georgia, suburb of Atlanta called Stonecrest, that offered and actually voted in city council. Four-two, mind you, was the vote, that if selected they would replace the name Stonecrest, Georgia and make it Amazon, Georgia. Talk about branding. We’ll get to branding in a minute. When we look beyond and beneath elected officials and economic development folks and city tourism and hospitality boosters, it’s a complicated story. There is a counterpoint here as to arguing that a particular region shouldn’t go after this or that it wouldn’t ultimately be in their interest to have it. The obvious, in terms of prestige and jobs and tax base and everything else, is counterbalanced by some concerns about gentrification and the increase in housing and other prices.
You look at the Bay Area, for goodness’ sake, with all of these tech employees. Nobody can live there. Not nobody, but very few folks. It’s not a livable type of environment in the Bay Area. Also, part of the RFP and thus part of the response is: What can you do for me? What are the tax breaks that municipalities are going to promise to Amazon in order to make this thing real and is it worth it? Are they worth it? Does it crowd out other folks? Where does the money come from? There are a host of concerns. Many cities that have … Gentrified may not be the right word, but cities that have undergone some degree of sort of economic revitalization. It’s happened in the urban core in the central business district. It hasn’t always happened in the neighborhoods, or at least some would argue it hasn’t always happened in the neighborhoods and the net effect of this, they argue, would be a further obscuring of the needs of neighborhoods of folks who already live here in pursuit of chasing those who don’t yet.
There’s a pretty interesting dialogue on editorial pages and on social media and on panels about what’s sort of the costs of victory here are. You always see articles every four years about the costs of winning and hosting the Olympics. This, while different, has a similar debate. Now, polling at this point, at least of the general consumer market, Morning Consult reports that among a cross sample of average American respondents, 72% would want Amazon to locate either in their town or the nearest city, so that’s a pretty emphatic positive response. I think folks can certainly see the impact on property values, the impact on geographical sort of prestige and the economy, because it’s not just Amazon. It’s all the businesses that spring up to serve it, the businesses that spin out of it four or five years later when folks want to do something entrepreneurial. Long lasting impacts and 72% think it’s worth it.
Actually, this is sort of colored by, Morning Consult does their brand favorability ratings and one of the things that’s interesting when we talk about brands is, Amazon’s favorability is really high. It’s 76% and that’s much higher than … I actually don’t know the numbers off hand, but much higher than your Wal Marts and your others, which to me is a little bit surprising given the degree to which Amazon, certainly in its infancy and as it was really taking hold, the criticisms in terms of really decimating the publishing and book industry, as well as in the same way that Wal Mart’s been criticized hurting local businesses and costing jobs at community hardware store levels and things like that. Amazon has certainly had an impact on that up to and likely well beyond and certainly in the future. Your Wal Marts and your Targets and your other sort of big boxes that have crowded out, some would argue, local businesses.
Amazon has remained, though, at least it is today, largely above the fray in that debate. Amazon is greatly valued for its convenience and its pricing and all that Prime means in terms of free shipping on incremental orders, though you certainly pay for it through your subscription. But Amazon, there’s all sorts of data around the way our economy’s changing and the role of Amazon and driving eCommerce, so don’t need to rehash that. But it is interesting to see that Amazon for such a large, and we would think polarizing brand, has such a strong net favorability, 76% of you view the brand favorably.
Many, many different debates here. There are brand implications, though, that we shouldn’t ignore beyond just economic development and sort of the pro and the con of how Amazon impacts local economies. There are certain cities and sort of urban areas, municipal areas, that have become at almost a brand level, very strongly associated with an industry, or a major employer, or a couple of major employers. We look at Seattle, for example, which obviously has Amazon and has Microsoft out in Redmond. But for a long period of time, Seattle was very closely and is closely associated with Starbucks and with coffee. Seattle’s Best is there too. In fact, the sort of emergence of Seattle on the national stage was kind of a mixture of flannel and grunge and coffee in the 90s.
Charlotte, North Carolina, the city, high growth city where I spent a lot of time earlier in my career, was known, is known, very strongly for banking because at the time Nations Bank, although Bank of America now, was headquartered in Charlotte and so was, at the time, First Union, which is now part of Wells Fargo. These made Charlotte, I think, the number one or at least number two banking center in the nation, despite being the 22nd or 23rd largest sort of DMA. So banking and Charlotte were really strongly associated too.
LA, of course, is very strongly associated with entertainment. San Francisco’s associated with the tech sector. The role and reality of corporate location has a really big impact on municipal branding, both from a perspective of corporate as well as individual relocation. Has to do with where you go to college. Has to do with where you choose to migrate in your career and in your life, where you choose to visit with your leisure dollar. There’s significant brand implications, I think, to this choice that extend beyond just the economic development impacts, again pro and con.
On the sort of positive side of the ledger, if you’re a rust belt city or another former manufacturing city like a Baltimore, or a Philadelphia here, or a Pittsburgh, not to mention Detroit and others, Amazon arriving is not just sort of a financial shot in the arm. It is an opportunity to write a new story about technology and about the future and about progress, and to bring those cities into the 21st century in many ways. Amazon has that impact. I’m not sure whether Jeff Bezos cares or has sort of a savior complex or not, but the impact to the local economy and the perception of Amazon going, shall we say, to New York versus Baltimore is a totally different proposition, and so to the degree that it matters that Amazon arriving is a seismic event, there are certainly cities on that list for whom it would be such a thing. I think sort of rust belt, or old economy, or manufacturing cities of the sorts that we mentioned are certainly motivated for economic reasons, but also for prestige and sort of brand level reasons to pursue Amazon in this case.
There are probably some brand concerns as well. As noted, Amazon is a brand that is overwhelmingly viewed favorably at this point, but certainly has the opportunity and a past of being polarizing. Company towns, so to speak, lose a little bit of their own identity, and if Philadelphia, or Baltimore, or Pittsburgh become sort of Amazon, PA, or whatever the case may be, that has a profound brand impact too, that folks should think about.
Let’s close with a little bit of how the current sort of handicapping is working here. An Irish bookmaker, I think it was Paddy Power and some others have published odds related to Amazon’s HQ2 and where it will be placed. And according to Paddy Power at least, and I don’t know what this is based on, but it’s an interesting discussion. Atlanta has a three to one odds currently posted. Makes sense. Atlanta has Coca Cola and many other sort of big corporate headquarters or regional corporate centers. It has a very pro business clime and it has a great combination of engineering and technical education with Georgia Tech, with Emery, with many other colleges and universities within Atlanta. It’s also a part of the country that’s booming. You don’t have issues with labor there.
At the same time, reasons why Atlanta might not be as strong is, the transit system isn’t as great. There’s a lot of elements here that we don’t, again, know how they’re going to be weighted. But Atlanta is considered to be the favorite based upon the bookmaker Paddy Power, followed by Austin, which has obviously a strong tech economy already. Followed by Boston, which was [inaudible 00:13:19] too, and certainly has a set of feeder higher education institutions when it comes to the kind of credential workforce that Amazon is seeking.
And then you have others, Toronto in there representing our neighbors to the north. Great city. The District of Columbia too, which has tech corridor. Northern Virginia has obviously proximity to government. Bezos already bought the Washington Post, so presumably has a couple of homes there at least. It’s also conveniently located on the eastern seaboard. Portland is there, which would be interesting because that certainly doesn’t represent geographical diversity with Seattle, but there’s probably some convenience in that. Then you get to the level of Pittsburgh at Philadelphia down there at 14 and 16 to one.
Let’s wrap it up. The Amazon HQ2 conversation is fascinating. It is significant in terms of what it says about the future of cities, what it says about the future of economic development, and for one municipality or geographic area that’s going to win this. Again, there’s a couple schools of thought about whether the net effects of that will be overwhelmingly positive, or a little bit positive, or on the other side of the ledger. But there also will be impacts to the brand, and in some cases it could be a very positive jolt of energy. In other cases, folks run the risk of really being perceptually linked for a very long time with one particular company whose fates rise and fall. We’ll sign off from the cradle of liberty. Thank you all. Have a great day.