Time For Brands To Channel Their Inner Peyton Manning

Does anything say, “We are desperate,” quite as well as balloons? Though the “Now Open For Lunch” sign outside the restaurant that’s been around forever or the “Now Leasing” banner draped over the apartment complex two years after it was built rank right up there.

You wouldn’t know it from iPhone sales, but times are tough for lot of businesses, casual dining restaurants, car dealers and retailers among them. People feel the American Dream slipping away. They’re angry and fearful, and as a result, they’re not spending the way they used to.

But the last thing a brand or a business wants to project in trying times is desperation. This will only hasten the demise. Americans might love an underdog, but they certainly don’t like losers. This is especially true if people themselves are hurting. They’ll spend their time and money with those on the way up, not on the way down, if only to feel better about themselves.

What is your brand communicating? Are you competing only on deal or are you leveraging price promotions along with equity building messages? Practically speaking, consumers make some foolish choices. But when was marketing (or consumption) ever practical? People intuitively sense the vibe of a brand – something you largely control as a marketer – when they think about what badges they’re going to put on.

One example that comes to mind is a local Los Angeles chain called Koo Koo Roo. Offering wholesome, tasty, family oriented meals featuring rotisserie chicken and an array of freshly prepared side dishes, Koo Koo Roo was perhaps the hottest chains in the market at one time. In April of this year, the company declared bankruptcy and shuttered 10 of its 13 locations.

Many factors have been cited by the press for their demise, not the least of which were the high cost of goods and real estate. Obviously, businesses have to adapt, and lowering costs was critical to Koo Koo Roo’s survival.

However, keeping up appearances is crucial, and this is where Koo Koo Roo may have gone wrong. Walking into their restaurants, one was immediately struck by the colorful, farm stand-like display of fresh vegetables. In the blink of an eye, it reinforced everything the brand stood for: healthy, fresh, wholesome, down-to-earth, good for the whole family. It made you feel good about your dinner choice and about being in the restaurant.

But the display seemed to grow less bountiful in direct relation to Koo Koo Roo’s financial woes, until one day, it disappeared entirely. These were perishable goods, and it was unlikely that they would be used as ingredients after being on display. Relative to plastic or cardboard, it is expensive to replenish this abundance on a regular basis.

The display was cut and money was saved. But at what cost? Certainly, there were other important factors that contributed to the failure, but I have to believe that the deterioration and eventual elimination of this display communicated to customers that there was a cancer eating away at the brand. Koo Koo Roo had lost its mojo and did all it could to let its customers know.

I don’t remember balloons in the final days, though I could be wrong about that, but I do believe they did the next best thing. “Koo Koo Roo Now Open For Breakfast.”

Nothing is more difficult than staying composed and confident in tough times. But attitude is everything. Think of the NFL quarterback, trailing by a touchdown as the seconds tick away. Yes, talent is important, but composure is the key. That’s what makes a Peyton Manning so great. When the camera zooms in for a close up when he’s making his charge down the field to win the game, look into his eyes. Total confidence. Steely determination. No fear. He might be on the short end of the scoreboard, the odds might be long, but does he look or act like a loser? Not a chance.

It’s tough out there. Balloons aren’t going to get us out of this mess. Time to channel our inner Peyton Manning.

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