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“Buffalo” wings and the value of brand marketing

If we buy a tough steak at the grocery store — whom do we turn to?

plate of chicken wings

Little did Teressa Bellissimo know that the night she poured hot sauce over leftover chicken wings in Buffalo New York, and served them with celery and blue cheese, that she had created a marketing sensation. The snack prepared for a bunch of hungry boys in 1964 became the cornerstone of the bar that still sells them today. Those wings that once went as scraps into the soup pot are now eaten by 81 per cent of adult Americans generating US$32.8 million annually.

The “Buffalo” flavour of the wing is what is branded in this example. And although several recipes exist, the common thread is the taste of the Buffalo wing.

I was in Eastern Canada this summer visiting packers and processors of meats and vegetables. On the poultry-processing floor, there were two things happening — the flavour tumbling of chicken wings (Buffalo wings) and the packaging of chicken breasts for Costco which were to be sold under their private label brand. The protocols for the raising and processing of the birds were in place and that demanded a separate line for the chicken breasts going to the mammoth wholesaler. In this case the producer/processor was branding the supply to the wholesale chain.

We often think that this is not branding but it is. Assurances behind the product and private standards are part of the brand. From conception through to cellophane, the product is strictly regulated. Costco itself does not raise or butcher chickens but it creates standards that gives it the confidence to brand the meat under its name. In Alberta and Ontario, Cargill Value Added Meats is the branded supply source of beef patties to McDonald’s that sells the Big Mac and other identifiable beef burgers. Did you notice how many names you recognized in the last sentence? That is the power of branding.

In traditional branding we think of the big guns Nike or Coca-Cola. But Nike and Coca-Cola are trademarks that have risen to brand status and consumer recognition. You are on your way to being a star athlete if you run in a Nike and the world is a better place when drinking Coca-Cola. The fact that pop is sugared water does not enter the consumer psych and the Nike brand overshadows the fact that the shoes are made primarily in China and Vietnam in non-unionized shops. So profound is consumer loyalty because of brand recognition that all other aspects of the brand are ignored or forgotten. Nike does not own any production plants but to put that brand on the shelf, every company must follow the standards for production.

Some folks, I expect those outside of a brand, debate the value of branding food and consumer goods. But companies aggressively buy out other companies for their brands every day. In Canada, Quebec co-operative Exceldor bought out the P&H turkey side for the Butterball brand. Recently, Imperial Tobacco paid US$7.1 billion for buyouts to get to the recognizable cigarette brand of Winston.

Apple generates the highest sales per retail foot in North America. Easy to recognize and use, Apple fans stay for the long haul, not only for the technology but for the ease of upgrading. Making it easy to remember the brand, easy to buy and easy to use make for a better consumer experience.

In the experience economy, even when you don’t have a widget to sell, you must still sell the experience. The memory by association then kicks in. If you see the name Jaguar you think of a sleek finish and wealth, while ads on German cars create images of solid engineering and driving at top speed on the autobahn (which is fun by the way). Jaguar reminds potential clients of the long association of wealth related to the car when it refers to its “recognizable DNA.” Who is going to argue the euphoric state driving this car may create?

Consumers buy the brand. Which tractor are you using? Why? What jeans are you wearing? Why? What kind of car do you buy? Why? The answers lie in your recognition of the brand and your loyalty to it. It may not be that the Wranglers you wear are better than another brand but your loyalty to these jeans is driven by your experience and a good memory or two while in them. Now — what beef are you eating? Why? Is there a point of differentiation on the shelf that is so strong that you are driven to that product every time? And more importantly, is the product always what you expect?

When our combine breaks down we have a certain degree of tolerance because it is the brand we chose and there is a service man behind it. When we buy a tough steak — whom do we turn to? Who is the holder of the brand and the one responsible for both the differentiation of product and the consistency in it? This leads to a question — are we going to be forever satisfied being a branded supplier of beef in Canada if there is opportunity to create a brand that goes beyond the back of the shelf?

Every business model should have complete customer satisfaction at its core. Without this central fundamental belief, our lives in any line of production and processing are short and without cause. That is why we need to support branded initiatives for what they are — an opportunity to differentiate, align by recognition, create consistency through private standards, develop loyalty and increase sales. Would you like a beer with those wings? What brand?

Brenda Schoepp is a motivating speaker and mentor who works with young entrepreneurs across Canada and around the world. She can be contacted through her website All rights reserved. Brenda Schoepp 2014

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Contact Brenda through her website: All Rights Reserved. Brenda Schoepp 2018

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