Grant Marketing Blog

What Artie T. Can Teach Us about B2B Branding

Posted by Cam Mirisola-Bynum on Sep 4, 2014 4:22PM

Your Brand Development Strategy Could Use a Shot of This! 

Market_Basket_B2B_Branding_1

Here in Boston, some of us have watched, waited, and watched and waited some more for the final resolution of the previously unprecedented part walk-out, part-strike, and general boycott drama with a local supermarket chain at the epicenter. As I sat at my desk in our Boston branding agency creating campaigns that incorporate things like brand strategy development into marketing plans, knowing that the board meetings that had rival Market Basket (MB) factions going head to head were somewhere in the very building I work in, I pondered my tempered obsession.

The Wait
I anxiously wondered—among the staggering ripple effects the outcome might have on so many levels—whether we were witnessing the dramatic death of a beloved brand, or, if Artie T. emerges victoriously, will this brand reach gargantuan super-hero-esque proportions? I know I shared this sentiment with many.

Picking Sides

Okay, some disclosure here. I am on Team Artie T. I grew up in Andover, MA, and we shopped as a family at Demoulas in the Shawsheen Plaza—and I am happily back shopping at Haverhill #9. I respect my old neighbor, Arthur T. Demoulas. A man who inspired—without asking—his entire workforce, and consequently customers and vendors, to demand his return as “our” CEO.

Who’s the Other Guy?

I don’t know Arthur S. Demoulas as a person, and what little I do know was provided, largely, by the media. These high-profile, publicly polarizing “events” spark conversations (a.k.a. gossip) as well. I have heard positives and negatives from folks. I’m not interested in vilifying Artie S. The truth is that I really don’t know him as a person. And I don’t know Artie T. as a person—but I do know him as a brand. And B2B branding can learn a lot from Artie T.

Does Artie T. Have a Brand Development Strategy?

I think Market Basket’s marketing firm probably does. And it surely has taken a hit during this fiasco. I’m guessing that they are happy that the tides have turned. Because what we’ve seen from his employees’ devotion and his customers’ loyalty, comes in large part, from Artie T. as a person. This is the stuff a brand strategist dreams about, and worries about (learn more about that below and in our related case paper). The multi-tiered elements of the brand development process that marketing agencies generally use to uncover what fuels a brand have been bandied about publically for this last six weeks. Some of that has been distilled down through the massive outpouring of support for Artie T. and it bring with it words like: generosity, community, respect, loyalty, honor, obligation, responsibility, and yes, love. We heard it from the man himself, in his very heartfelt address to the masses upon returning to the helm of MB: “It is a person’s moral obligation and social responsibility to support the culture that provides an honorable and dignified place to work.” And during his summation, uttered a resounding, “I love you all!” Yes, I cried. I knew he was talking to me, too.

Can One Man a Company Be?    

Which leads us to that thing that we, who actively plan B2B branding, worry about. If our brand rests on the shoulders and reputation of one man (good, bad, or somewhere in between), what happens when something happens to that one man? We saw this drama play out B2B-style with three of MB’s top vendors: Boston Sword & Tuna, Extra Virgin Foods, and Yell-O-Glow. They all severed their long-standing and highly lucrative contracts with the chain under the direction of “replacement” CEOs, Felicia Thornton and Jim Gooch. They vowed that they would not continue their business relationship with Market Basket if Artie T. was not at the helm. Here is an excerpt from an NECN Business article by Peter Howe, with a quote from Paul Hatziiliades of Extra Virgin Foods:

This new management team is really imploding the company. It's really just a matter of time. It was a very easy decision for me," Hatziiliades said, describing their behavior as out of keeping with the culture "Artie T" had created in his decades running the 71-store chain. "One threat after another, escalation of threats, firings, threats of firings … that didn't fit with the company culture. That didn't fit with what we wanted to be part of.

What these B2B vendors all want to be a part of is what Artie T. represents and personally embodies. They risked pulling themselves out of the supply chain of a $4 billion-a-year company. Why was it worth the risk? As Hatziiliades said, "These are phenomenal people. They do business with class, and they treat you like a person." This shows how imperative it is for B2B collaborators to practice all the same respectful interpersonal relationship standards you would with any person or entity. Should that be so hard? And, by the way, the vendors are all back, supplying the revived chain with their goods. 

Bringing It All Together 

When working with a company, part of our brand development strategy at Grant Marketing is to interview the customers and all levels of the work force—hourly and salaried, support staff and management. We want to get a sense of that ecosystem—see if it is in sync with all its moving parts. It's meaningless if you, as a company, define yourself as one thing and everybody who circles in and around your orbit sees you and experiences you as completely another—whether their touch point is through your product, sales and service, or any combination of the supply chain and business cycle. It can work against you if you have over inflated what you think your brand promise is, or can hold you back if you have not unleashed your full potential by not connecting with it. Artie S. might've called himself the leader, but as we found out, the title does not a leader make. Brand words and taglines alone don't bond you to your customers; it's the connections you make through the relationships you build that cultivate your brand and strengthen those bonds through trust and respect over time.

Artie T. walked his talk. This is the biggest lesson we can all take from this saga. He didn’t need to negotiate for buy-in on that front. His loyal employees and customers—remarkably and historically— walked his talk, too. Employees adopted the giraffe as their symbol of this fight, as they stuck their necks out and risked much for his return. Talk about brand alignment: those in the fight on his side became this brand. A collective living legacy. The take-away is pretty simple. Know your brand. Be special. Mean it and be it. And it helps if that brand—in life, in love, in business—is to be the good guy or lady.

In this case, did the brand promise of “More for Your Dollar” deliver? Immeasurably so.

Click on the button below to our case paper, “Artie T.’s B2B Branding Tale: Is it Brand Development Strategy, Good Guy Genes, or Just Plain Luck?” to continue the discussion.

Download Artie T.’s Branding Tale Case Paper

Topics: Branding, brand development

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